Wayward Guardian

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First Jump

Azure dream – Earth Orbit

‘Captain Fredrick, you have a green light for your exit vector.’

Three months had passed since the initial briefing at Axion Data Systems. Captain Howard found himself standing on the command deck of the Azure Dream. Howard looked over his command crew before they set off on their journey. Though the crew had been picked by Axion Data Systems, the sponsor of the mission, he had come to know all of them during the preparation.

He had gotten to know everyone, except for two. One wasn’t so bad, but the other one set him on edge.

The two in question were the Guardian and the Advocate, supplied by their corporate sponsors at Axion Data Systems.

The Advocate, Samuel Jennings, was standing on the bridge with his arms folded and a broad smile on his face. He was excited about this trip, and it clearly showed. It wasn’t his first time into space, but it was his first time into deep space. It was always a special experience to go past the confines of the solar system. Howard noticed that he could see some of the signs of his implants under his mop of hair. His skin also had an odd sheen in the light of the bridge.

Earth was still new to the game of owning worlds. Thus far, it seemed as though they were alone. They had not met with any other intelligent life. Though life itself was surprisingly common, now that man walked the surface of distant worlds. Human space was full of new examples of Flora and Fauna, and Howard reflected on how blessed he was to be alive at such a time.

He’d seen a few of these new species himself, with his own eyes, having been across human space a number of times over his career.

And of course, that was only made possible by the advances mankind had made in the field of artificial intelligence. The advances like the Guardians and Advocates.

‘Advocate Jennings, how are you holding up so far?’ Captain Fredrick asked amicably.

‘I am fantastic sir,’

‘Just Howard is fine.’

‘Just Sam is fine for me then.’

‘Alright Sam,’ Howard said with a smile. The Advocates were technically equal to a ship captain in rank, though standard procedure gave the final say to the captain in times of emergency.

‘You’ve done this before Captain. Yet you still seem to be excited by it, ’ Sam commented.

‘It’s true. It’s hard not to be excited by this. The things I’ve seen and done over my lifetime would be things of fantasy to my great grandparents. Even a hundred years go, when we first set out with our first jump drives and primitive AI, this would seem like an impossible dream. We’re crossing four hundred light years in a matter of months. Not years.’

‘When you say it like that, yeah, it does have some weight to it. I’m happy to do my part of course.’

‘You’d better Sam. I’m not really a big fan of Guardians you know. They make me uneasy. I wish I could say otherwise, but I can’t.’

Now it was Samuels turn to smile, ‘Captain, I understand your feelings. I’ve run into it a lot actually. And let’s not forget there are people who have gone far further. The Anti-A.I. League wouldn’t hesitate to destroy every Guardian in existence.’

‘I’m not that far gone. Without them, jump calculations would be next to impossible.’

Sam nodded, ‘Exactly. And just so you are aware, of the other 32 XO series Guardian cores, none of them developed any serious problems. In fact, they’ve all performed better than expected. Axion outdid themselves on this model.’

‘Seeing as they’re the ones that made the first real Guardian core, I’d hope their experience was paying off,’ Howard commented.

Howard thought for a moment before saying, ‘Have you ever worked with an XO series before?’

Sam shook his head, ‘No, this will be my first. The last series I worked with was the PE series.’

‘I hope you are up to it.’

‘I should be. I’ll have access to the Axion technical database if I need it.’

‘You know, I tried to sign on with a mission without a Guardian core, just an old Jump computer and some quite world in the fringes.’

‘So what brought you here?’

‘The Axion human resources department is very good at using flattery. I’m just a vain old man looking for one more adventure before I hung up my cap. They made it sound important. They made me feel important.’

‘Lucky for us, we’re fortunate to have a captain of your calibre here.’

Howard smiled, ‘We’d better get ourselves underway Sam.’

He turned to helmsman at the front of the bridge.

‘What’s the status of our drive systems?’ Captain Fredrick asked his helmsman

‘Fully operational, and ready for full burn,’ came the reply.

‘Very well, take us out of orbit. Comm, confirm flight plan with space control and then lock it in.’

The two crew members at the navigation and helm stations gave their acknowledgement.

Azure Dream to space traffic control, we confirm green light, and we are ready to depart.′

’Roger that Azure Dream. Godspeed.′

‘We’ll check in when we pass the Oort cloud and begin our long range jumps.’

‘Roger that,’ replied the controller.

The view of the earth filling their view screens, rotated away as the ship’s pilot, turned the ship onto its exit vector.

Sam was smiling again, ‘It’s exciting to be underway. I’ve never been as far as we’re going.’

Howard smiled, ‘Glad you’re so excited Sam. You’ll keep that Guardian under control for me right?’

Sam laughed, ‘You don’t need to worry. The Guardians haven’t failed yet, and I don’t plan on sullying that record on my watch.’

‘Good to hear. Though I reckon we could fly this ship without its help.’

‘I don’t doubt your abilities Captain, you have a very impressive record.’ Sam looked back to the main screen, and the display of the flight path out of orbit, ‘I hope to be able to lessen your misgivings about the Guardians.’

From the helm came a voice, ‘Exit vector engaged, we’ll be in safe jump distance momentarily.’

‘Set the first jump for Io Supply station,’ Howard ordered.

‘Roger that Captain.’ the navigation officer said.

‘Captain. All systems are green. Jump systems ready for an inter-system jump.’ reported the helmsmen.

‘Engage’

With a flicker of something just beyond the range of vision and a split second feeling of overwhelming vertigo, the grand giant of Jupiter snapped into view. The curvature of Jupiter’s moon, Io, took up the bottom third of the screen. A collection of lights sat floating right above it. The lights were from the Axion Data Systems Io Station. It was the first permanent installation built in the Jupiter orbital region, and it was a hub of activity for many of the corporations and private firms in the area. The swirling clouds of Jupiter sat as a backdrop.

Io station to Azure Dream, please make your approach on Vector one-three.′ said a voice over the speakers, ‘Proceed to holding zone 8. Delivery of your Guardian and final supplies will commence once you are in position.’

’Roger that Io Station. Azure Dream inbound on vector one-three.′ replied the comm officer.

Howard turned towards Sam, ’Well, from here on out you and the Guardian take care of the jump calculations.

‘You’ll still have plenty to do Howard, but you know as well as I do that if there are any mistakes in the long range jumps we could miss our target planet. Trying to find it again without the assistance of a survey ship would be unpleasant.’

‘But not impossible,’ Howard countered, ‘Our navigator, Irwin Fritz, used to be a stellar cartographer and is quite familiar with the star charts of the area.’

‘Ahh we are in good hands then,’ Sam said.

The ship started moving towards the space station floating in orbit above Io. It slowly started to resolve itself into a ring-shaped structure with spokes coming out of the ring at regular intervals. At the end of most of the spokes there sat the huge forms of various tankers and barges moving resources and supplies around the Jovian industrial complexes.

‘Come on Sam, let’s go see the Guardian. The station technicians will be bringing it online.’

...

...

System start.

XO-33 Guardian.

V3.7.11

Searching for Advocate Uplink.

...

...

Advocate uplink found.

Advocate designation; Samuel Jennings

Access Clearance; Full access, command authorization.

Activating full Advocate uplink.

Sending authorization codes

...

Advocate codes received.

’Hello XO-33. Bring Azure Dream uplink online. Run Familiarization programming, and come meet the captain.′ Sam said over the wireless link between him and the Guardian.

Activating Ship Uplink

Accessing language files

Activating Interaction programming

Stand by...

...

‘He’s waking up now Captain,’ Sam said.

In a large room with a clear pillar in the centre of it, Howard and Sam stood to wait.

The pillar seemed to waver for a moment before it was filled by the holographic image of a human head. The head looked narrow in build and had very sharp check bones.

’Hello, Captain Howard Fredrick. I am XO-33, Guardian core assigned to the Azure Dream.′ said the head.

‘Are you going to listen to Sam here all the way to our destination XO-33?’ Howard asked quickly.

‘I am programmed to listen to the commands of Advocate at all times.’

‘See that you do. If push comes to shove I am more than willing to fly this ship myself.’

‘That would not be recommended, Captain. The complexity of the jump calculations over the distances we are travelling would make such a feat considerably mo-’ the head was silent for a moment, ‘I... I mean I will listen to Samuel at all times sir.’

Howard frowned and looked at Sam, who just smiled a wry grin.

‘Did you just tell him to...?’ Howard let the rest of the sentence to go unfinished.

‘I’d rather not comment’ Sam said with the same grin.

Howard turned back to XO-33.

‘Am I going to have to call you XO-33 all the time?’

’I am programmed to accept ‘Nicknames’ so long as they are determined ahead of time.′

Howard looked at his feet for a moment, ‘How about Exo?’ he asked looking up.

‘Nickname has been logged.’

‘Okay then. Exo it is.’ Howard said.

‘It is what?’ asked the head.

‘Never mind. So Exo, with your calculations, how big will every jump be?’ Howard asked.

‘Axion’s estimate is at 40 light years. Distance will vary based on variables that may arise.’

‘With jumps that long, how long is the drive going to take to recharge and reset?’

‘Approximately 12 days between jumps.’

‘Bit of a delay between jumps,’ Howard commented.

Sam piped in, ‘That’s because of the distances involved. With Exo doing the calculations we are increasing the range of the jumps by almost twice what we could safely do with a human only crew. We’ll end up cutting the total travel time by about two months.’

Howard turned to Sam, ‘We’ve still got four months of travel to cover. But we’ve got all the colonial supplies, we could take longer if needed.’

‘Hopefully, nothing goes wrong.’ Sam said.

‘I may not like all the factors of this expedition, but it’s been done before. We are far from the first to try colonising. We’re just the first to go this far. So long as we’re all on our toes we should be fine.’ Howard said.

’Yes Captain, but the last ship to colonise was the first to go out as far as it did, and the one before that was the first to go out as far as it did. We’ll be fine.

Exo’s head dropped its chin, then looked back up at Sam and the Captain. ‘Io Station reports supply loading is complete. The last of the specialists have finished disembarking. We are ready to get under way.’

‘Alright. Sam, let’s get to the bridge.’

***

Past The Oort Cloud

‘Jump drive offline. Commencing recharge sequence.’ The voice of XO-33 said flatly from the bridge speakers, ‘ETA till next jump 30 minutes. The jump will be four point five light years in distance.’

‘That’s a short jump.’ Sam commented.

Howard looked over at him, ’We’re still close enough to Sol that we are receiving interference from the sun. Stronger gravity wells do strange things to the Jump drive’s accuracy, so we don’t want to jump too far on the first jump. We’ll be able to get our bearings with that short of a jump, correct for our drift, and then make a maximum distance jump far away from the effects of Sol. Once we’re in the space between the stars, there is very little interference to throw us off.

‘We have a slightly shorter recharge time for the first few jumps. Once the stresses start to build up in the drive arrays, we’ll have to wait for longer between jumps. It’s a very tricky procedure. After every jump, the drive receives a residual charge that can interfere with further jumps. So before we recharge the drive, we’ve got to bleed off that charge. Hence, why we have a shorter recharge on the first jump, there hasn’t been enough time to build a charge yet.’

‘Interesting. I did not know that. I’ve never been outside the solar system before,’ Sam said, ‘so nothing like that has come up.’

‘Nothing quite like it. I’ve been across human space a number of times. Once I went to a fascinating place, a facility called Twilight.’

‘Oh, what was that like?’

‘It’s mostly a research station, the star it orbits is strange. It’s cooled and crystallised. The Twilight station is there to study it. At the time I was there they were trying to... well I don’t know the science of it, but basically tune into the thing. Like using a crystal transmitter on an old radio. They were going to see if they could use it like a massive receiver.’

‘How will they be able to be able to pick out anything meaningful from all the background noise?’

‘As I understood it, every now and again, they have a neighbouring colony make radio broadcasts in their direction, and they see if they can pull it out of all the background noise. Since they already know what the signal is going to look like, it helps them get their tuning just right. Once they’ve got it figure out, they should be able to start figuring what’s interesting, and what’s just noise.’

‘It sounds fascinating.’ Sam said.

‘I’ll leave it to the scientists. That sort of thing always interested me, but I was never any good at it,’ Howard said, ‘We’ll you’ve got some time to kill. Why don’t you go have a look around the ship?’

‘I don’t mind if I do.’ Sam said and started walking.

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