A small gallery of images from a Sunday morning, in December, stroll.
Life is sometimes best shown in the obscure
â€œ…Every tear from every eye, Becomes a babe in eternity;
This is caught by females bright, And returnâ€™d to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar, Are waves that beat on heavenâ€™s shore.
The babe that weeps the rod beneath Writes revenge in realms of death. â€¦â€
Marsh felt a buzzing in his head as bright red light burned onto his eyes. A blink was a mistake. A flash of lightning to the retinas. The red light was the blood-stained image of bright white light shining on his eyelids. His eyes had been closed and he had woken with them still shut.
He screwed his eyes tight now as the white flash burned and gave a searing pain down his optic nerve. His head began to pound with an intense beat but he could feel no other pain from his body. Just the throbbing in his skull. It was a momentâ€™s pause before he realised he couldnâ€™t feel the rest of his body at all.
The realisation revealed that even the burning light had caused no real pain on his eyes or to his mind. Just a sensation of brightness that seemed to burn. He created the throbbing as a reaction. A memory of how such pain must feel.
He could sense no feeling in his fingers, his toes, his arms or legs. He felt nothing. He felt as if he were floating, but with no sense of gravity or pressure of any type upon his body. He licked his lips, a light sensation, but not as much as he would have wanted. Again it felt more like a memory than a sensory input. Something he was imagining and not sensing. He could smell nothing, not even himself. He felt as if his ears still worked but there was only silence for them to hear.
Slowly he opened his eyes a crack against the glare. He saw the shadow of his own hand come up to shield his eyes, as he had wanted, but he couldnâ€™t feel the limb. The glare was becoming more manageable. He was in a white space. He was standing, which was unusual as he could not sense up or down. He could not feel his legs touching anything. As far as his mind was concerned he was near weightless and yet his eyes said something else. The disorientation made him nauseous, he bent as if to vomit but there was no spasming of muscles in his stomach. Just the expectation that there should be.
He tried to turn and found that this was easy, but there was no sensation of doing so, just the motion. As he did he stepped back in surprise as he saw that another was standing there. Another Marsh. Staring at him, or himself. â€œWhat theâ€¦â€ he heard himself speak, but he only barely heard it with his ears. It was delayed slightly. His mouth was out of sync with his hearing. This was even more strange. He had to be drugged or drunk.
â€œThe outcry of the hunted hare, A fibre of the brain does tear. Hello,â€ said his doppleganger.
â€œWhat is happening?â€ Marsh spoke harshly. He was totally confused and the rhyme was oddly familiar. He knew it, but couldnâ€™t place the memory. Or maybe he couldnâ€™t understand why he knew it. â€œwhere am I?â€
â€œYou are where I put you, little ant, little, fly, little gnat. The gnat that sings his summerâ€™s song. I think I should be the one asking the questions.â€ The doppelganger was dressed in a red pressure suit. It had attachment points for seals, it was a moment before Marsh recognised it. A flight suit. It was a jumpsuit worn under a pressure suit. They were very common. Well they had been very common when the original Marsh had been alive hundreds of years before.
This red of the suit was a deep crimson with white flashes and insignia. The logo on the side was vaguely familiar to Marsh but he couldnâ€™t quite place where it was from. It was obviously one of the large organisations that ran commercial space ships. The quasi government sized giants of a long time ago.
â€œWho are you?â€ asked Marsh.
â€œAs I said. I should be asking the questions. The questioner, who sits so sly, Shall never know how to reply. The important first question is who are you?â€ said the doppleganger. The voice was the same as Marsh’s but a little different in tone, there was a quality to it that Marsh didnâ€™t recognise in his own speech. It was as if this other Marsh snapped the words as they came out of his mouth.
â€œI am Marsh. Or at least the closest approximation of him.â€ said Marsh.
â€œAh, now that makes sense, a man made for joy and woe,â€ said the doppelganger with no trace of irony. â€œYou looked correct, and the examination I performed seemed to say you were correct. Normally I never get to talk to one of my selves. By the time they reach here they have already been assimilated. I have conversed with a few, but it is so difficult. They cannot cope with this place. When brought in here they normally have a seizure. When mind and body are twain they are the fruit of two seasons and one lies rotten as the other is twisted. But you are able to control yourself, you have not been wrenched into a screaming apoplexy. You seem barely perturbed. Thatâ€™s different to all those others. I find it hard to understand. But, he who doubt what he sees, will neâ€™er believe. I wonder why you survive? What makes you different?â€
â€œYou havenâ€™t said who you are?â€ said Marsh. â€œI get it now, I know where we are. Itâ€™s fairly obvious and I am an idiot for not seeing it straight away. This is a construct program, and a fairly basic one, not that I am a good judge but this one feels artificial. My senses donâ€™t work properly. But what are you? A clone program? Or are you someone who is throwing a skin of me onto your true form?â€
The doppelganger laughed. â€œThatâ€™s funny. I am not wearing any skin. It is you who are wearing my skin. You who are the clone. God appears, and God is light. I am Marsh. I am the original Marsh! This is my domain. My realm. My world. The land where I reside. The place where I died.â€
Marsh laughed slightly and instantly regretted the action. It was a release of tension and the sudden jolt of the door release mechanism. The airlock beyond the outer doors was large, easily four metres wide and six metres deep. It seemed incongruous considering the size of the corridor, but it was practical. The airlock might serve as docking airlock at some future point so would have to be large enough to stow equipment and allow the passage of bulky goods. There were recesses in the walls and hatches for that purpose.
Marsh and Drick moved forward. Drick indicated to Marsh to place his helmet back on which he did as swiftly as he could before they pulled the release lever to close the outer doors. Once again there was a clunk of a mechanism unlocking and then the doors slowly closed shut. It was clear from this side that the doors were operated by massive hydraulic arms. The structural fittings were clear on the inside of the hatchway where they attached to the door and slid smoothly into the wall..
There was the slightest of clangs and a hiss as a pressure seal activated. To one side a small flashing light suddenly stopped its amber blinking and turned a solid green. Marsh moved over to the panel so that he could start the activation sequence that would cycle the airlock and open the inner doorway.
The panel was fairly simple. A small readout, a series of small safety lights and a few buttons. The airlock would function as a decontamination chamber if needed, but while still part of the larger vessel those functions were blank. Marsh reached out to tap the cycle airlock button which would check the pressure on both sides of the lock and equalise. His hand never reached the switch.
There was no warning as suddenly the floor below them and the ceiling above became opposingly charged surfaces. Immediately a current of electrical energy surged through both of them as the two poles discharged via the shortest possible route. Marsh felt his body arc backwards wrenching his spine and sending his arms flailing outwards. He couldnâ€™t see Drick through the blood haze that suddenly blurred his vision.
The charge lasted for a microsecond, but the two bodies sprawled on the ground lay twitching for several seconds until their convulsing limbs finally rested. There was a slight pause and then a clunk as the inner airlock door slid slowly open.
Drick took a few moments to study the panel that was set next to the airlock. It was a simple keypad for an alpha-numeric code, linked to personal identity by a scanner for biological recognition. The scanner was above the pad. It looked like a simple light emitter. Drick had seen many like it, they used a mixture of body shape and visual characteristics, scanning via visible and infrared spectrum, to check blood flow and other body functions. Clever versions of the scanner could also detect small changes in electromagnetic frequencies that measured an individual on that spectrum. All lifeforms have a distinct electrical makeup and that was harder to mask or emulate. The scanner on this door would be trivial to fool.
Bypassing the keypad was easy. The virus that was already in the low-level security subnet could be targeted to deactivate the lock. The scanner was a different matter. It was a simple device but its pattern recognition and matching functions were complex enough to need higher levels of processing capabilities. That meant an active security system would be controlling it, which would need access to secure records. That would involve the central system and the ship’s higher artificial intelligence systems. Circumnavigating the system would not be so easy. The program that Drick had implanted in the system was sophisticated but it would need time to infiltrate across all the levels of the vessel’s security.
Drick briefly contemplated attaching a direct line to the scanners system interface. There would be an access hatch, under the main emitter. If they were to patch directly into the system they could upload an override to loop the scanner into getting a positive identification. This would also enable Drick to check on the status of the stealth program and corruption virus that were already in the system. The disadvantage would be the time it would take to carefully take apart the scanner without triggering a warning or a maintenance report. A fault would lock the door as fast as a failed scan.
Drick bit a lip and came to a decision. They turned and tapped Marsh gently on the arm, he seemed transfixed by the wall displays and jerked slightly at the touch. Then touching helmets with Marsh, Drick activated the comms. â€œWe need to get through the door but I donâ€™t have the time or luxury to defeat the scanner.â€
â€œThen what do you suggest?â€ Marsh replied. â€œWe could blast the doors maybe?â€
â€œWe could but that would do more damage to this side of the ship than to that section. These things are intended to survive breakup and possible orbital reentry. We donâ€™t have that much explosive. Also I don’t want to casually kill anyone who might be on the other side of the airlock or announce our presence so violently.â€
â€œThen what do you suggest?â€
â€œI think I can bypass the keypad with ease. That would just activate a scan. For which we will need an original member of the crew or passengers who had access to the bridge.â€ Drick looked into Marshâ€™s eyes through the twin visors. Drick noticed how gaunt their features looked, his and theirs. There was also a slight hollow look to Drickâ€™s own eyes as they reflected, semi-transparent, in the smooth curve of the visor. There was a look of puzzlement on Marshâ€™s face. Then realisation.
â€œYou mean me?â€
â€œYes.â€ Drick smiled slightly. â€œThey did a very good job of making you a copy of the original Marsh. I am betting that it is good enough to override the security systems on this ship, maybe even good enough to fool every shipâ€™s system. In fact I think that is likely to be one of their main objectives in making you.â€ Drick studied the puzzled expression. â€œIâ€™ll tell you later,â€ they said. â€œYou will need to take your helmet and gloves off. There is no other choice, the armour on these suits is good enough to block the scan.â€
Drick busied themselves with the panel as Marsh undid the helmet seals and removed the gloves from the suit he wore. It was the work of a few minutes to pry the front from the panel and insert a small robotic lockpick. Drick watched as it carefully attached itself to several of the panelâ€™s components, cautiously examining before it merged its own fine contacts with several different sections of the electronics board. A few seconds after it had linked up the panel flashed green as the robotic lockpick overrode the system and gave the correct electrical response for a successful password.
Marsh stood in front of the panel. Drick could see that his heart rate and blood pressure were elevated. He was breathing slightly faster, but not excessively so. Natural nervousness. It wasnâ€™t outside of a low cardio workout and nothing that would upset the scanner.
The only indication that Marsh was being scanned was a thin blue-green line that quickly went up his body horizontally and then across him vertically. There was a long pause and then the light went out on the scanner.
Marsh and Drick both jumped slightly when there was a loud bang. It was a lock release from the large airlock. Then smoothly, now almost soundlessly, the doors opened with just the faintest hiss of air.
They reached the main corridor that, according to the schematics, contained the entrance portal to the bridge. They had moved swiftly, but cautiously, but they had not seen any other signs of life or movement. Marsh had a growing sense of unease and knew that it was shared by Drick. There was a tenseness to their movements, a quick darting look to the eyes.
As they had ascended the stairs, or ramps, from one floor to another, passed each doorway, entered each new corridor, Drick had taken extensive forward readings. Each time the movement and heat sensors had shown nothing. There was a little movement from automated systems such as air control. They thought they detected a small device that may have been a maintenance robot. But nothing else. It was eerily empty.
Drick carried an assortment of small devices and nano drones that kept up a watch or pattern of surveillance around them. The drones were undetectable to all but the most sophisticated system. They primary purpose was the passive sensors that relayed if electromagnetic sensors were detected. This would help prevent Drick and Marsh walking into a sensor’s field of view.
The other instruments picked up laser, sonar, pressure, air-movement, thermal and broad spectrum electromagnetics. There was a small drone that followed the other nano-machines which mapped terrain, it could scan for classic physical detection and alterations such as two way mirrors or spy holes.
This assortment of checks made the progress painfully slow whenever they approached a new corridor or intersection. They moved swiftly along otherwise. The constant waiting then rushing to the next safe point was making Marshâ€™s insides knot with tension. However, he said nothing and watched as fervently as Drick did the readouts and displays. Scanning for any discrepancy.
They had arranged a series of commands that could be given via helmet touch or slight hand signals. These even included some simple question and answer responses. Drickâ€™s movements had repeatedly indicated caution. There seemed little need as the ship was empty, maybe it was devoid of life. But, what was the other ship, the supply shuttle, doing then? Was it bringing personnel, or taking them away? Did it have anyone living on board?
The corridors slowly changed from plain, utilitarian, functional design to a more pleasing series of curves. Doorways were inset in the forward section and had soft rounded sections. There was subtle lighting under the floor and from hidden recesses overhead. The emitted light was a mixture of muted pastels to offset the harsh standard light cells that still lined the wall sections.
The corridor that led to the bridge itself had large semi-holographic panels as wall and ceiling plates. It was a living painting, or environment that could obviously be programmed to display an infinite variety of images.
As they entered this passage the ceiling resembled a sky and the walls showed a nature scene with a fine level of detail that was so real only the scale and lack of other sensory data said it was an image. They were suddenly immersed in an almost three hundred and sixty degree video view.
Marsh studied the scene. Impressed by the fidelity of the image, as he drew closer subtle sounds and smells were replicated. But the imagery also contained oddities that were too unusual to be haphazard. Elements that did not fit the tone of the idyllic scene. They were oddities. They had to be placed by a computer algorithm, of this there was little doubt, but for what purpose?
In the countryside scene he could see a cottage, stark white against the rolling greenery. A patchwork of fields spread behind it and a small, well tended garden to one side. There was a scene outside the front door, which was blue with rusted hinges. There was a table and two stools, on the table a robin with a bright red breast was trapped in a gilded cage, it fluttered about in quick darting movements. Looking through the cage bars Marsh could see the only dark clouds in the sky reflected on the floor.
There were more birds nearby. A small dove-house, filled with doves and pigeons, was resting under a giant sycamore tree. The white and grey plumed birds flew in and out, or perched on its roof and rails. The weight of them seemed to make the flimsy wood and wire structure shudder as they took off and landed.
At the gate, in a wall that was mostly tumbled rocks, was a dog. It looked like a mongrel, brown and gangly with its starved ribs showing clearly. Near to this dog was a road and in the distance a cart with a horse. A figure could be seen with a raised stick beating the horse roughly. Blood sprayed, but not from the horse, with each strike blood came from the person. There were other birds in a nearby forest where dawn was slowly breaking.
Marsh was mesmerised by the scene, it was familiar in some way, as if he had read something similar in a book, or maybe seen this in a film somewhere. A memory of his motherâ€™s face flicked into his mind. That was the strangest sensation as he knew it wasnâ€™t his mother. It was the real Marshâ€™s mother. His mother birthed a clone.
Drick seemed to pay no heed to the strange images being projected onto the walls and ceiling. They moved quickly down this corridor towards the doorway at the end. They passed two other doors that were closed. Drick checked them for signs of movement or use. Then they placed a device on the door to warn them if it opened and moved on to the bridge doors.
The entrance to the bridge was a large airlock set into a main bulkhead. This vessel was a series of large compartments. Each one could be separated from the rest of the ship. Isolation to restrict damage from one section affecting another. Compartmentalisation for purpose and ease of construction. Autonomy, allowing sections to be dismantled one at a time without destroying the function of the whole. A testament to purpose, a deep regard to safety.
This section could be separated from the rest of the ship. Sealed or discarded in the event of a cataclysm. It also helped with the eventual shipâ€™s function as a space port during colonisation. Any section could be used as a command section while the others were disassembled for reassembly on the surface or utilised as orbiting platforms.
This design, while impressive, did present them with the problem of needing to bypass a security airlock that was structurally sound before gaining access to the bridge beyond.
I use streaming services, but I love vinyl. I often find that people can accept that I am a quirky person, or sometimes they think it is because I am old and don’t get technology (hint: this is so high on the list of bollocks I cannot begin to defend it without steam erupting from my ears of pissing myself laughing). But I love vinyl and to a smaller part tapes. But I also get a bit of stick from people of my age, and younger, even occasionally older. For some reason.
My biggest gripe. the music lover. The one who you know loves music. the one who also at every opportunity tries to put down vinyl, or marvel at it being still in existence. They often do the same at books. Partly I feel it is just because maybe they are a little sad at what they gave up. Partly I feel they are that ex-smoker (like me) hypocritically calling out smokers. I don’t know. I am probably wrong in what I feel.
But. I love vinyl. And for me this is part of the reason whyâ€¦
You can enjoy all the benefits of the modern world. And I do. I have two Plex servers (Home and a community shared one); you can have a music streaming service from a broadcast official (Apple, Spotify, Pandora, YT Music, whatever), and I do. Hell I also subscribe to lots of visual media streaming services as well as having the latest smart devices, electronic book subscriptions, electronic drama (audio) subscriptions, and gushing over technology because I do love itâ€¦most of the time. You can love how you have been introduced to so much more, so many more, bands and music via the ‘like this’ element of streaming music.
But then you go and think this is better. A natural evolution. Not just different. And also a little bit (maybe a lot) less. You go and mock, or dismiss how it used to be. You act like there is something wrong with a choice to have the latest music on vinyl, or even an audio play or book on vinyl. Why would anyone want that? Why not just have it as a preference in whatever app you prefer.
Also, sometimes, you confuse modern electronic systems of superiority. In regards to quality, or choice, or usage. You confuse ease with progress.
So I answer thusly:
Are you are a mindless soporific drone? You allow an algorithm to spoon-feed you another portion of heterogonous statistical variance. Albums that were once, and in some cases still are, masterful creations intended to serve as an exhibition, a narrative, are now served up as compressed meat slices that fit within a certain variable of the last pulled out of context soliloquy. You might allow that service to play you a new album once or twice so that you can select which elements to push from your constantly over-stimulated recollection. Why have an attention span when your playlist is linked to a database with a better appreciation. How many of you know the track listing of the last song you heard, or even the album? You probably remember the listâ€¦
And those playlists, constantly mixed into your user-centric identity piecemeal so that the continuing colour of your existence blends further towards uniformity. Why have a guilty pleasure when you can have a secret list of them. No one will ever know as there are no physical remains to advertise your guilt. You don’t ever have to select them yourself. You don’t ever have to do anything but mumble a phrase or swipe a switch.
You are in control. Holder of the many variant mood lists. Screw the producers, composers, artists and engineers. No longer do you need suffer to listen to a composition, of any particular lyrical lust, in the manner the author intended. A sum composed by the tail-end of probability will reduce it to an agreed understanding that you have happily submitted to creating.
No one touches your world.
Because there is no tactility. No interaction with the physical. Music delivered electronically straight into your micro-interfaces eliminating any possibility of the randomness that is living. No longer can a mote of dust be seen in God’s eye. We have digitally scrubbed it aside. The texture of surfaces lost as we further sterilise the experience by the inserting of hypo-allergenic delivery systems into our orifices, further removing any possibility of acoustic variability. How better to have the soulless sum collected than in the hardware delivery system. The only logical next step is to feed it directly onto the surfaces of the synapses finally eliminating any physical system that allows you to determine what is actually real.
Biological systems are slowly eroded. Visual appreciation of artwork, the feel of card and paper. The textures of vinyl ridges and a slight pull of static. The gentle manipulation of machinery and the almost sensual caress of cleaning are lost. Forgotten. These emotions, these senses, are cheerfully abandoned to the alter of convenience.
Soon, even your ears will be defunct, artefacts of a forgotten biological age. They hear only in analogue and mono. It takes the functions of a determined sub-conscious to construct a stereo experience rich in reality. This is a blocking point and one that our mad dash towards technological totalitarianism will overcome and eradicate. Mathematical delivery of mathematical composition directly into a biological system trained to appreciate the arrangement of a sequence. That is what pure digital appreciation can only be. That is our endpoint.
We must feed, consume, absorb more and more to sate our lust without ever realising that we are doing so by surrendering the full experience. We have pasteurised the delivery of music. Streaming services are the UHT, the Huel, the removal of the stress of effort. It is a cost in space to own the physical. It is a cost in time to interact. It is a cost of effort. it is a cost of money. It is a cost of relationship. We have reduced the overhead to the appreciation of the art. Now there is only a drive towards greater efficiency and the calculation of profit.
And what of that money? As we gladly throw either our privacy, or our wealth, to a streaming service that cares nothing for our spirit. Content delivery systems designed on the premise that ease of availability and amount of choice are the only variables to quality. Digital systems that are being perfected in an arms race of choice not audience appreciation. So that we are lured to a competitor by the breadth of their offer for we no longer need worry about the quality of our life or the joy of possession. As for the services themselves we will sacrifice our morals to an organisation that might platform hate, or delete preferences based on the whim of politics or popularism. They will censor, manipulate, eradicate, collate, stereotype and homogenise without ever needing to inform us of a choice. Paul McCartney will tell you that on the original album cover he had a cigarette in his hand and they all had no shoes on but the digital future eradicates the truth and the Madame Tussauds models replicate a lie.
You own nothing. You leave nothing. You have started to hold nothing as you cheerfully abandon your senses. You own a stream of electrons that stick in one pattern or another until at the end of your existence they are allowed to decay or are purposefully removed. Deleting your existence in the press of a button as you chose to set your existence in the same manner. Gleefully, and with a whimsical sense of pride, you reduce your life to a series of preferences in a password protected electronic mausoleum. You are already dead, you just haven’t stopped interacting with the software.
But, it is a lot easier to carry a smart device in your pocket, as opposed to 40 million+ songs, a record player, amplifier, speaker system and a few miles of cable.
A couple of weeks a go a piece of serendipity occurred. I was in South Wales for the first time in 15 months. I guess for some people that wouldn’t be unusual, but we have family in the valley and in years when we were not all locked to our homes we would visit every couple of months. So this was the first time we had managed to get to see family since New Year 2019.
This wasn’t the sernedipity.
I have a good friend from university, Malcolm. He has a Caterham Lotus 7 which if you don’t know what that is, it is a car, A cute little two seater sports style car. It doesn’t have any fancy things like windows, or a roof, or space. In fact you are sitting two people in a space not much bigger than a bath tub. On a frame that weighs about 400 kilos with a 1.8 litre engine. That sounds like a small engine, the brake horse power is only in the low one hundreds, but the power to weight ratio, that’s the fun part. You are also sat about fifteen centimetres from the ground, with the rear axle behind you.
Malcolm has always promised me a little jaunt, a jolly, a buzz, in the Lotus 7. I have always wanted to because it is like a roller coaster without rails. i.e. bloody good fun, and more than a little terrifying on the first trip.
So the serendipity. I was in wales, with my family and I tweeted such. Malcolm contacted me and said that he was fifteen miles away doing his first road trip since the lockdown ended. He then asked if he could whisk me away from family. I have 3 kids, I was with relatives. So we determined a 5a.m. start and a quick jaunt up to the Black Mountain (Y Mynydd Du) could be done. The jolly was on.
What entailed was a thrilling morning. It was cold. It was windy. It was exhilarating. And it was even funny when the road chippings bounced off your forehead. Thankfully I was pre-warned so I was wrapped up warm. Malcolm, bless, had the foresight to bring spare goggles and ear muffs for me, which was a god send sparing most of my face from debris and my ears from being pummelled into my skull (did I mention that it was loud and that the exhaust was 110 centimetres from my head?)
I took some, very shaky, footage with a mobile phone. I took enough to edit into a small film (I added some car sounds taken on a different trip with a microphone that wasn’t in the slipstream. I also added some tunes to help with the experience. It’s short, I recommend you watch it to see the scenery and the smile on my face masking the partial terror I also felt.
I have been promised another jaunt in the not too distant future. I cannot bloody wait. Thanks once again to Malcolm, you casn check out his website and YouTube channel: Malcolm Anderson, Seven Drives, https://se7endrives.wixsite.com/seven… – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLyMVPqGXnNasgXYVeZYhkQ. Additional music on my video is by https://soundcloud.com/beardmont.
Black Mountain Buzz (press play to start)
Drick had taken the lead after their short interaction. Turning quickly away from Marsh and scouting around the hanger bay. Once they had made sure they were the only organic creatures moving they had turned their attention to the many doors that led in and out of the vast space. They chose a doorway that looked as if it led forwards.
There was no good reason to place a bridge of any vessel at the front of a ship. There was a lot of historical precedence, but no good reason. Space vessels had used sensors to view the outside for millenia. The reliance on a visual view had died in the early parts of the twenty-first century. Even then it was an artefact of history, an anathema. Ships did not need a real time external view except via a screen.
It was hundreds of years since the view of the outside was replicated in real time over the consciousness of the pilot. The pilot, if they needed to be, could be the vessel. They didnâ€™t use their actual eyes, so why have an actual window.
But the tradition still existed. For some it was a style choice. For others it might be the desire to pilot a vessel using only their wits and real world senses. For many it was comforting to use their biological systems when experiencing some sensations. On a ship this old it was part of the tradition. The bridge was at the front on an upper deck, the engine room at the stern, lower decks.
Drick and Marsh moved through the airlock and into a main corridor. Drickâ€™s incursion into the shipâ€™s systems had given them a brief layout of the vessel. They needed to get to the very front of the ship and to deck four. Because of the large hanger and even larger cryo chambers there were only five decks at the bow of the ship. Towards the stern, where the vessel was expected to act as a home for the colonists during the decades of terraforming there were nearly sixty decks.
Marsh wanted to ask Drick about the comment but he had also known that he didnâ€™t have to. They had said that they were often guided, often sent to perform a task. If it were any other person, any other time, he would have called it paranoia. But he knew Drick. Knew them well. This wasnâ€™t paranoia. If Drick was sharing a concern or a theory then it was valid and probably correct.
So Drick, in their own words, was a puppet on a string. They were still being guided in some way. They were being shown a path here. Maybe all of this was controlled and pre-determined. Even for Marsh. Not, perhaps, every step, not every action. Drick had made it clear that the forces that did this were subtle and allowed for there to be variation. There was no precise master plan where every event was set. There were governing lines, barriers that forced the action and flow of motion into a certain path.
How an operative and those they interacted with responded to this, what they did, that was not predetermined. It was all merely placed into a matrix of acceptable outcomes.
A part of Marsh was furious at the organisation that guided Drick. Not on their behalf, on his. The notion that the only reason Drick was there to help him, to save him and uncover this entire event was because it suited some mysterious groups own ends was maddening. But on the flip side of that was the knowledge that he owed his life to that interference. How many others had there been like him before they interfered? For what reason did he even exist? How many more like him would there be in the future?
This all had to stop. He understood that. It didnâ€™t make it any easier that he felt that, like Drick, he was also a puppet on a string. It had to stop. The creation of people like him, the whole situation. They had to know what it all meant, and it had to stop. Life was worth more. It didnâ€™t matter if you could cheaply make it. It didnâ€™t matter if you could clone a copy and drop into a new body. To treat existence as a commodity was just another form of slavery.
Marsh marvelled at the size of the room that they had entered into via the supply pipe airlock. It was a hanger bay for the generation ship, probably the only bay on the entire ship judging by its size.
They had entered near to the rear of the hangar bay. The airlock hatch they had used opened in the ceiling with a small set of recessed steps that would function in any gravitational direction, including zero-g. Both of them had set their magnetic boots to active when they were climbing down into the airlock so the stairs proved to be no issue.
Drick had pressurised the airlock chamber before they opened the door. Then they had cracked it slowly and opened it a fraction. They had pushed a thin optic fibre through the crack and used a probe to look around.
There was cover nearby where a central column had been constructed to house the fuel supply lines. It was a long pylon that stretched to the floor. It didnâ€™t look to be a part of the original superstructure so had to be part of the same additions as the supply pipe.
They had moved out onto the ceiling, clinging upside down using the gravity nullifiers and the magnetic boots. They then moved into the shadow cast by this pylon.
Below them there was the supply vessel they had followed to the rock. On closer examination they could see that it was an unmanned vehicle. There was no cockpit. It was a frame with engines and a small computer to handle navigation and piloting. The rest of the frame was filled with cargo boxes that were neatly fitted together to make the smooth hull. The boxes themselves interlocked to form the outer shell of the vehicle wasting no space.
As they watched they noticed a small team of service robots disassembling the whole vessel and opening the various cargo containers. Boxes and canisters were being loaded onto other small service droids that shot away as soon as they were laden.
The ceiling they stood on stretched away into an almost hazy distance. Marsh estimated it was maybe two kilometres in length. It was over half a kilometre wide and maybe two hundred metres high. But it was not an empty echoing room. Almost every square centimetre of wall space was filled with racks of vessels.
Wheeled trucks, hover planes, jet planes and space vehicles were tightly packed into modular bays and cradles that hung from the ceiling. There were rows of wheeled platform vehicles, all terrain cargo carriers and agricultural vehicles. There were submersible vehicles, and a few highly efficient looking military vehicles, mixed in among the shuttles and cargo vehicles. Even a modest guess would estimate there to be thousands of vehicles in the bay. There were also hundreds of thousands of boxes, from the labels it was impossible to determine their contents, but a guess would be that they were parts and spares for the vehicles.
Marsh felt a slight tug at his wrist and looked at Drick to see them pointing towards a shadowed area to the side of them. It was a narrow walkway next to the cradle for a large shuttle vessel. They both moved quickly, but as soundlessly as possible, toward the walkway. Marsh found that rolling his foot in the magnetic boots, as practiced on the ship over the past few months, made them attach and detach with barely a sound. There was noise suppression built into the suit, but the robotic workers may have highly sensitive receptors, so every precaution had to be taken.
They made it into the shadows and Drick moved the whole length of the cradle until they had reached the wall of the hanger. Only then did Drick touch the helmet of their suit to Marshâ€™s suit allowing communication without transmission via direct electrical contact.
â€œI wasnâ€™t expecting the ship to be unmanned.â€ Drickâ€™s words flashed into the monitor screens behind Marshâ€™s eyes.
As always Marsh closed his eyes slightly to help him focus. â€œI know, I would have thought some executive from one of the companies would have made the journey.â€
â€œThey may have,â€ said Drick.
â€œYou want to take a moment to explain yourself again. Heck Drick, it has been months now, I still am just about as ignorant at this as the day you met me. I donâ€™t get the subtle inferences. In fact I donâ€™t think I get much at all, but I may just be me.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not ignorance,â€ Marsh saw the wry smile through his half-lidded gaze, â€œthatâ€™s your natural stupidity. You are a big dumb bloke. And you chose that on purpose.â€
â€œItâ€™s the way I am.â€ He smiled as he thought the words.
â€œIt suits you,â€ Drick answered. â€œI meant that it is likely, since there was no atmospheric pod, that it was an artificial intellect.â€ A strange look crossed Drickâ€™s face.
â€œProblem?â€ Marsh raised an eyebrow.
â€œNot really,â€ said Drick, â€œjust another piece of a puzzle and an annoyance. I feel a little more manipulated at that information. As if I already knew it. In fact I know I already knew it. Some of my guesses are just too on the nose.â€
â€œFeeling manipulated?â€ Marsh had opened his eyes fully to stare at Drickâ€™s face.
â€œAs I said before, sometimes I am the organ grinder and other times I am the puppet on a string.â€ Drick had an unusual look on their face. â€œThe monkey being fed the breadcrumbs.â€
â€œWay to mix your metaphors.â€ Marsh prompted hoping they would elaborate.
â€œDonâ€™t try and act smart, youâ€™ll ruin the illusion of being a trustworthy idiot.â€ Drickâ€™s stared right into his face, as they too opened their eyes and looked at his.
â€œThank your lucky stars I am here so that you can turn your casual irritation into violence at a fellow filthy air breather.â€ he said.
â€œThank your lucky stars that you are an air breather otherwise I would have reprogrammed your interaction systems with a shotgun weeks ago.â€ Drick smiled.
It had proven surprisingly easy to board the Generation Ship. The climb up to the side of the airlock, on the inside wall of the asteroid, was tedious as they moved very slowly. They did not wish to slip and hurt themselves, or reveal their presence with any loud noises this close to the structure. From the side of the airlock they were able to get a better view of the structure of supports as they attached to the Generation Ship itself. They saw that there were large magnetic graples that held the vessel and these were powered from the cradle, this gave more weight to the idea that there was independent power inside the vast dock.
Once they were above the airlock, and now close to the top of the Generation Ship, they could see that the airlock was a solid steel structure. The collapsing sections that provided a buffer between the outer rock doors and the ship were massive steel concertinas. They had room to flex, but it resembled overlapping armour plating more than an airlock tunnel. From this position they could also see the large compressors that were needed to open the hanger doors.
Separate to the compressors and running parallel to the twin airlocks was a feed pipe that no doubt held cables and other feeds. It was attached to the rock wall and outer airlock and also attached to the Generation ship on the other side of its hangar airlock. Clearly it was where power and other essential supplies could be provided to the ship. It would make sense that the Generation Ship would have tanks for water and fuel near to its hangar and these had to be supplied somehow.
Drick and Marsh had examined the pipe. It was large, over six metres in diameter. It was constructed from a composite of steel and carbon. Of more interest to Drick was that it had an external access hatch that was an airlock in itself. The pipe was pressurised, this was probably a maintenance hatch. Drick had carefully examined the lock on the door and was delighted that it was a very simple model. The lower security had to be due to the hatch being inside the asteroid.
After a few minutes Drick had managed to connect to and then infiltrate the locking mechanism. A moment later they had uploaded a virus into the security system. This was similar to the package they had used on the tower assault. It was more like a series of viruses, together they had a low level intellect. Marsh briefly wondered if using this class of software wasnâ€™t overkill for what was clearly a low-level maintenance security system, but he had neither the skill, or the luxury, to quiz Drick over their actions.
Within seconds they had gained access to the lower levels of the security sub-net that was running the maintenance systems. It would be connected to the systems above the Generation Ship and Marsh had little doubt that the software would start stealthily working on those systems as well.
This access was enough to enable Drick to piggyback the security cameras and sensors in the massive tube and determine its purpose. As they suspected it was a supply tube. Filled with long electrical cables, water supply pipes, gas pipes, and a single fuel hose in a heavy protective casing. Their suspicions were right. This tube was used to supply ships that docked, or were berthed, inside the large Generation Ship.
The fuel pipe was for liquid hydrogen, used in small manoeuvre jets, there would likely be an oxygen supply but it made sense that this wasnâ€™t located in the same tube. The pipe was old, but not as ancient as the mighty vessel it was attached to. They had some small metallurgy sensors that estimated the maintenance tube at around half the age of the hull of the generation ship based on standard patterns of decay.
Propulsion gases were still relatively common for thrusters on a variety of craft. The fuel was likely needed to replenish the vehicles that docked with the Generation Ship. It was unlikely needed for any vessels the Generation Ship had berthed inside. For some reason they had decided to use this pipe which was fitted to exterior tanks than use the Shipâ€™s supplies, or convert internal systems to hook up to modern designs. Perhaps there was some issue with modifying the massive vessel. From what Marsh had read the vessels were custom built, so maybe the fixtures and fittings were too arcane to bother with retrofitting and the use of supplementary supply was easier.
Drick studied as many details as possible and noted to Marsh that the fuel and energy supply ran to a reserve at the rear of the asteroid that could be refreshed externally. They had not seen a hatchway or refueling platform on their scan of the outside of the rock, but it was likely hidden in a similar fashion to the docking bay doors. The best guess was that the vessel they had followed could be replenished hundreds of times from the reserve. It was a good guess that it was not the only visitor to this vessel.
After disabling the alarms, placing cameras and sensors into loops with enough variance that the entry and exit points of any looped reading could not be easily detected, Drick and Marsh entered through the hatchway. The passageway they found themselves in was cramped, but they could move freely. They quickly moved to the other end of the tube where there was a double airlock on the inside of the pipe that led directly into the generation ship. Drick spent another short time making sure there were no extra security systems or alarms. Then Drick attached themselves to the control panels on this side of the maintenance and supply pipe and uploaded another package of viruses. Marsh couldnâ€™t read Drickâ€™s facial expressions, but he was slightly intrigued at the size of the upload. He figured Drick was making sure that they controlled this pipe and its two airlocks, maybe making sure they had a safe exit route.
Once finished Drick quickly disconnected and stowed the thin fibre cables in a skin-pouch under their arm. Then Drick opened the airlock and they went inside the vessel.