Wayward Guardian

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What happens when humanities best inventions end up to be more than they can handle? Things can take some unexpected and drastic paths. Humanity is a truly interstellar people now, with worlds and colonies being claimed at a fever pitch. As the stars beckon, humanity turns to it's A.I. Guardian Cores to shoulder the burden of carrying them through the vastness of the space. The A.I. allow them to cross the gulf of space using the complex mathematics and reality warping attributes of the Jump Drive. Being such complicated machines in their own right, the Guardians are managed by technological enhanced humans called Advocates, who have the means to teach and control the Guardians on a level not possible with un-enhanced humanity. But what happens when the limits of this technology are pushed against? What happens when situations not planned for shake the system? For the crew of the Azure dream, these questions will be answered. For their Advocate and Guardian, new frontiers unlike any faced before, will become their reality. Everyone will have to be quick on their feet, and fast thinkers or else face the blackness of space with no way home.

Arlin Fehr
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New Horizions

The sun was just cresting over the curve of the Earth. A wall of light started near the top of the wall and worked its way downward as the space station continued it’s rotation around the planet below. Howard Fredrick, crisp in his Axion uniform, raised a hand to his eyes to block some of the light.

This was a familiar sight. He’d seen thousands of such sunrises in his career in space. Still, he did enjoy taking a quiet moment from time to time to appreciate their beauty. Even now, with humanity reaching across the stars, the number of people who got to see this, truly see this, was in the minority.

‘Howard Fredrick?’

Howard turned to the sound of his name being called. A thin man with short black hair was walking toward him. He had a data pad under his arm and smile on his face.

Howard held out his hand to shake, and the man took it eagerly.

‘I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, you are?’ Howard asked.

’Keith Loheim, chief enginer for the Azure Dream.’

Howard nodded, ‘On my crew then. Pleasure to meet you.’

‘And you Captain. I read your personnel file when I signed on for the mission. You have a very impressive dossier.’

Howard smiled, ‘Years of not dying is what that amounts to. I didn’t do anything spectacular really.’

‘You got your jobs done and your crews home, even when things went wrong. You served on some of early Jump Drive equipped ships. That took a special kind of person.’

‘It took someone with a strong sense of wanderlust.’ Howard said.

Keith nodded, and looked out the window. He raised a hand and then looked down.

‘Oh wow, that’s the ship isn’t it?’

Howard walked closer to the window and looked down too. Beneath them, the shadow shape of the hull of a ship stretched out in among the spider like arms of the ship yard complex they were in. With the sun shinning in their eyes, it was hard to make out details, but then the sun slipped under the shape of the craft, and it was lit with a glow from behind. The station lights pointed on the hull gave them a sight of the equipment still being put in place. As they watched, a large container was being manoeuvred into place by small pod like ships.

’That must be it. The Azure Dream.’ Howard said, quietly. That was to be his home for the next four months.

‘It’s bigger in person. You hardly get a real sense of the scale until you see it.’

Howard glanced at his watch. Keith noticed him and grinned, ‘We’re late aren’t we?’

‘Not if we move quick. Board Room 3 is just down this passageway. Besides, I doubt they’ll get to anything really juicy without me there.’

Keith nodded and together they set off, down the passage and to a waiting meeting.

Lombard Ship Yard, board room 3

‘Captain Fredrick, Mr. Loheim, glad you could make it.’

Two men walked into an already full board room. At one end of a long table, a man in a pinstriped suit stood with his back to a projector display. The display showed a upper case blue ‘A’ in a the centre of a circle of black. It was the Axion Data System Logo. Beneath it were the words ‘Future Proof’.

The two men took seats around the table. The man in the suit continued with his presentation.

‘So as all of you here are no doubt aware, Axion Data Systems has decided to fund a new colonization project for the International Space Agency. Axion takes this responsibility very seriously, and only the finest equipment has been secured for this ship. We have hand picked the crew from a pool of rigorously tested candidates. As per your mission contracts each of you will be the department heads for this mission.’

‘Most of you already know Captain Howard Fredrick. Captain Fredrick will be commanding this mission. He has years of experience behind him, having commanded many missions both in the private sector and for government organizations. This will be Captain Fredrick’s first colony mission, but we at Axion are excited to have a man of his experience on our team.’

The presenter smiled a well practised smile and continued his presentation. He clicked a pointer in his hand, the image being displayed by the projector changed. It showed a camera feed of the Azure Dream, sitting nestled in the arms of the space dock they were all onboard. It’s new hull plating gleamed in the sunlight.

It had two distinct sections separated by long scaffold beams running from one section to the other. The beams connected from the bottom corners, and the top centre of the ship.

’This is the Azure Dream. She will be your home for the next few months. She is our pride and joy. The newest and most advanced ship of the Axion fleet. Packed stem to stern with the finest colonial infrastructure our not inconsiderable resources can buy.

‘As many of you know, this same basic design has been used, with only minor adjustments, over the past ten years of human kinds colonization,’ the presenter said, ‘You can see here on the display, the core of the ship is mostly complete. The large space between the two sections will be filled up by the modular bays that will house all the colonists and colonial infrastructure. Presently we’ve started loading the bays.’ He pointed to the one Howard had seen being manoeuvred earlier, ‘This is one of the living quarters bays being positioned now.’

The presenter moved to a new camera feed, this one focusing on the front of the ship. The front section of the ship was wide at the back, and tapered forward and downwards, forming a kind of curving nose section, the the front of an airplane.

‘The forward section houses the command and control systems of the ship, including the bridge and the Guardian bay. This is also the area where the bulk of the crew quarters and storage areas are located,’ the presenter said.

Along the hull of the front section, there were sensors and communication arrays being attached by the work crews.

‘As you can see, there’s still some last minute work to be done. A lot of the external equipment still needs to be attached.’

The presenter switched the camera, now it displayed the back section of the ship.

‘The aft section of the ship houses the engineering bay and the ships engines. When I say engines, I do mean both the sub light engines and the jump drives.’

A hand went up.

‘Yes Mr. Loheim?’

‘How do we get from engineering to the bow section when there’s no modules to walk through?’

‘When the space between the aft and bow sections is empty like this, there’s a pair of retractable corridors that can be used to connect the two sections of the ship. Granted, it’d be a bit of a walk, but it’ll get the job done. Of course, in an emergency, you could always get in a space suit and walk along this bit here,’ the presenter pointed at a large metal strut that stretched from the bow to the aft section along the top of the ship, ‘which the designers call the spine. This is where the power, oxygen, and waste systems run through to feed the colony modules once they’re all in.’

‘But all that aside, the cherry on top of this multi-billion dollar sundae is XO-33. The newest christened core of our XO line of Guardian cores. The XO series has been used extensively in ship based capacities, everything from deep space transports, to survey ships, with a few patrol cruisers thrown in for good measure. All without a hitch.’

Kieth raised his hand again.

‘Yes Mr. Loheim?’

‘Has an XO core ever been used on a colony ship before?’ asked Keith, the chief engineer.

’First time for everything. The cores have undergone extensive virtual testing simulating journeys of much greater length and every kind of problem we could think of. As we expected, all the tests came up well within expected parameters.

‘And in the event of a core shut down, there’s still enough manual systems on board that the ship could be flown by the crew without assistance from the core,’ The presenter almost beamed with pride, and then continued ’but the jump calculations would take forever. Ideally you’d just send a message on the long range array, and we’ll come to pick you up.

’Incidentally, there is another colony ship called Fallow Fields that’s being equipped with an XO model. It will be departing a month after the Azure Dream.

Keith nodded.

The presenter took a sip of water from a glass on the table and then switched the picture on the screen. It showed a blue green world with unfamiliar land masses, orbiting a star much like the sun.

‘This is Veil.’

‘That’s an interesting namesake,’ Captain Fredrick said.

The man nodded, ‘It is, some one had been feeling poetic at the time of giving it a name. I understand it’s because it’s near a nebula that’s particularly thick. Almost impossible to see through with our instruments.’

Another hand went up. This one from the first officer, Mark Jona.

‘Mr. Jona, you have a question?’

‘Yes, what sort of data do we have on this world?’

’Initial surveys by scouts on contract from Light-Lines Incorporated are very promising. A twenty seven hour rotational period. An orbital period of four hundred and eighty two local days. Temperature variance during the seasons is a a touch more extreme in the temperate and arctic regions, as the planet has a more axial tilt than Earth.

‘Spectral analysis shows a breathable atmosphere. Gravity is about 1.1 times that of the earth. Atmospheric pressure is a bit higher. All in all, a golden find. It also has two small moons in orbit around it.’

Mark interrupted, ‘Was there a ground based survey?’

‘Yes, a survey was carried out by EverSky Surveys. However, it was a very limited survey, which focused on potential colony sites. There were a few choice locations that were looked at.’

‘Why was it a limited survey?’ Mark asked.

‘Unfortunately, dues to the distance from Earth or the next major colony, supplies were an issue. As well as since the orbital survey and environmental reports didn’t show anything glaringly wrong, it was decided we could just do a focused survey of the areas in question.’

Howard raised his hand.

‘Yes Captain Fredrick?’

‘What kind of infrastructure are we bringing with us?’ Howard asked, while flipping to the appropriate section in his info package.

’Glad you asked Captain, I was going to get to that next.

’As I mentioned earlier, the space between the aft and bow sections is going to be filled by modular colony bays. Each of the bays are self contained reentry vehicles. When the Azure Dream hits orbit, the bays will be sealed, and dropped to the planet. Once on the ground they’ll act as the starting infrastructure for the colony. The bays will be converted into greenhouses, residential blocks, and other facilities.

‘The other part of the colonial puzzle is the sustainable power grid. The largest bay on the ship serves a twofold purpose. It houses the solar power arrays that will be put in orbit around Vodea, and the bay itself will serve as a core for the first space station for the colony.’

The presenter moved to the next slide. An animated clip showed the lowest and largest bay detaching from the ship and moving into orbit. As the clip went on, it showed a solar power array being built in orbit.

‘Once in orbit, the bay will be detached from the ship first, along with a small crew equipped for zero-g construction. They’ll set up the solar power array in orbit, and then the colony will set up a receiver station. The power will then be transmitted from orbit to the ground station via a laser and converted to usable power.’

‘Excuse me,’ Keith interrupted, ‘but what happens if we can’t set up the array?’

‘In the event that the solar array cannot be set up, the ship can land and the on board generators can power the colony for up to year on their own. After that time, the generators will need to receive additional fuel, but of course, by then we should have sent additional supplies to the colony,’ Keith raised his hand, ‘but before you ask, if something goes really really wrong, Axion will dispatch an emergency courier to the colony if you don’t check in within two weeks after your scheduled departure time.’

‘Two weeks is quite some time to wait on an alien world,’ Captain Fredrick commented,

‘It is indeed, but unfortunately, it could be even longer, as the nearest ships would still need time to get supplies and get there, as well as receive orders from Axion in the first place. Worst case, it could be up to two months before anyone checks in.’

The presenter raised his hands to stave off any additional questions, ‘I know what your thinking, that’s a long time to be on your own, and I’m not going to deny that, but you literally have every thing you need to survive, even without power, for those two months. In the event that you lose that ability, well I don’t think a scout ship is going to do much to save you. A disaster of that magnitude would probably mean the ship had been rendered completely inoperable. Regrettably, there’s not really any recovery from that. Space flight has always been a risky business after all.’

Captain Fredrick said, ‘That’s true enough. We’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t get to that point.’

‘Thank you Captain. That about concludes the introduction, unless we have any other questions, we can get into the specifics.’

Mark Jona was flipping through his information folder, ‘I have a question. I know Guardian Cores require an Advocate. Who is our Advocate?’

The presenter looked down at his notes, ‘Ahh, I guess I didn’t mention that yet,’ He reached down to the display built into the table and hit a few keys. The big screen behind him displayed the personnel file for the Advocate.

‘This is Samuel Jennings,’ the picture of Samuel showed off the otherness of his skin, the odd colour of his eyes, and the perfect nature of his hair, ‘as most of you know, due to the highly advanced nature of the A.I. Guardian cores, normal human interactions have proven to be too slow and cumbersome when attempting to teach them. As such, human kind created the Advocates, cybernetically enhanced humans capable of keeping up with the Guardian’s while they learn how to interact with humans.’

‘He looks odd,’ said Keith.

‘The cybernetic enhancements that Samuel underwent gives him many other capabilities beyond interacting with the Guardian. His skin isn’t actually skin, but is a flexible yet very strong alloy. It’ll allow him to survive in conditions far harsher than you or I could, which will be useful in the event of ship wide system failures as it’ll allow him to still access the core. His eye’s are completely artificial and have much greater visual acuity than us.’ the presenter said.

‘And his hair?’ Keith asked.

’That’s just cosmetic. His brain has had various hardwired implants added to it, with ports being embedded in his skull. The hair is more like a toupee, which is meant to cover the ports. Normally the Advocate can just talk to the Guardian over a wireless system, but if that system should ever fail, he’d need a hardwired option to interface with the Guardian. Those particular data ports take care of that. But we’ve found people find them distasteful so it’s easier to hide them with the hair.

’Now, if there are no further questions, it’s about time we separate. Each of you will be meeting with your departments and have more detailed briefings about your tasks on the ship. The Azure Dawn is set to depart in three months. Plenty of work to do before then gentlemen, I suggest we get cracking.′

The crew got up and started to file out of the room.

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