Three hundred and thirty-three trillion kilometers from the Sol system, Earth Colonization Vessel number seven finally completed its seven hundred and four year journey to the Triangulum constellation. Delta Trianguli was its destination, a binary star system as previously unpopulated by humanity or any other known form of life.
‘Dora’ as the ship was christened now sat in distant orbit around the system’s two suns, a large yellow dwarf similar to Sol in size and intensity and a smaller, dimmer orange dwarf star. Eclipsing the greater star (Delta Trianguli A) from Dora’s point of view the dimly glowing orange dwarf (Delta Trianguli B) blocked much of the sunlight from reaching the ancient spacecraft, regardless the giant conical shield at the craft’s fore which had protected it from abrasive dust, rock and other debris as it travelled shone brightly against the background of star studded space.
Covered behind the debris shield sixty kilometers of structure stretched out in shadow, a cylindrical hub carrying a thousand rotating terraforming modules that swung around its axis to simulate gravity for the colonists within. Ten thousand people occupied each ‘pod’, the modules themselves measured close to twelve hundred meters tall and six hundred wide and were designed to detach and descend across the habitable planets within the solar system.
Seven planets orbited the binary system, two of which sat close enough to the ‘sweet spot’ (a distance not too close nor too far from the sun/s) to be desirable and most of them held satellite moons within their gravity.
None of the worlds had names yet, only numbers in order of their proximity to the stars.
Delta Trianguli #1, the closest planet sat at roughly 120 million kilometers from the centre of the system, smaller than Earth (which was used as a standard) but about as dense #1 had a gravity of approximately 8m/s² (about four-fifths Earth norm), a day that lasted fourteen hours and orbital period (year) of 104 days (2496 hours, a ‘day’ is an exact time period of 24 hours).
#2 was remarkably similar to Earth in regard to its size and density though its atmosphere was more like Mars’, icy and barren orbiting at 150 million kilometers from the centre its day lasted 24 hours and yearly cycle took 365 days. #2 had three moons and the greatest probability of successful terraformation.
The second planet had three moons, all of which could be transformed for life given time.
Third was a planet over twice the mass of Earth with double the gravity (19.6m/s²), with thin atmosphere at 210 million kilometers from the centre it was cold, mountainous and covered in mineral sand. Surveys found most of the density was attributed to heavy elements and metals, dominantly iron, aluminium and uranium.
The local day there lasted 80 hours and years were one of the longest at 740 days (17760 hours).
Two moons orbited #3, one of which held great prospect with an already tolerable (but still not breathable) atmosphere and plenty of water ice.
The fourth world was a frozen wasteland three quarters Earth’s size, it had no moons but a majority of it was ocean hidden beneath a surface crust of ice. Having liquid water made the planet a subject of interest and speculation though below freezing over 250 million klicks from the centre of the system it was not a desirable place for colonization.
A gas giant was the fifth world in the sequence, two hundred times the size of earth it was not an object for colonization but a valuable planet for mining operations and meteorological importance since gas giants often sucked in dangerous asteroids and comets that threatened to impact habited worlds. #5 sat 500 million kilometers from the centre, local days lasted 20 hours and its orbital period 12000 hours (500 days).
Unusual for a gas giant the planet only had one satellite moon, a fairly large moon but still only one.
Second last was a shattered planet 360 million kilometers from the system centre, broken apart in some unknown calamity #6 had lost over half its mass which now trailed behind it as chunks of rock and floating debris. Tailing away in a semicircle as the world slowly drifted along in a 1407 day orbit the trail made the broken planet both distinct and beautiful in an odd fashion as all the different layers and elements were exposed to the light with no atmosphere present to diffuse it.
The days around #6 were 96 hours long and the mass of its largest intact segment was close enough to equal Earth’s. If it ever had any moons they’ve long since been destroyed or lost.
Last in line was a tiny ice body 525 million kilometers away from the center of the system, its twist rate was 4320 hours and orbital period a long 2130 days. Small, freezing, barren and entirely inhospitable #7 was not being considered for any colonization efforts.
Once Delta Trianguli was properly mapped and charted the thousand modules would be launched to spread out in optimum concentration for population and begin terraforming the atmosphere to support human life. Thousands of construction robots would use the decades it would take for the terraforming to finish to build habitable cities, infrastructure and transportation lines while the colonists ‘slept’ safely in cryostasis.
Delta Trianguli would be a model civilization when everyone awoke, carefully planned and designed as a theoretical utopia free of conflict and illness (which had been meticulously screened out in quarantine before leaving Sol) it was intended to be a paradise.
Frozen embryos, clones and preservations of plants and animals would be seeded over habitable zones once the environment could support them. Mostly cattle and crops to support the colonists once stored provisions were exhausted which would thrive without all the natural pests, diseases and predation left far behind on Earth and the rest of Sol.
Nothing was ever perfect, not really, but the engineers of this new civilization had gotten damned close.
In 2113AD at the time of its ‘launch’ ECV-#7 ‘Dora’ had been an engineering marvel, the largest and fastest ship ever built. It was the seventh colonization vessel commissioned by Outland Terraforming, a company that had been previously responsible for colonization of Luna, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
As its most ambitious project ever the company combined its almost inexhaustible resources with those of the unified worlds under the Sol Federation for the creation of the Dora space exploration and colonization program wherein ten million people would be nominated and selected to traverse to a nearby solar system not yet targeted for habitation… Delta Trianguli.
Beatrice Hoallick had been one such nominee selected for the operation, born on Luna in 2088 the Caucasoid was a technician that had grown up working for Lunar Gases harvesting Helium from Earth’s moon to fuel new clean-operating fusion reactors. Moving on to man and manage mines in floating platforms on Jupiter and later around its moons Beatrice applied for the Dora program and was accepted to be specialist technician aboard module #42.
Now in 2817J at only twenty-seven years of age the young woman was being revived from cryostasis to being a two year work shift maintaining her assigned module, as were thousands of other workers responsible for keeping the aged spacecraft in order.
Awakening in the warm dark vessel of the cryostasis chamber Hoallick blinked as the internal lighting gently grew to encompass the entire compartment, fluid insulating gel siphoned away and hot air blew out of the surrounding vents rapidly drying the dark haired lady.
Icy blue eyes blinked open once again as the torrent of air subsided and the vision of letters on a screen inches above Beatrice’s head caught her attention: ‘Please remain calm… you are perfectly safe.’ Remembering where she was and the number of times she’d awakened from cryostasis before the words struck Hoallick as unnecessary though she could imagine what it might be like for some of the other colonists who were venturing into space for the first time in their lives.
What followed next on the little display screen was of greater interest as it synchronized wirelessly with the young technician’s internal computer and showed up on the HUD hooked into her optic nerve, time, date, location… things she hadn’t forgotten but not quite remembered yet either.
Taking a deep breath Beatrice realized where she was and imagined the world outside her little coffin sized box- Delta Trianguli, the distant star system brought close by the passage of centuries, now she was there.
A few seconds later the hatch of the cryostasis chamber unlocked signaling the end of the reanimation cycle, clean, dry and awake the dark haired lady was ready to be ejected and as the door swung open and bed slid out Beatrice was able to sit up and get her bearings.
“Hello callsign Hoallick.”
A delicate blonde nurse smiled overzealously warmly in greeting the newly awakened tech, standing in the middle of a long hallway lined with cryostasis chambers the waifish looking creature examined Beatrice with glowing cyan eyes giving away more than anything else that it was an android.
Dedicated to acting as caretaker for the ‘sleeping’ crew the nurse (one of several employed in each module) carried few implements of the trade but what she held about her uniform was sufficient for a quick checkup to determine whether or not Hoallick was afflicted by any adverse reactions or complications arising from cryostatic freezing. Allowing the android to perform its task the technician was found to be as fit and healthy as she looked and in a few minutes she was finally free to stand on her own two feet and stagger lethargically down the tight plated corridor with the nurse following close behind.
Passing hundreds of the horizontally aligned stasis chambers Beatrice and the nurse reached the end of the walkway and stepped through a bulkhead doorway into the central area of their terraforming module, the heads’ up display in the tech’s optics showed the direction to a platform elevator that would take the two upward onto the deck where they could access rudimentary living quarters… and find some much desired food.
Accommodation on the module was fairly basic, though at least with the simulated gravity it was closer to the normal planetary dwellings Beatrice was used to rather than the practically empty rooms of zero gravity quarters.
Hoallick had been assigned room #07; she’d have to retrieve her belongings from storage before settling in but first on the agenda was getting some food.
The kitchen and dining hall were on the same deck as the living quarters, above there was a security station and equipment lockers housing everything from vacuum activity suits to plasma cutters.
Most of the terraforming module was devoted to storage so the colonists would have plenty of supplies and materials once they were deployed onto their new home, Beatrice wondered which planet she’d be stationed on now that they’re reached Delta Trianguli but the thought passed from her mind as she entered the dining hall and the smell of hot food overwhelmed her senses.
Gleaming stainless steel covered everything in the kitchens shining brightly under LED lamps over dully reflective gritted tile plates, tables and chairs were smooth and comfortable to sit in and there were lounge areas further to the side were the crew could relax completely.
On the opposite side was the kitchen passed all the tables, a counter staffed by a collection of androids similar to the Nurse monitoring Beatrice worked around advanced, high volume cooking machines and utensils producing a decent collection of different meals that changed daily.
Another technician supervised the robotic workforce, a tall dark skinny man in a grey utility flight-suit just like Hoallick’s, the only different in uniform was the marking on his shoulder patch indicating he was from Mars unlike the woman’s Lunar symbol.
Being the only other human visible in the chamber the older man waved the young dark haired tech over with a warm smile presenting on his broad lips, Hoallick’s internal computer tagged the man as ‘Norris’, his assignment was to operate the kitchen and keep the androids and equipment in working order.
“Hello Ms. Hoallick…”
Norris welcomed her picking out a serving tray from below the counter, even though the two had never met once in their entire lives the tech’s computer already tagged Beatrice just as hers’ tagged his.
“…fresh out of bed I see. No allergies, no special dietary requirements…”
The cook wasn’t asking, he’d cycled through Hoallick’s recorded profile on his internal and found nothing of concern.
Beatrice sighed and nodded emoting the weary sensations she felt having been asleep so long in stasis, leaning on the counter she returned Norris’ greeting smile with an acknowledging one of her own.
“What can I help you with today then?” the older man continued, “We can fix up a nice full breakfast special for your first day out? Sausage, bacon, eggs, mushroom, tomato, hash-brown, beans, toast… everything you could desire.”
“Oh, um… no meat please.”
Hoallick replied stifling a yawn, “The rest sounds good though, how about a cup of tea first?”
Hoallick had been a vegetarian her entire life, most of the non-perishable foodstuffs available on Luna and the mining platforms she’d grown up on were all protein packs, dried vegetables and the like. When she grew older the tech found herself objecting to the treatment of animals both planetside and in space, considering it cruel she did what most vegetarians did and refused to support the meat trade… but she wasn’t exactly radical about it.
Norris grinned and grabbed a clean mug out of a large rack of porcelain crockery then inserted it into a nearby drink vending machine which quickly poured out a stream of steaming hot tea.
Setting the cup on a saucer the cook added some packets of long life milk and sugar along with a shiny teaspoon then slid the beverage across the counter to Beatrice’s eagerly awaiting grasp.
She replied politely inhaling the delightful aroma, too hot to drink yet the tech added the sugar and milk and with compliments to Norris went to sit down and await her first meal in over seven hundred years.
When the tray of plates came the ravenous woman devoured it quickly, Beatrice had been stationed on everything from tiny survey vessels to massive gas mines around Jupiter owned by giant mega-corporations but even on the huge well-funded bases she’d never encountered food this good… maybe it was just because she hadn’t really eaten in such a long time but regardless it was immensely enjoyed.
Finishing the last mouthful of her sweet milky tea the technician returned the tray thanking Norris again and left with her android escort to collect her stuff from the personnel storage bay, directions on her computer indicated the route to her next task however there was something else she wanted to do before anything else that required her to travel in the opposite direction.
Returning to the central shaft of module #42 Hoallick called the elevator then rode the platform all the way up to the very top floor where the terraforming module connected onto the main length of Dora’s structure. Passing through the airlock out of the rotating compartment she emerged into the weightless environment of the spacecraft’s inner chamber where there was no centrifugal force to simulate gravity.
Closing her eyes Beatrice floated off her feet into the long passageway following the length of the structuring, embracing the neutral buoyancy she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly relaxing as the sensation and lack of pressure embraced her.
Zero-G was probably the technician’s favourite thing about living in space, before boarding the ECV-#7 ‘Dora’ she’d had to pass through quarantine in a facility on Earth.
Hoallick had experienced the force of Earth’s gravity several times in simulation and lots of places she’d worked had their own varying degrees of gravity but no matter where she went the delicate young woman always managed to find a way to spend time in a weightless environment whenever she could.
On Earth that was impossible, she couldn’t go out on one of the mining survey craft or join a short cargo voyage for the weekend. In quarantine nobody was allowed to leave their chambers, Hoallick understood the necessity as did everyone else. The company had a chance to make sure everyone travelling to Delta Trianguli was disease free and nothing harmful would follow them to the new solar system, there they’d be able to live out their lives never having to worry about getting sick ever again and future generations would know of the old plagues only as ancient legends.
From Hoallick’s perspective memory anyway it had been nearly six months since she’d felt the unburdening release of weight from her body, sighing contentedly the tech smiled and went limp allowing herself to drift even further into the empty expanse of the long wide passage.
Behind the human the Nurse stood on the deck clinging to the plating with magnetic boots as she reached out and took hold of Beatrice’s foot quickly pulling her back down to the ground.
Opening her eyes the girl realized why the Nurse had interjected as warning markers ceased flashing on her holographic heads-up-display, floating in the chamber she’d strayed into the path of one of the elevator shafts that transported people up and down the great length of the vessel.
A second later and one of the cars whizzed past with a blur of light and a short rattle of rails, riding onboard the enclosed, fast moving platform Hoallick caught a glimpse of a small group of people including two she recognized by memory: Steven Winters the security director of the entire ship and an astroguard from her module #42 called Rico.
Beatrice had met Enrique San Angelo ‘Rico’ on Earth before quarantine started and got to spend some time together exploring the world with him and a few other members of the colonization program. Rico was born in Chicago in the USA but worked in Miami as a police officer and shuttle pilot before being accepted onto the Dora mission with his fiancée Sheila Morris.
Rico was a handsome young Latin man with fine caramel toned skin, he had brown eyes dotted with tan flecks and shoulder length brown hair he kept tied up in cornrows.
Angelo’s future wife was also an Earthling, a few years older than he was and almost as pale as Beatrice with a subtle pattern of freckles indicating she’d been living on a planet and getting plenty of time in the sun, she had long dark hair, green eyes and tended to tease Rico relentlessly often about his velvet hands and cushy upbringing.
Winters Beatrice knew a lot less about, in fact practically nothing other than he was the vessel’s director of security and a pretty stern, by-the-book kind of guy.
The director was a big dark man with thick muscles and a perpetually blank, unimpressed expression painted across his hard facial features. He kept cleanly shaven, his hair cropped short and his uniform unscrupulously tidy.
Steven’s shoulder badge symbol indicated he was from Saturn but Hoallick had no idea exactly where from or what he did before joining Outland Terraforming, given his position she figured he’d probably worked for the company his entire life… they wouldn’t have trusted an outside with such an important job.
Three other officers were on the lift but the raven haired woman didn’t recognize any of them, her computer tagged them as they went passed but it was gone too fast for her to read and she couldn’t be bothered checking the log to find out.
Where the men were going with all the other astroguard security officers on the elevator was another mystery, it’s not like there was ever any real trouble out on these ventures. Once in a while somebody would get drunk and start a fight with someone they worked with (either for fun or because they’d had a disagreement) but it was never serious.
Regardless the security station had a small armoury within the equipment room packed full of plasma guns able to shock and stun people at a distance without doing them any harm, so far during the entire 704 year flight none had even been logged out, all the astroguards carried in the way of a weapon was a smaller model of plasma pistol.
Most of the time the astroguard were performing the same job as the technicians, it was so peaceful they spent the majority of their patrol routes simply checking door seals and air filters for signs of wear or fatigue then reporting it to maintenance.
As the elevator disappeared into the distance Hoallick activated her magnetic boots and joined the android on the grated floor figuring she’d better go collect her things and organize her new quarters, after all she was going to be living in them for the next two years.
Returning to her terraforming module and descending aft all the way down to the cargo bay the young woman from Luna found her belongings safe and sound in a marked storage container, as staff were rotated across their two year work assignments back into cryostasis their possessions were stored in the vast holds taking up several decks of the module.
All Hoallick had was a couple of bags containing some personal items and casual clothing, pretty much everything else was provided by the company so there was no need for extensive packing however being a one way trip she decided to bring a few mementos and keepsakes from Sol and the moon to remind her of home.
Hoisting a large duffel bag Beatrice tossed it into the arms of the following android before grabbing another pack which she slung over her narrow shoulders, belongings in hand both technician and nurse exited the storage bay heading for the woman’s new home on the upper levels.
Riding the rack and pinion lift up the terraforming module’s central shaft back to the living areas on deck #50 Hoallick stepped off and marched purposefully down the nearby hall till she reached room #07, detecting the tech’s presence the hatch slid open automatically revealing the tiny chamber beyond.
Crew quarters were basic, that much the Lunite already knew but they were also practically compact and housed all the furnishings one could ever really need on a working voyage. In a space only about four meters square each room gave access to a slide out bed, inbuilt drawers, wardrobe, cupboards, shower, toilet, sink, hardline network access and a desk and chair that doubled as a table with two extra seats that pulled out of the adjacent wall if one had company over… though there were much more comfortable places to socialize outside.
Pretty much everything was covered by plated paneling and an array of LED lamps set into the ceiling grates just below the air vents and supply pipelines provided ample indirect illumination. Overall the room was fairly bland and colorless but there were patches of artwork and graffiti painted and scratched into the walls over the top of access panels for the amenities and storage spaces.
A small disk shaped robot had been busy cleaning the floor but upon detecting the resident it quickly rolled away into its housing inside the wall, machines and androids were responsible for most of the cleaning onboard Dora but there were always some messes that required tending to with good old fashioned elbow grease.
The left side of the room was taken over by a night-time portrait of a desert with an unrecognizable moon in a starry sky overhead, the dark scene presented a nice contrast to the plain room and for a little while the Luna girl admired it trying to figure out if it was a picture of Earth or Mars… or maybe one of the surrounding planets outside the ship?
On the right side above the pull out bed was graffiti Hoallick admired much less, lewd slurs and personal tags from previous occupants such as “Dave was here…” and “Number of fucks in this bed-” with a large score tally of everyone who’d ever live here scratched in beside it like some kind of long standing competition between crews.
The prudish young lady found it absolutely disgusting that anyone could defile the place with something so revolting and made a note to collect a buffering tool later and erase the vulgar defacement, she would not permit anything like that in her home, not while it was hers.
Taking her duffel bag off the nurse Beatrice chucked it in the wardrobe, there were only clothes inside and not really anything that needed hanging or sorting at the moment.
The backpack she laid down on the desk and unzipped to take out a collection of carefully wrapped parcels, inside each one was a carefully framed digital slide containing holographic images of Luna, Jupiter, Mars, all the places she’d worked in the Sol system over the years.
There were no images of family or friends, Beatrice’s mother died when she was young and all her friends and colleges had been left behind, all would be long dead by now anyway (not that she thought about such things), passed on centuries ago during the voyage between systems.
Beatrice’s other possessions included a stuffed Giraffe, an old mechanical clock/calendar piece and a pair of specially made running shoes, the athletic woman had always been one for keeping fit and found it an important part of working in space not only to keep her strength up for stints in gravity but also as it helped her cope with the long distances people often had to walk and traverse through large installations… like the Dora module which by itself was over four thousand feet from stem to stern.
Setting the pictures up on the desk and stowing her remaining gear for later Beatrice checked the clock on her internal computer, the HUD read 23:11 keeping with standard earth time which explained why the only other person she’d seen so far was the cook Norris. Everybody else would either be sleeping or out on duty, though time didn’t have quite the same meaning in space the ship operated on regular twenty-four hour ‘days’ which kept most people comfortable being a traditional and well-accustomed to period.
Being fresh out of stasis Hoallick would have the next two days to get organized and recover while the medical team evaluated her health, there was a lot of mail to go through and a lot of maintenance reports to catch up on but recuperation was all she had to worry about right now.
Sometimes people had problems travelling cryogenically preserved so everyone received a nurse to monitor them for a couple of days in case any symptoms of deterioration presented, sometimes people also had bad reactions to the drugs necessary to keep them alive while frozen but that was much easier to cure with a couple of injections to counteract the sickness.
So far Beatrice had no noticeable ailments, leaving her room she decided to go up to the security station and find someone to talk to, get the recent news and pick up a buffer from the equipment locker to get rid of the graffiti on her wall.
The station was only up one level on deck #51, when the technician entered with her android escort the security center was manned by three astroguards all of similar age and standing.
Yoshi, Williams and Orel were the digital name tags that appeared on Hoallick’s optics, on the right hand side of the sizable chamber Williams and Orel sat behind an operations desk tending to control panels and monitoring everyone on the module. Both men were taller than the technician and quite stocky, Williams had blonde hair and was well tanned but not a deeply as Orel whose skin was almost as brown as his light chestnut hair.
The third and youngest looking guard Yoshi was a curvy oriental woman with inky black hair tied up in a bun and breasts that were ridiculously large for a girl her size, not that that had any bearing on her current activity lifting and stacking crates around the station and organizing the ‘lost and found’ section.
Behind them at the far end of the station was the doorway into the equipment store and beyond that the armoury, security kept the place locked up and there was always someone at the counter to keep an eye on it but in reality everyone had access to the chambers and could walk in and log out whatever they wanted… most of the time anyway.
Beatrice called out timidly unsure if she was interrupting something important, raising their heads the security staff gazed at the technician silently for some time before anyone decided to respond.
“What the hell are you doing up here by yourself!?”
Williams suddenly snapped, he didn’t seem angry at the woman just surprised at her appearance.
Rapidly cycling through pages on his screen the guard fingered through lists of information trying to find something pertinent.
“…the fuck do they not give us updated warnings on this shit?”
The tanned blonde cursed groaning as he swiped the display over to another setup.
“Hoallick Hoallick Hoallick… fucks’ sake…”
“Lay off it John.” Yoshi interrupted the older man’s muttering noticing that Beatrice was rather taken aback by the continuous swearing.
Realizing he was being rather crude in the face of new company the astroguard paused a moment and took into account the technician’s reservation.
“Bah, don’t sweat it luv.” He began to explain, “Just weren’t expecting you is all, got no log for your revival here… says you shouldn’t be up for another week.”
“…and you shouldn’t be wandering around without an escort. Haven’t you read the memos?”
Orel added pointing his college on the console to some point of information Beatrice couldn’t make out through the holographic screen.
“Give the girl a break, she just woke up… and the service is with her.”
Yoshi pointed out gesturing to the android nurse, one of thousands of robotic service units.
“W-why? What’s the problem?” Hoallick queried fidgeting nervously with her lapel.
“Bunch of people have gone missing all across the ship, just fucking disappeared.” Williams answered, “Director Winters’ has declared a whole lot of new security protocols, nobody’s allowed to go anywhere alone, no single shifts, it’s all in the official updates if you check your mail.”
Now Beatrice was the one surprised, quickly opening up the inbox of her internal computer with a rapid motion of her fingers across the optical display she found a number of official reports from the wireless network.
Warnings marked as urgent digitally signed by the Director of Security gave clear instructions for all crew members not to travel alone and to report anything unusual or suspicious, it appeared a number of colonists had indeed gone missing and there was no way it could have been an accident.
People had been plucked from their cryostasis chambers and a couple of technicians performing remote tasks in the far sections of the vessel never returned home at the end of their shifts.
Nobody should ever get lost on the spacecraft, everything was digitally mapped and they all knew their way around with computers to guide them if they needed… it wasn’t like they could just get turned around and take a wrong corridor.
That’s why security was so worked up, if someone had gone crazy and started kidnapping people it could make things very dangerous for everyone. Nothing like this had happened in decades (in relative time), not since the colony disaster on Triton after which the Sol authority declared all stations must have a local security force to keep people safe.
“Oh my goodness…”
Hoallick murmured as she read the report,
“…is this real? How could something like this happen? I thought it was impossible.”
“Your guess is as good as ours luv,” Williams replied, “shit’s starting to get on everyone’s nerves. Anyway why are you up here Hoallick?”
“Oh um… somebody left graffiti on my wall so I came to get some tools to buff it out… and to see if there was any local news which I guess there was.”
“Alright go ahead.” Williams acknowledged unlocking the store room hatch with his access via the counter console, “Yoshi you’re not doing anything important, wanna give the young lady an escort?”
“On it…” The pretty oriental astroguard replied waving Beatrice over towards the locker, the technician curtly approached with the sweetly smiling nurse following by her side.
Inside Hoallick found everything she needed, an electric buffering tool powered by a high density battery would get the scratches out of her wall plating no problem.
While she was there the tech also collected her work tools, mainly the equipment belt and a handheld laser cutter. One of the good things about Dora was that everything was built by the same company and all in standard sizes so only a small range of tools were needed to service every piece of equipment and machinery all across the vessel.
A multitool and a cutter served adequately in most cases but there were maintenance lockers spread throughout the module with proper electronic gear the technicians could collect if they needed them.
Strapping the belt on over her utility flight-suit Hoallick slid the laser cutter into its pouch and picked up the buffer ready to head back to her room, with Yoshi by her side the raven haired women walked out of the security station waving goodbye to Williams and Orel along the way.
Standing outside the central elevator shaft Yoshi scanned the small chamber surrounding the loading platform before looking back to her optical HUD where a new message from the recently traversed security station had just arrived.
“Ah-ha… looks like you were revived to fill the shoes of one of our missing techs.”
The astroguard revealed scrolling through the digital letter, “Guess you’ll be working with the chief then- Engineer Griggs.”
Beatrice replied watching as the elevator slid up onto the deck, “I think I’ve met him before, seemed nice from memory.”
“Well it’s good if you get along, you’re gonna be partnered together for the next two years.”
Yoshi smiled stepping onto the platform with the technician and android following suit, “There aren’t enough security to provide personal escorts for everyone so everyone’s getting paired up with a ‘buddy’… Griggs’ll be your escort and you’ll be his.”
“Why don’t they just use the service?”
The technician asked waving a hand in the Nurse’s direction, in response the astroguard leaned forward stretching the limits of her suit with her gratuitous cleavage to gaze around the young woman and give the blonde android a suspicious look.
“Directors orders… whatever’s going on none of the service systems have picked it up and they sure aren’t stopping it. So it’s down to just us humans ma’am.”
Taking the lift down a level to return to her room the Luna tech looked to the Nurse next to her who returned the glance with a warm smile then she looked back to her escorting astroguard with a nervously concerned expression.
“You’re sure we’ll be safe?”
“Heh.” The buxom woman laughed, “Nobody’s been lost on my watch, and nobody’s going to be…”
Only slightly reassured Beatrice exited the elevator and returned down the hallway to her quarters accompanied by her two companions. Out of politeness Yoshi didn’t follow inside, it only took a few minutes for the skillful tech to buff out the unsightly markings on her wall while the guard stood outside and before long she was back out with her heading along the same route she’d just taken to return the buffing tool to the equipment room.
Passing through the security station Hoallick decided that next she’d like to re-familiarize herself with the module a little starting with the engineering bay and the reactor room, Yoshi offered to show the technician around even though they both knew the layout just as well as each other however since the astroguard was assigned to watch her for the time being anyway Beatrice figured she accept a tour.
Nothing had changed much in seven hundred years, the vessel had been kept in pristine condition by the automated service units and a human workforce of seventeen men and women rotated out of the ten thousand colonists on two year shifts. Beatrice was a technician and part of her contract was maintaining terraforming module #42 so she’d been revived before actual colonization began but some people wouldn’t be waking up until they were on the ground with a brand new atmosphere and a fully functioning settlement built all around them.
Hoallick and Yoshi passed several such sleepers on their explorations walking through inner chambers around the central shaft which also gave them both plenty of time to get to know each other better, turned out the oriental looking astroguard was actually from Luna as well which gave the two women a lot to talk about.
Since Beatrice left the moon to work around Jupiter Luna had changed a lot, helium mining was booming and the satellite was a popular trading station for heavier vessels that didn’t possess easy means of landing in Earth’s higher gravity.
Yoshi grew up in a different city, though they were all mining colonies really and more or less identical in design. When the technician signed up to work in the mining industry the astroguard signed up to work in security with both professions leading them to adventures through space albeit with different objectives.
In her lifetime the guard had seen even more of the Sol system than Beatrice, it was one of the reasons she wanted to travel to Delta Trianguli… a whole new solar system to explore.
Continuing down the length of the terraforming module as they spoke the three wanderers entered the upper levels of the engineering section above the power plant and engine access on deck #2.
The module did of course continue well beyond the bottom floor but it wasn’t easily accessible, every bit of space below deck #1 was devoted to the thrusters responsible for getting the gigantic craft down planet-side in one piece… amongst many other stabilizing and decelerating systems.
Even with the latest, most advanced models of their time commissioned by Outland Terraforming landing something the size of a skyscraper was a challenge to say the least.
Elsewhere across Dora people were working on where, when and how the thousand identical modules would be going, calculating trajectories, sending survey teams, mapping the terrain and doing everything else in their power to ensure each terraformer was setup in the optimal location.
It was a lengthy process they’d been working on extensively and would continue to work on until they could assure themselves everything would go off without a hitch.
Deck #1 housed the module’s power plant and the entire infrastructure necessary to support it, four self-contained helium cooled fission reactors that produced enough electricity to run the entire craft and a small city which is what the colonists would be building around the landing site.
Deck #2 was much more populated, industrious construction androids marched around the workshop passing by Hoallick and her escorts as they made their way further into the chamber.
The robots showed up only as number tags on the technician’s internal computer just like the nurse who was unit ‘85150’, model 2109J#C, though the soft, refined humanoid nurse was manufactured by PRC Interplanetary Medical Systems not Outland Terraforming.
Construction androids were not made at all like the commissioned unit 85150, they were large, bulky, featureless and covered in a hard armoured shell to protect them while they worked in hazardous environments (which most construction sites were). The only reason they were built as bipedal humanoids was so they could operate all the same equipment people did without any problems, though there were plenty of other machines employed about the vessel possessing a variety of different alien looking shapes and designs.
Amidst the relative swarm of robots clouding the woman’s vision two digital tags presented themselves somewhere between a lathe and a towering drill press, the first belonged to someone called Anthony Hill and the second to Donald Griggs… module #42’s chief of engineering.
“Oh hey, there’s the chief now…”
Yoshi pointed out drawing attention to the tag Beatrice had already spotted.
In the middle of machining some as of yet unseen part on the lathe with his college Griggs switched on the device which resonated with a loud hum shortly followed by a dull grinding sound as Hill wound down a levered wheel controlling the position of the cutting head.
Finishing whatever they were doing the two men shut down the lathe and held up a shiny ring of metal about three inches in diameter which glistened in the powerful overhead lamps, at a distance one couldn’t tell what it was but as Beatrice approached she made out fresh grooves cut in the edge by the lathe.
The astroguard called out less shy about making people’s acquaintances than the timid Luna tech.
In response the two working men looked over and spotting the three newcomers to their station lifted a hand each to wave hello, leaving the quieted lathe Hill and Griggs stepped around the heavy machine and wandered across the flat plated floor of the workshop to greet the ladies properly in person.
Donald smiled already raising his hand ready to shake as he approached; the chief was a pale middle aged man with dark hair and blue eyes quite tall compared to Beatrice but nowhere near as tall as Anthony.
Hill must have been some sort of genetic aberration, stretching almost seven feet high and skinny as a beanpole with short ginger hair, long sideburns and a scraggly beard.
Both wore thick, protective utility suits identical to Beatrice’s fully laden with belts and harnesses that held a number of important tools for their work and all of it was filthy, smeared with oil stains and covered in all kinds of dirty marks that suggested they’d been busy.
Taking Hoallick’s hand the older engineer shook it firmly with a warmly welcoming smile, Griggs knew who she was and what she was doing up and about. The information had been up on the network for several days if anyone was attentive enough to read through the myriads of recorded data that was added on a regular basis… a task practically second nature to the unnaturally bright tech.
“You must be Hoallick…” he stated releasing the woman’s hand from his grip “…come to replace Mathew already? You’re not scheduled for another three days you know?”
“Oh uh… yes…” Beatrice replied softly, “…just reacquainting myself with the module, um, astroguard Lida offered to escort me and figured she’d show me around at the same time…”
Glancing over at her companion the Lunite watched as the obscenely tall ginger man bent down to smirk at the smaller woman feigning an infatuation with the oriental’s cleavage… which she didn’t appear to mind.
Anthony acknowledged her presence sticking a long bony finger against the bustly woman’s chest which he quickly flicked up into her nose when she looked down, grinning in return at the prank Yoshi took a defensive step back and reached for the plasma pistol at her hip.
“Don’t make me use this.”
She jested making the skinny giant mockingly raise his hands and back away slowly, that dealt with the astroguard turned back to Donald amused by the brief interaction but with serious intent.
“Yeah, Hoallick’s gonna be your new partner from now on.”
“Yes I read the log.” The chief replied glancing between the astroguard and the new technician, “Since you’re both here you can make yourselves useful, Hill’s shift is all but over and he needs an escort home, Hoallick can come with me and help with these seals and finish her tour later.”
Yoshi nodded quickly turning to Beatrice before leaving to take a pleased looking Anthony back to the elevator, “I’ll be right upstairs if you need me, call me later we go grab a drink or something yeah?”
“Yeah sure… oh um, I don’t drink…” The Luna tech responded as the guard paced away with the lanky Hill leaving her alone with the chief and the still monitoring nurse… and all the other androids running around the workshop.
Yoshi called back entering the lift platform, a second later the travelling couple waved and disappeared up the shaft with the safety doors closing behind them.
Seeing the two leave Hoallick returned to come face to face with her boss who was holding out the small metal ring for her to take, the grooved piece of stainless steel had eight holes drilled in around its flat inner side which matched a number of the different pipes across the ship and Donald had mentioned ‘seals’ but which ones would be impossible to guess by its appearance.
“Waste pump on deck #40 got clogged and the backpressure blew out a bunch of seals…”
The chief explained motioning to the freshly made replacement part, “…service cleaned up the mess and it’s all been flushed out, just gotta make up a few more of those and put em in. Up for it?”
Hoallick answered obediently proceeding over to find a number of new disks with all the equally spaced holes already cut out by the laser cutting machine so all she had to do was put the grove in the edge with the lathe.
“Three.” The chief instructed checking on one of the other projects at another station being tended to by the construction androids, sparks and light flashes reflected off the reactive lenses implanted over both technicians’ eyes as the bright flame of a welder caught the edge of their vision.
Momentarily darkening lenses didn’t slow Beatrice’s progress, she clamped the first ring into the lathe and switched on the machine quickly winding the bit into the steel so it cut an identically deep groove as the example she’d been shown. Shutting it down the technician released the lathe’s grip on the piece of metal and held the shiny finished steel up to the light as Griggs had done mere minutes before checking by eye that the edge hadn’t warped or defected in any way.
It was the first of many such seals the young technician from Luna would create during her time onboard the ECV-#7, over the next several months she swore she must have made at least a thousand of the damned things.
With the chief’s and her own consideration of how often seals tended to crack or break around the place the partners decided to build up a stockpile of new seals in their spare time, all of which were stacked high in an emptied supply crate beside the lathe.
Holding up another perfect, sparkling, cut and lathed seal in the light Hoallick quickly determined it was flawless and tossed it apathetically into the box mound of ready and waiting replacements.
“Explain to me why you’re still making me do this?”
Ten months into her two year shift and still being forced to produce pipe seals Beatrice’s fervor in the working of a lathe had slowly faded to the loathing of a monotonous task that annoyingly remained a necessity in maintaining her assigned module.
Aged, haggard from lack of sleep and with all her work suits now covered in as many stains and marks as the chief’s the young technician was practically a different person.
“I mean, why can’t we just get the service to do this?”
Leaning on the edge of the drill press Hoallick’s partner Griggs had grown a lot as well, mostly facial hair in the form of an elegantly trimmed moustache but also with a few extra grey hairs and wrinkles.
“The androids have other matters to attend to and you know the rule- if there’s nothing better to do, make seals.”
“Don’t see you making seals…”
The Lunite murmured thinking it was too quiet for the chief to have heard but he did, however Donald merely found it amusing and disregarded what some other sterner bossed might have considered insolent.
“I am working on an important project for the company.” He declared authoritatively manipulating some digital model in his internal computer’s optical display.
“You mean another pet project?” Beatrice rebuked giving the older engineer a knowing glance.
Returning the gaze with a sly expression shamelessly hiding none of his guilt the chief eventually sighed and reluctantly closed his progressing conceptual map of a personal design to open up the maintenance logs and check what they were meant to do on the next rotation.
“There’s a section of backup scrubbers up on the top floor that haven’t been serviced in a while… we could go do that?”
“Anything’s better than making these darn seals…” the raven haired woman answered leaving the lathe to collect a bag of tools and replacement filters from the maintenance locker.
“…three hours till shift change, we can do it.”
“Mmmhmm…” Donald murmured grabbing his own collection of tools and following his eagerly leaving partner towards the elevator away from the workshop and all the laboriously working robots within.
As the doors slid open to permit them access both technicians quickly boarded the platform and hit the controls to take them all the way up to the top floor over a kilometer above, the trip would take them several minutes though fortunately the duration wasn’t compounded by anyone else needing to use the lift.
Reaching their destination Hoallick and Griggs emerged in a large round chamber almost as broad as the entire terraforming module, intended for use as a landing bay and hangar once the module had been deployed on the ground the chamber possessed a huge set of doors overhead built into the exceptionally high ceiling.
No shuttles were housed in the hangar yet, they were all kept in storage elsewhere aboard Dora waiting to be flown down on their own later and provide some rudimentary means of transport while the automated construction service built a network of roads and electromagnetic railways to link the planned settlements together across each world.
Inside the massive hangar smaller maintenance bays with equipment to service, clean and fuel the light spacecraft covered the deck, ‘light’ was a relative term, the shuttles were still quite large in their own right and only about a dozen could fit in the module’s hangar at any one time. Being multirole craft the little ships would perform a number of utility tasks over their lifetime ranging from transport to cargo hauling, survey, search and rescue and limited extra-planetary travel between ground settlements and Dora which would remain as the solar system’s supporting mothership.
Surrounding the circular chamber were the carbon dioxide scrubbers the techs had come to service, each module had its own main air recycling system which was a series of large machines centralized in the terraformer with a series of high pressure ducts to collect and distribute fresh breathable air.
In the event of the main system failing there were redundant backups all across the craft just like the ones hanging from the walls in the hangar, while they’d never had to be used yet the crew was still responsible for maintaining them… checking they were clean, working and could provide the necessary carbon dioxide removal to keep the colonists alive in case of emergency.
The internal atmosphere was regulated at a ratio of 23% oxygen 77% nitrogen- close enough to Earth norm for everyone to comfortable, different ratios had been used all across the Sol system but 23/77% was the most common.
Of course the scrubbers wouldn’t provide any warmth, the warm air softly hissing from the network of surrounding vents was thanks to electric heating and a thick, insulating hull protecting the passengers from the cold vacuum outside.
“You gonna come out to the rec centre tonight?”
Griggs asked glancing at Beatrice as he stepped up onto the decking of the bay to march over and begin work on the first air scrubber.
“Watch you guys get drunk off rectified spirits while I sip reconstituted orange juice? Maybe some other time Chief…”
Following Donald to the scrubber Hoallick took a laser cutter off her belt and began slicing through the shell behind the air man sized air recycling unit; the boxy handheld laser device was one of the main tools every technician carried, each one emitted a bright green guiding laser over the top of a slightly thinner, invisible cutting beam governed by a range finder.
Laser cutters by design could only reach a few feet, there were a lot of safeties built in to stop them from obtaining any longer range. If the range finder didn’t work or detected a range beyond one meter the cutting beam simply wouldn’t fire… although in the past that hadn’t stopped people modifying them to have unlimited range and using them like a pistol.
Setting the device to only cut a centimeter meant that Beatrice pressed it against the casing which it split like a welding torch with a bright scattering of sparks, once the beam cut through the metal shell and detected a range beyond one centimeter it instantly shut down preventing it from cutting anything important inside.
“I think I’ll just have a shower and try and get some sleep tonight…”
The young Lunite informed the older engineer,
“…Been so short on sleep lately.”
“You and be both.” Griggs replied grabbing the edge of the co2 scrubber, having severed the casing from the wall with her cutter Hoallick and the Chief were now free to lift the entire heavy steel cover off onto the ground exposing the inner workings of the machine underneath.
<Station: Service- Performing maintenance on backup scrubbers Deck #120 unit SCBR-01.>
Donald called in the operation before starting to dismantle the device, they didn’t want to alarm anyone detecting faults or activity in the scrubber while they were simply servicing it.
First off the two techs checked the inlet and outlets, their filters and tested the pumps that circulated the air. The absorber and the regenerator of the amine gas unit were intact and heated up quickly to the appropriate temperature once activated and the resulting air flow came out strong and tested positively.
“Ok this one’s good…” Griggs murmured, “…filters clean… all full… let’s move on.“
Working together to rebuild the machine and lift the heavy cover back over the scrubber the technicians switched settings on their laser cutters and welded the seams back together to pin the casing back to the wall.
Moving on to the next carbon scrubber the Chief reported the completion to the maintenance channel over his internal computer’s wireless then readied his cutter alongside his partner in preparation to begin working on the next unit…
<Maintenance: Log- Deck#120 SCBR-01 checked, serviced and working, 7th March, 2818J, 1420hrs>
…one down, nineteen to go.
“So how is your little side project coming along anyway?”
The raven haired girl queried trying to start up a conversation to pass the time, cutting into the next casing while his reactive eye lenses darkened to shield him from the bright welding spark Griggs opened up a holographic display on his optical HUD and sent a copy of the image to Beatrice.
Transmitted over the wireless was a beautiful three-dimensional model of a cybernetic arm complete with every fibre, pneumatic muscle and sensor all covered in a pliant silicone coated mesh skin.
“I’ve been reading through the specs from an Earth model I found in the archives, just takes a long time to map everything out in enough detail for a fabricator.”
Donald replied as the they took down the case from SCBR-02.
“You ever met a guy called Kegan from Module #09? He got crushed under a skycar on one of those ‘floating’ cities, company rebuilt him with a full cybernetic suit.”
“Oh my goodness…” Hoallick peeped hesitating for a moment before snapping back to grab the vent off the scrubber, she was genuinely upset by the notion. “…that poor man.”
Stifling a chuckle at how compassionate the technician was being for someone she didn’t even know the Chief recomposed himself and continued as he checked the first filter.
“Yeah well he’s fine now, better than ever… been helping me with the designs, reckons there’s a few areas that could do with an update. Some of the muscles in his face don’t have the full range of the originals. We’re thinking about getting hold of some of the old broken construction androids and seeing what we can do with em… can’t say the commission would consent to us using company materials for unsanctioned projects.”
“Certainly not.” Beatrice developed a sly smile, she’d never waste Dora’s resources on something personal but she still found the idea audaciously bemusing.
“What about your other project? The program you mentioned?”
“Hmm?” The chief engineer looked up for a moment, brow raised in confusion “Oh, no… no-no-no… that’s not my project, that one actually is sanctioned. It’s for the droids, commissioner Summers… Doctor Summers apparently found some fault in the programming getting odd feedback and claiming they need a fluid means of wireless control since the current one doesn’t respond well to people’s internal computers, all commands have to go through the service’s wireless network… means if for some reason you lose contact to the service you’d have to give verbal commands, the commission considers it a safety concern but I doubt we’d ever actually lose the network.”
As he reset the filter in place Donald switched on the inlet pump to the absorber and suddenly scoffed as he mused over the unlikely possibility of the network being knocked out.
“Heh, you’d practically have to hit Dora with the electromagnetic wave of a supernova to disrupt the comms.”
The tech was of course exaggerating but Beatrice knew as well as he did there wasn’t really anything imaginable that could disable the vessel’s electronics, the ECV-#7 had been hardened for travel between solar systems and the entire hull was covered in multiple layers of protective plating insulating it from some of the harshest conditions space had to offer.
“Hello what’s this?”
Turning his attention over towards the elevator while Hoallick followed his gaze Griggs watched as a construction android appeared out of an adjacent shaft and began pacing across the deck, heading for the overhead access to the joining structure onto Dora’s main body the droid soon reached the staircase climbing the wall and began to take the first steps up to the hatch.
“Where in the worlds is it going?”
Beatrice questioned rhetorically, looking closer at the robot she noticed it didn’t have a digital tag to identify it which was unusual since all androids contained wireless connections same as the techs did with their internal computers.
“Oh… It doesn’t have a tag.”
The young technician stated looking to her companion in the hopes of some revealing input.
“Must have broken wireless…” Donald surmised, accessing his own wireless connection the chief put in a call across the service network requesting some information.
<Hey Service have you sent any androids up to the stem?>
After a few seconds a call came back:
<One moment… uh… negative Chief, no robotic workers scheduled on the stem bridge.>
<We’ve got eyes on a construction android climbing out of the module…> Griggs replied transmitting what he was looking at across the network to the distant operator.
<…got no tag on it, we think its network connection must be faulty. Check the roster and see which one is missing so we can add it to the maintenance schedule and we’ll go get it.>
<Aye Chief… one minute.>
“I’ll get it.” Beatrice offered kindly skipping away after the defective machine.
“You just wanna go play in the Zero-G zone!” The chief rebuked sarcastically frowning at his college’s childish ploy.
Turning around but continuing to walk backwards to the stairs the raven haired wom