Date: 4th April 2419
Location: MMV Noah, Unknown
“What is going on? Report!” I called out in the pitch-black control room. It had been five minutes since the alien brain was attached to the computer system, and suddenly all power had just vanished; even the emergency lighting was offline.
“I don’t know, sir. I don’t have anything.” A voice called from the darkness. I tried to raise Bodgit over the Net but every time I tried to connect, I was blocked out.
Reaching under my seat, I pulled the small box containing the emergency kit. Inside was a small respirator, medkit, toolbelt, battery, a few days’ worth of emergency rations and most usefully now, a torch. From the dim green glow of the light stick automatically activated when the box was opened in the lid, I found the torch and flicked it on, slipping the straps over my wrist.
Scanning the room, I saw several other people opening emergency kits and grabbing torches themselves. The shutters were down on the windows; in the event of a power failure, they would automatically drop to prevent explosive decompression, should there be a hull breach or any other form of severe damage to the bay.
“Everything is fine here, sir.” An ensign reported, looking at the circuitry under her console. “The problem must be to do with the power flow.”
At that moment, everything came back online: lights, consoles, monitors, everything was active.
Flicking the torch off, I contacted Bodgit.
“Before you ask, sir, I have no idea what just happened.” He said the moment the link was established. “I have teams looking into it now, but it looks initially like a computer glitch caused all the power switches to turn off.”
“Is it going to happen again?”
“I can’t say, until we’ve tracked down the problem. I don’t know if it was just a one-off or if it can happen over and over.”
“OK, you have one hour.” I told him, I had found it was always best to give such matters a deadline, “Then I want this problem fixed.”
“Aye, sir.” He replied and closed the link.
“Commander!” The scientist who had asked for permission to implant a neural link into the brain had appeared at the airlock, out of breath and very excited. “This is just amazing! I don’t know how it happened but it’s incredible!”
“Slow down, Doctor.” I ordered, “What is incredible?”
“The brain; we expected a little activity when we plugged it in, but this is beyond everything we imagined!”
“What is it?” I asked again. I had always hated the way scientists managed to skirt around the point when they were excited.
“When we applied an electrical current to the brain, it started secreting neural chemicals, we expected a little but it’s not stopped there; it’s regenerating, producing a neuroelectrical field, the neurons are even sparking!” He was babbling.
“DOCTOR!” I shouted, “In plain terms someone like me would understand, please.”
“Well, in plain terms. We think that the consciousness that once inhabited the alien body could, at least in some small form, still be intact.”
“So it’s alive?” I asked, exasperated.
“Yes, well no, not really, well a little maybe…you see, it’s like putting a brain in a jar, you give it what it needs to live and it stays alive. This brain has been dead for seemingly decades, but it is remarkably undamaged. The major areas all seem to be completely in one piece, down to a molecular level, it’s amazing.”
“Are you telling me that we have an alien life form hooked up to our computer systems right now, and that it could be conscious?” This sounded like bad news, and with the sudden ‘glitch’ in the computer system, I was starting to think that maybe it wasn’t the computer at fault.
“Ohh no no no no no…there is no way that any life form could be conscious in this state. All the parts are still there but without a body to give it any stimuli, any consciousness would simply shut down. Unless…” He began to pace up and down past my seat. “If it were able to adapt, substitute the neural link for a nervous system…hmmm…you know, I suppose so…yes that could happen.” He caught me looking at him tiredly. “Yes, if it managed to use the neural link to substitute the ship’s systems as a kind of rudimentary nervous system, it could be possible that the alien is conscious and linked to the network. This is all amazing; I should write a paper on it….”
“I want it disconnected, Doctor, NOW.” I ordered. A consciousness with unknown motives with full access to the ship’s systems was far too great a risk for me to allow.
“Disconnected? But this is an enormous discov…” he began to argue, but I cut him off.
“NOW, Doctor. That is an order. I want that brain disconnected from the Net.”
“Yes, sir.” He nodded sadly; then turned and ran to the airlock.
Before the door to the airlock had closed, the internal comm system activated and the room was filled with a deafening, melodious sound. Everyone covered their ears in an attempt to block out the loud, high-pitched tone, without success. As quickly as it started, it stopped and I received a message from the doctor telling me that the brain was disconnected.
Sitting back in my chair I breathed a sigh of relief, enjoying the relative silence of the Control Room.
“What just happened?” I asked, turning to the crewman at the communications console.
“According to the system, it was an internal comm signal; origin is shown as the briefing room, sir.”
Whatever was left ‘alive’ in that brain, it was certain that it had indeed somehow gained access to the ship’s communication system at least, probably the power system too.
“How much data did we get from the alien’s neural link?” I asked the crewman, who tapped at his console.
“One point three exabytes.” He replied after a moment.
“Quarantine that data, every last bit. I don’t want anyone to be able to access it without my direct authorisation.” I ordered. If ‘it’ had gained access to the ship’s systems it was possible that the data downloaded could include some form of virus or consciousness itself.
“Done, sir.” He reported after a few taps. “The data is secured in an inactive buffer requiring your authorisation to activate.”
Confident that anything that had gotten out of the brain was now secure and ready to be analysed more thoroughly when the technicians could be spared to analyse it and design a translator, I went back to the daily running of the ship, including authorising the retrofitting of the new Caravan shuttle to Bee specifications; adding four more engines along with a mining laser and tractor beam. The three shuttlecraft in service; Caravan, Bee and Ant, were all designed well over seventy years ago, but had proved to be so successful that no replacement had ever been created. Key to the success was the simplicity of retrofitting; the Bee and Ant were both based on the Caravan, with extra equipment mounted externally with power and control systems taking up the majority of the cargo hold. The SLD-12 engines used were the most efficient design made by the designers at the research facilities all over Europa, and though slow at only 50,000 kilometres per second, had a fairly long range.
By the end of my shift four hours later, the second shuttle refit had been completed and it was mining asteroids with the original surviving Bee.
The room shook and I stumbled, as medical instruments flew past me. The nurse had gone to the lower deck to assist the casualties there, and I was alone in the medical bay. Suddenly the door burst open and a crewman was carried in, bleeding heavily from a chest wound. I told the other crewman carrying him to put him on the far bed and return to his post. He wouldn’t be much use here and I’m sure he was far more useful doing his own job.
Rendering the wounded crewman unconscious I began an incision, baring his chest to the sterilised atmosphere, I began to locate the bleeding and cut it off when a huge jolt sent me flying into the wall separating the two halves of the medical bay.
I awoke in my bed with a jump, drenched in sweat. It took me a few moments to catch my breath. I could have sworn that the room I had seen in the dream was the medical bay aboard the alien ship. Shaking my head and ordering a glass of cold water from the computer, I shakily got to my feet, and stumbling over to the sequencer, I downed the ice-cold water in one, placing the glass back in the small alcove afterwards.
The scene I saw of the alien with an open chest on a bed, the apparent doctor slumped against the forward wall of the section, all seemed to fit what I had seen through Colonel Atkinson’s eyes aboard the ship.
By manipulating neurochemistry, the neural link was supposed to prevent bad dreams, or to at least soften the ending of a dream so as to prevent shock upon waking. The small clock that was always displayed in the bottom-right of my vision showed that it was 31:00, four hours until my next duty shift and six hours since I had fallen asleep.
Since it was obvious my link was malfunctioning, I decided rather than trying to go back to sleep for just a couple more hours, to get up now and have it checked out. After a quick cleansing cycle I began the trawl through the ship to the medibay; climbing ladders and wishing that the grav lifts were operational.
It was 31:34 when I entered the medibay, for the first time since I was revived here months ago.
“Commander, is there something I can help you with?” The doctor on duty asked with a smile as he walked out of the office.
“I think my neural link is playing up, I had a pretty bad dream earlier.” I told him, sitting on the edge of one of the beds.
“Any other symptoms?” He asked, sequencing a device from his tool belt and holding it to the back of my head.
“Nothing else.” I replied, feeling a strange sensation in my head as the device scanned me.
“Well I can’t see anything wrong here.” He said after a few moments scanning. “There is a slight misalignment in the communications link but nothing out of normal operating limits. Occasionally a dream will get past the link’s protection; it’s rare but does happen from time to time. Don’t worry about it, try to rest normally but if this becomes a regular occurrence, make sure you come back for a check-up immediately.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” I said, standing up. “Just to be sure, I want you to contact me if anyone else comes in with the same problem.”
“Very well, Commander; I’ll have my staff note any unusual problems.”
Since I still had an hour and a quarter before I was due on duty, I took my time walking through the corridors. Several that had been previously accessible, leading to the embedded asteroid’s surface had been closed off, ready for mining crews to begin cutting walkways through the rock, which should decrease the time to travel between the fore and aft upper sections greatly.
With 110 decks, Noah was 330 metres high, and currently only the bottom three decks were unaffected by the asteroid, meaning they were often congested, as crew members packed into them. It also meant a lot of climbing up and down the equally congested access ladders, since the grav lifts were still offline.
With the main medical bay being on deck 51 in the central section of the ship and the Fighter bay being along decks 17 – 27 in the aft section, it was a long journey. The only group which had been pretty much unaffected by the asteroid was the Marines, whose barracks were located at the very front of the ship, taking up the front 50 meters of decks 73 – 77. Since they rarely left the barracks, they had simply continued their ongoing training as normal while we had been here.
It was 32:50 when I walked through the airlock into the Fighter bay. With the dissected alien remains and the salvaged technology declared safe, the bay had been repressurised and was operating as normal. I was halfway to the Control Room airlock when the alarm sounded, signalling the opening of the outer door. With the atmospheric shield in place, there was no risk of the bay depressurising, so everyone went about their normal business. Just before I stepped into the airlock however, another, more urgent alarm sounded as the field flickered and vanished. I held on tightly to the inside of the airlock as the unsecured contents of the bay, including several crewmen waiting to service the landing craft, were blown into space. When the airlock door finally closed, I gasped for air before stumbling into the Control Room, which was filled with action.
“What the hell just happened?” I angrily demanded when I reached the officer in command.
“I don’t know, sir.” The frightened looking lieutenant responded, “We’ve been having minor system failures all shift, but nothing this serious.”
“Why was I not informed?” I should have been informed if there were any problems right away, whether I was on duty or not.
“They were minor things; sequencers creating the wrong item, doors ceasing; nothing major until now.”
“Well I think this counts as serious.” I said to him before shouting out to everyone in the room; “I want to know what just happened. Rip every system apart if you have to.”
Everyone continued scurrying about, sending comm messages to various crewmembers, trying to figure out what had happened.
“Excuse me, Commander.” A voice called from the airlock.
“Yes? What is it…” I paused, turning to look at who was calling, “Doctor…?” I had just about remembered the names of the officers and crewmembers that were often in the Control Room, but while this person’s face seemed to ring a bell, I couldn’t put a name to it.
“Shen, Commander; I’m from the cloning facility.” It clicked; he had been the face I had seen when I first awoke in my current body.
“OK, Doctor, what can I do for you?” I asked shortly. I was annoyed at what had just happened and was not in a good mood.
“It’s one of the null bodies, sir; it’s not right.”
“Well, recycle it and start another, that’s what you usually do isn’t it?” I replied testily. He probably didn’t deserve to be the recipient of my bad mood, but it was his own bad luck to catch me after watching several of my crewmembers be blown out of the ship. It was a fairly common occurrence for one of the null bodies to have a defect, but it would be caught by the ongoing checks and recycled before making its way into the activation system.
“Usually sir, yes. Currently, the bodies are barely a few cells, except one. It’s growing far faster than any I have ever seen, and not only that, but its genetic code is…wrong.” He waved a datapad in front of me, showing a lot of numbers and codes that I couldn’t ever understand.
“You’re the Doctor here, Doctor. I’m just a simple Commander; try to tell me what is wrong, preferably in words of one syllable.”
“All life on Earth, everything that we have catalogued, shares the vast majority of its DNA code with humans. Whatever this is, it shares less than one percent.” My unenlightened and slightly annoyed expression urged him to carry on. “It’s not human, it’s nothing in our database, but it’s growing. Not only that, but the computer is refusing to cease its development and I cannot initiate a manual override and recycle it.”
“So you think what? Something is in the system, making this…thing and preventing us from stopping it?” I was beginning to see a rather unpleasant possibility forming.
“Exactly! And at the rate this is developing, it will be fully grown within the day!” That caught my attention. Since a normal null body took nearly a year to grow and mature to a usable state, anything that could grow in a day would be well worth investigation.
“Take one of the science teams and study whatever this is. Working out what is causing its development to be so fast should be your first priority, then find out how to stop it growing any more. Take Crewman Long too, have her examine the computer systems in the facility and figure out what is going on there.” Noticing that I was obviously not in a mood to debate destroying this thing, he left the room to return to the cloning facility.
“Commander?” A voice from one of the many consoles called me. This was going to be a long shift.
“Yes? What is it?” I replied, not even looking over to who it was calling.
“I think I’ve tracked down the problem with the atmospheric shield, sir.” It was an ensign at the engineering station behind my chair.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The logs show that the field was actually switched off, there was no hardware failure; somebody actually instructed the generators to deactivate.”
“Who?” I demanded.
“There is no record of any actual user input. It’s as if the computer sent the instruction of its own accord.”
“How can that be?” I asked. Artificial Intelligence had been banned by the M Military and both the other corporations since a prototype nearly initiated a global war many years ago. That is why even basic life forms cannot be created in the Mindscape; to prevent the chance one could evolve spontaneously into consciousness.
“I don’t know, sir. Diagnostics of the computer’s systems all come back clean.”
“OK, ensign, good work.” I replied, before firing up my neural link to order Crewman Long to look into the problem after she was done at the cloning facility.
I found myself looking up at the same white lights of the medical bay as I had when I had first regained consciousness. My ears felt like they were going to explode with a deafening high-pitched wail and the back of my head felt like it already had. In front of my eyes darted unfamiliar symbols and flashes of images of things I had never seen and places I had never been.
In front of me, the face of the doctor appeared, seeming to talk but I couldn’t hear anything over the wail. I tried to move my head but at the tiniest movement, my forehead pounded and the muscles in my neck screamed their displeasure. Trying to regain composure, I concentrated on my breathing; in and out, in and out. However much I tried to concentrate, the sound and images broke my train of thought until I felt an agonising pressure against my neck and slipped out of consciousness.
Or that is what should have happened. The sound, images and pain vanished but I found myself standing in darkness.
‘I can’t be here.’ I thought to myself. If I were normally asleep, or were in the Mindscape then I could, but the unconsciousness caused by the chemicals I had been injected with would render the mind essentially ‘off’ and unable to create such a dreamlike state.
Behind me a rapid scuttling sound caused me to turn around sharply, but by the time I had brought my senses to bear, there was nothing. A melodious tone filled my mind, it was similar to the sound that had filled the Control Room earlier, but far more delicate and graceful. The tune varied between mellow low notes and painfully high ones, with many in between. The silence closed in again when the sound stopped and slowly I saw something emerge from the darkness. What I saw convinced me that there was something awry with the computer system, and I was looking at the cause. Standing in front of me, in the same attire I had seen before was the alien creature that had been brought back for study.
Opening its ‘mouth’ on the underside of its head it released another melodious tone which, though beautiful, I felt was supposed to mean something. Its many-jointed hand reached out to me but just as I was about to reach back I felt myself being pulled away, one image flashing in front of me before the lights reappeared.
The wail was gone and my head felt relieved and back to normal.
“Can you hear me, Commander?” The Doctor’s voice asked as his face hovered into view.
“Doctor Shen!” I called, sitting up so quickly I nearly head-butted the Doctor.
“No, I’m Doctor Reilley, I’m the Senior Doctor aboard, remember?” He said, a slightly worried expression coming across his face.
“Have to find Shen!” I jumped out of the bed and ran out of the door, followed closely by the Doctor. Heading to the cloning facility nearby, I pushed various crewmen aside, ignoring their surprised stares as I ran past.
“Shen!” I shouted as I barged through the bulkhead door leading to the facility. “Don’t terminate the body!”
“We…oh!” He took a step back in shock when he saw me standing in the doorway, “We, ahh, couldn’t if we wanted to at this point, Commander.” Taking stock of the situation it didn’t take me long to realise that I had just run out of the medibay and through the ship stark naked. “The computer blocked every attempt we made to terminate it, and Crewman Long has taken the system apart twice without finding anything wrong. I was just about to call in a Marine group to terminate it the old fashioned way.”
“How long?” I asked, vaguely.
“For the Marines to get here? Five minutes maybe.” He replied.
“No, how long until it’s ready? This body?” I asked, clarifying my question.
“Oh, ahh…a little under ten minutes, but it’ll just be an empty body with no mind.”
“Where is it now?”
“Section five, it’s going through the final preparation for mapping.”
“Show me.” I ordered forcefully. Doctor Reilley had caught up with me while Shen was talking but had stopped at the door.
Taking me to the observation platform, I saw the translucent pod filled with yellow fluid and what appeared to be the body of one of the aliens I had seen in my ‘dream’ and aboard the alien ship.
“Where will it come out?” I asked. I could navigate from any point on the ship to any other, but when it came to the mechanics of the systems in each room, I left that knowledge to those who worked there.
“Right here, Commander.” He replied. “But like I say, it’ll be an empty shell.”
“Not quite, Doctor.” I replied, staring at the pod while Shen looked confused.
Clearing his throat behind me, Dr. Reilley stood holding a uniform for me which I quickly took and slipped into.
“I take it that you know what is happening here then?” He asked once I was properly attired.
“I hope so.” I replied. The last image had shown me what was happening with the computer system, but I was not entirely certain what was going to happen at the conclusion of this cloning cycle.
It took a few minutes for the pod to re-emerge after entering one final machine, but once it had it glided to the platform we were standing on, rotated to a horizontal position and cracked open. From it raised a three-digited hand on the end of a thin arm, each digit having many joints.
As I reached out and gripped the hand with my own, the fingers embraced my hand and the eyes on the oval shaped head opened.