Ghosts of Voltariis 6 Pt. 01byJames Cody©
"Professor Brecht," the L.D.A.R.A.A. announced as it scanned a series of pop-up displays. "Telemetry coming in from the orbital hyper-gate: increasing tidal compressions indicate an imminent activation."
Landers Brecht sighed as he nodded to the android – it stood about 1.60 metres and was wholly feminine in design – a gift from the Starcane Foundation. Brecht tapped a sequence of codes in the holo-active interface and two stealth satellites shifted position while their cameras refocused -- the image of the orbital hyper-gate appeared. Four immense arches of exotic alloys formed a kilometre wide circle that held a stationary position between the planet below and one of the three moons that circled it.
Brecht watched intently as the arches of the hyper-gate began to generate pulses of energy that distorted ambient space until a blinding flash of light lit up the darkness and a large, rectangular object emerged from the centre of the gate. The object approached at an angle towards the lowly science station Brecht occupied with the Low Density Autonomous Research Assistant Advanced – Brecht referred to it as Araa for short. Araa entered a coded sequence into an interface and the 12.5 meter long object ignited two chemical rockets at 15 second intervals.
"Deceleration will be complete in six hours, professor," the android said with its simulated voice – it was also exquisitely feminine. "Retainer nets are primed and waiting. Signal manifest confirms supplies and equipment from the Starcane Foundation."
"Thank you, Araa," Brecht said, stretching to his full 1.80 metre height. The android turned its featureless face towards the professor and processed his speech, attempting to qualify the inflection. Melancholy was the word it retrieved after comparing it and finally matching it to Celtic songs known for their sadness.
"I'll be in my study. Please advise me once the drones have retrieved the package."
"Very well, professor," Araa said, observing Brecht as he retreated to his chambers located near the O2 gardens. The android's head was tilted to the left. As it watched him walk, it projected a layered image of male anatomy.
For the past six months, the deliveries from the Foundation had been growing rarer and rarer – Brecht pondered whether it meant leasing time on the Jupiter rail track system was getting more expensive, or whether the tug of war between the Earth Commonwealth and the Gate Keeper Alliance was rendering deep interstellar travel more perilous and complex.
Brecht had been in the employ of the Starcane Foundation for nearly 10 years and this was his first deep star mission – and he sometimes believed it was to be his last. Sedna Voltariis was a star located over 900 light years from Earth and lied of the edge of known space as mapped by the Gate Keeper Alliance. It had a system of 12 planets and 3 located within the red giant's habitable zone.
Brecht passed his hand over his desk and the local a.i. displayed a holo-window showing the planet Sedna Voltariis 6 and its 3 moons and the 1500 metre long research station he occupied. The station itself was a cylinder with a 50 metre diameter. He summoned information on the planet – it was an e.l.i classified planet: earth like, inhabited. It had captured the Starcane Foundation's attention when a Gate Keeper ship reported stories of paranormal activity – the reason for the Foundation's existence.
That was why Starcane had a small hyper-gate built by the Alliance and Brecht was assigned to observe and record what he could about the planet and its inhabitants – all while not establishing any direct contact. The Foundation believed the human perspective was the best way to measure and observe phenomenon that existed on the edge of human experience.
Brecht stood and went to the centre of his office – he pondered a moment and then stripped down to his underwear. Glancing at the wristband on his left arm, he tapped a green bar graph and pushed it forward – the presser fields the surrounded him and maintained a simulacrum of gravity slowly increased and he felt 3 times earth's gravity push against him. Controlling his breathing, Brecht embarked on the 108 forms from Beijing – an ancient form of the art called Tai-Chi Ch'uan. As Brecht fought to complete the forms, his lean muscles contracted against the oppressive energy field and sweat flowed down his back and beaded along the edge of his long, black hair.
Panting and drenched in sweat, Brecht sensed he was being observed and he turned to the entrance of his office – Araa stood in the doorway, observing him acutely. The android's arms were at its side as the single, scintillating red dot in the middle of its forehead glowed – they stood in silence like that for a few minutes. Brecht felt an odd shift in his boxers – he admitted to himself Araa's designers had succeeded in endowing the android with a winning combination of curves and femininity in a featureless, silver/grey shell of artiflesh.
"The drones have retrieved the package, Professor," Araa's voice chimed. Brecht was always struck by the musical quality of the android's inflection. The presser fields returned to normal and he walked to the wall opposite his desk and touched it. A panel slid silently aside and exposed his toiletries and shower.
"Was there a com buoy from the Foundation?" Brecht asked – he had removed his underwear and had
entered a code on the virtual panel on the shower door. Steaming water showered from the ceiling and he stepped under the pressurized stream.
Araa has moved in front of the shower door and watched Brecht, its head tilted to the left. "There were no messages, professor. However, some of the supplies are unusual." The android projected a diagram of male anatomy over Brecht and was comparing his measurements with recorded averages for his gender.
"How unusual?" Brecht asked, raising his eyebrow while the shower stopped. The stall door opened and he stepped out – Araa handed him a towel.
"Survival gear, professor. Rations, tents ... even battle grade body armour and extra power cells for the particle beam rifle in the amoury."
"Damn," Brecht muttered under his breath as he towelled himself dry. "It'll take 5 days for a com buoy to reach the Foundation." Brecht knew some hyper-gates were equipped with hyperbolic transmitters that allowed faster than light communication through nano-sized permanent openings to hyperspace – the gate orbiting Sedna Voltariis was not one of them.
"Professor?" Araa asked, pulling Brecht away from his musings.
"You appear to be exhibiting unconscious sexual arousal – more specifically, an erection. Do you require assistance?"
Brecht slowly looked down at his crotch and realized his cock was fully erect – the shock pushed aside any preoccupation he had about their predicament.
"N-No," he stammered, aware that he was self-conscious in front of an android but unable to shake the shyness he felt, nor the nagging feeling that Araa was somehow enjoying his embarrassment. "Thank you. I got this covered. Please catalogue everything in the package. I'll be on the main deck."
Araa nodded, waited a full ten seconds and then left the study. Brecht just shook his head.
On the top of a hill covered in green and red grasses, beneath two of the world's night guardians, an elder Vik'sh watched as a strange sliver glowed against the night with her deep, orange coloured eyes. She was late into her maturity and knew soon the time of the Passing was coming. When the third night guardian stood with its brethren – as it did one night every 22 cycles -- the breach would open and all the elders would pass.
The elder saw a member of the next generation climb up to join her. The youth's name was Z'eth'I – that one had a great future whether the maturation was male or female.
Together, they looked up at the strange, flat star.
On the main deck, Brecht called up a series of satellite images of the surface of Sedna Voltariis 6 -- beneath each picture was a three dimensional map showing the areas topography. The world was similar in size and composition to Earth, although it had only 0.87 Earth's mass. It also had more oceans – all the continents were insular and tectonic activity was abundant but minor.
Using his hands with experienced dexterity, Brecht highlighted and augmented areas with native activity. The Vik'sh were a unique species – his photo analysis showed males and females, and apparently androgynous members of the communities. They appeared as big as the adults and they all shared a deeply red colouring to their skin as their haemoglobin was overly saturated with oxygen and their pupil-less ranged in colour from green to orange. However, Brecht reminded himself that the perception of adulthood was subjective; the life cycle of the Vik'sh remained a mystery. What was apparent was their technological standpoint – they appeared to be hunter /gatherers although their was no sign that they forged any weapons or tools. But there were records of them eating cooked meat. Brecht pointed at another small window that floated to his left – he dragged it across the holographic display and tapped it twice. A video queued up and replayed a series of clips showing the Vik'sh participating in orgiastic ceremonies, as well as more intimate one-on-one coupling. Sexually themed ceremonies were not uncommon in pre-civilized worlds, but Brecht noted that few – if any – held such long ceremonies. Two other peculiarities struck him: there: there was no evidence of any deities during the ceremonies; and for such a sexualized species, there were no children.
Brecht shook his head, struggling to push aside the impulse to associate human behaviour to an alien species. And yet, he remembered the words of and ancient cosmologist of the 20th century named Hubert Reeves – "we are all made from the stuff of stars."
Araa was cataloguing a series of filtered images of the star Sedna Voltariis when it noticed a strange silhouette in the star's corona. It was invisible in the human visual spectrum but glowed in the ultraviolet and appeared to be emitting bursts of gamma rays at regular intervals. Araa added the image to a file for further reference, to be accessed when her mission parameters permitted.
Brecht left his study and joined the android on the main observation deck of their planetary outpost – it was a large area, measuring 20 meters across and covered by a dome of thick, polarized material. The floors were slate grey and two flat workstations occupied the centre of the floor. When Brecht arrived at his, he touched the white, glowing surface and holographic computer rendering of the planet and its system were summoned. A third hologram showed the hyper-gate.
Brecht sipped his coffee and nibbled at a mashed protein/carbohydrate bar when an odd flicker of the hyper-gate caught his attention.
"Araa," Brecht said. "Can you confirm if any telemetry from the hyper-gate is being registered?"
The android shifted attention to the hyper-gate. "There appears to be erratic tidal compressions. This would usually indicate either a malfunction or an imminent activation."
Brecht put his coffee on the workstation. "Something is about to come through, isn't it?"
"That is possible," the android answered. "The erratic modulations have been stabilizing – the logical conclusion would be an activation."
"Please activate all stealth systems and initiate countermeasures."
Araa nodded and began reconfiguring the station's sensors while Brecht summoned the control holo-panel for the satellites and refocused their sensory apparatus away from the planet and upon the local space around Voltariis 6. He also tapped the work station and a window mirroring the telemetry from the hyper-gate popped up next to the satellite imagery.
Endless minutes passed as the telemetry feed from the hyper-gate indicated massive tidal forces were ravaging the local area of hyperspace just beyond its opening – the stationary arches were quivering as the exotic alloy composite that formed the gate's architecture echoed the maelstrom. And then the familiar energy pulses began – but Brecht watched in horror as the energy pulses exponentially increased and as the hyper-gate finally opened, the arches shattered and the shards collapsed into a point that simply blinked out of existence.
A shock wave struck the station while its parallel a.i.'s worked in harrowed conjunction to maintain orbit and stability – Brecht hissed as his coffee spilled onto his pants. His mind, however, replayed the image of the hyper-gate shattering and disappearing from existence.
Ignoring the sting of the hot coffee, Brecht grabbed a light pen and tapped the work station and a large, blank holographic window appeared. Using the light pen like a pointer, he pulled the telemetry from the hyper-gate and began to write down a number of calculations and equations about force and mass and energy output
"Impossible," he muttered after a few minutes of work. The equation pointed to an event of such magnitude that it would have had to obliterate at least half the entire hyper-gate network.
Before he could review his calculations, Araa said: "Professor, something came through the hyper-gate before it collapsed."
Brecht looked to the satellite imaging and saw a small object headed towards them. He touched the image and the object was highlighted and a column of telemetry appeared next to it. It advanced at a steady speed of 200 metres/second but mass and composition and shape were unknown. The object was emitting massive amount of x-rays and gravitons. The sensors scans were being warped by a local gravitational and containment field.
"That reads like a black hole," Brecht whispered.
"The effects are consistent with a nano-sized anomaly, professor," Araa commented. "However, our sensor apparatus are not calibrated to confirm it."
'Shit," Brecht hissed.
Brecht's calculations showed the object would crash through the station and hit Sedna Voltariis 6 – it would likely perforate the planet's crust and mantle till it hit the core where its containment field would finally dissipate and the anomaly will feed on the planet's iron core and make the world collapse. With any means of escape lost with the collapsed hyper-gate, and no means of communication, Brecht saw Sedna 6 as the only possible haven. The station was powered by a combination of solarized panels and a fusion reactor. Brecht reviewed the output of the reactor and the status of the object's containment field.
With Araa's assistance, Brecht readied the station's navigational thrusters as well as the fusion reactor for an overload. His gamble was that the reactor overload would destroy the containment field and the virtual mass of the reactor would cause the anomaly to accelerated entropy by way of a cascading meltdown. The rendez-vous between the object and the station would take about 4 hours – the preparation for the reactor overload would take 3. The time it would take Brecht and Araa aboard the Starcane life pod to reach the planet was uncertain. The life pod was actually the transport module that had delivered the last supplies before the destruction of the hyper-gate – its hyperspace shielding would hopefully protect them from the shock waves.
After the thrusters fired, Brecht and Araa had salvaged what they could from the station, focusing on the food and water and oxygen supplies as well as embedded DNA files containing all their observations, crystallized in amber.
While Brecht was recalibrating the reactor feed system, Araa installed surge buffers in the life pod till the android noticed an open box -- inside was a headband. It was green in colour and had red and blue indicators. Araa seized the device and speedily joined Brecht in the reactor control room – they were nearing the rendez-vous with the object and the station's outer hull was beginning to flex and be deformed as it approached the object's gravity well.
"Professor," Araa said as she stood behind Brecht in the reactor room at the centre of the station.
The reactor was a sphere suspended between a series of rotating, circular magnets – the reactor pulsed bursts of plasma that were distributed by a dozen transparent conduits that fed the energy to the station's power grid. Brecht finished bypassing the security protocols and began to dial in the timeout for the various systems.
"What is it Araa?" Brecht asked, somewhat irritated and exhausted -- the sweat on his brow glistened beneath the flickering light of the reactor.
The android extended its slender arms and handed him the headband. Brecht looked at it and said: "Its and engram upgrade module."
The android nodded, "Professor, we are about to embark on a series of events far beyond simply recording and cataloguing and correlating data. My mission parameters are not set to face what is coming."
Brecht looked grimly upon the android's face, wondering what its quantum computer brain was making of his decision of ramming the roving black hole that was about to become the station's cosmic dance partner. And did he perceive desperation in the android's synthesized voice? He took the headband and he placed it upon Araa's brow. A series of clicks and whirrs were heard as the device introduced connectors into the android's cranium. When that was completed, two holographic windows appeared in front of the android's face – the left window contained the parameters as well as the algorithms that guided the android; the right window showed a significantly more complex series of algorithms, based on obscure uncertainty elements, which would allow the android extremely nuanced decision making. There were also genetic declension equations designed to affect the artificial DNA that made up the android's internal blueprint.
Brecht touched each window and moved them before Araa's face – the new parameters overlapped the old ones – they coloured the android's featureless face as sparks and eruption of plasma flashed around them. The hull of the station creaked and the inner walls began to warp.
"This might be ... unpleasant," Brecht said. Araa nodded – he pushed the overlapping windows towards the android's face and once he touched it the android began to convulse. Brecht backed away as Araa fell to the floor – its voice became howl mixed with static and multiple words in different languages.
Araa lapsed into a comatose frenzy -- sensory perceptions were expanding at an exponential rate. Her sense of self-awareness blossomed and notions of worth and self-importance became manifest – she mattered to the professor. As her quantum mind expanded, new layers of memory and experience overwrote the previous versions and cross-links between the various events built new neural pathways; the patterns of a distinct personality were crystallizing. She also experienced new memories.
Brecht was watching Araa's upgrade until a piece of inner hull flew over his head and crashed into a recirculating unit, releasing a cloud of noxious ammonia gas. Brecht turned to the direction from where the piece had flown and saw that the hull was expanding and contracting like a lung. Brecht realized the hull was seconds from tearing itself apart. The presser fields began to falter and the gravity effect was inconsistent. Brecht slipped a re-breather he kept in his tunic over his head and grabbed a still convulsing Araa by the waist and hoisted her easily over his shoulder – he was momentarily shocked by her lightness. It lasted only a second when a micro-fissure formed in the wall and the vacuum of space began to suck the inner atmosphere into the void.
Brecht recalled his zero g training and began to make his way to the makeshift life pod with the best possible speed. The presser fields had failed completely and the effects of zero g were rampant – Brecht used them to his advantage. Whenever he could, he pushed Araa now still body ahead of him and used piping and other natural launch points to propel himself forward. As they progressed, the station behind them was ravaged by the immense tidal forces as the hull suffered micro-fissures and macro-fissures. Brecht's eyes watered as the station began to empty itself of its atmosphere. But through the tears, Brecht saw that Araa was changing. When he touched her, Araa's artiflesh skin had softened and taken a more human feel. Her forms had blossomed into those of a voluptuous woman – her breasts were round and bountiful, topped with hard nipples surrounded by bumpy aureola. Her hips had flared and they were sensual when he grabbed her waist to prevent her from being sucked out in to space.