Dyson's Angel

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Chapter 9

“I was impressed with your restraint,” Moira said as she walked up the loading ramp into the forward cargo bay. A team three of human technicians from the Satori estate were packing their supplies, watched over by at least three fidgety remoras. “I thought you’d be singing with joy at hearing about the power cells.”

Beside her, Zau/Heraxo’s avatar bobbed slightly and scissored their rings. They spoke from the drone, her implants, and the ship’s address system simultaneously, “We felt it unwise to reveal our true nature to Satori. Better she think we are your subordinate.”

One of the technicians looked up from his tool box, glanced uncomfortably at the remora which drifted a meter to his side, and waved Moira over.

She approached, whispering to Zau/Heraxo, “If you don’t trust her, maybe we shouldn’t take this job.”

The ship continued to speak over all three systems at once, intentionally ignoring Moira’s implied suggestion of discretion. “We need the credit for repairs, and need those connections even more. Can you imagine what we might accomplish if the Conservators were willing to speak with us? You might even be able to {kill this bitch/separate us}.”

Moira shoved the drone away from her side and muttered, “Why don’t you go double check the ship before we take off.” Louder, she said to the technician who had hailed her, “Everything finished?”

“We got those cells hooked into the power grid as best we can, but I can’t promise that it’s perfect.”

“Not familiar with alien void ships?” Moira asked in a mock serious tone.

The technician slapped the top of his tool kit and laughed, showing off a mouth full of perfectly white teeth. Moira supposed that was how it was in a zone like Abrigeist. Give up all your privacy, unless you could afford to own an estate, and in exchange the geist would take good care of you. “Sami, no. Feel like I’m crawling through the guts of a bug in here. No offense meant.”

“None taken by me, but I’m not sure about the ship. What do you say, Zau? You offended by this guy?”

The ship spoke in a burst of syllables so conflicted that Moira could not understand a word of it.

“That’s not a good sign,” Moira said, her voice dropping into a whisper.

“Drek. I’m sorry, lady. I didn’t think the ship would take offense. I didn’t think it would understand me.” He leaned forward, furrowing his heavy brow, and whispered, “It true that this thing is… you know?”

“Exo?”

The man glanced around at the two other technicians, who had finished packing and were standing nervously to one side, then looked back to Moira and nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah. I mean, obviously it’s not like anything that gets made in the Shell, but you think it’s just really bikuring old or did it get in here somehow?”

The ship interrupted, “You could have tried asking me while you were rooting around in my guts. Perhaps while you were planting these trackers.” Two remoras appeared from the starboard thoracic corridor, each carrying a cluster of metallic devices dangling from multicolored wires.

The technician grimaced, glanced back and forth between his companions, the drone, and Moira, and shrugged. “Just following orders. These power cells are practically museum pieces. Boss probably wants to keep track of where they go.”

“Touching,” Moira replied. She nodded her head towards the cargo ramp and said, “Zau, I’m going to the command deck. Start closing the ramp in one minute, then use your midges to reclaim the matter of anyone who is still in the cargo bay after the door is sealed.”

“It would be our pleasure, Moira,” the ship replied.

All three technicians swore, grabbed for their equipment, and began hurrying towards the exit. The one who had been speaking with Moira turned back and shouted, “Might want to check on the ball room. Some weird drek going in in there, lady.”

Moira felt her right eyebrow creep up in surprise. She almost called for the technicians to stop, but decided it would be better to wait and investigate for herself after they were away from the Satori compound.

“Zau,” she whispered, “is he talking about the jump core?”

The ship replied, this time speaking only through Moira’s implants, “Yes.”

“Tell me what is happening there.”

“It would be best if you went to the command deck. Or go to your quarters. Or have a seat right where you are.”

Moira swore and pounded her palm against the wall. She watched through narrowed eyes as the cargo ramp swung shut and the internal doors slid into place. After taking several deep, slow breaths to calm herself, Moira asked, “What the hells is going on in the jump core?”

“We don’t know if we can answer that question with any degree of precision, {darling/bitch},” the ship replied.

Moira turned her back on the cargo bay, climbed through the pressure door that separated it from the starboard thoracic corridor, and hurried towards the steep steps that led up to the command deck. “Are we still able to jump?”

“Certainly.”

“Then what is the problem?”

The ship replied in a slow, feminine tone that it no doubt intended to be calmingly reminiscent of Zau’s voice, but which only served to heighten Moira’s anxiety. “The extrusion has grown in both size and complexity.”

It took Moira several steps to realize what the ship was talking about. When she worked it out she paused, torn between continuing to the command deck and turning towards the engineering section. “Tell me more,” she said, almost whispering.

“The moment we engaged the jump core the extrusion grew exponentially. That growth continued throughout our transition, then slowed significantly when we disabled the jump core.”

Moira narrowed her eyes, “What do you mean, ‘exponential growth.’ When I saw that thing it was a few cubic centimeters of weird foam.”

“Yes, well…” The ship hesitated, still mimicking Zau’s voice.

Moira felt a tug of hesitation, not wanting to press her lover any further on a subject that clearly distressed her. That pause lasted only an instant before her hesitation changed to anger. Did she really think that Zau was speaking to her? No, this was Heraxo allowing Zau’s personality to show through more purely in order to manipulate Moira’s emotions.

“Don’t fraking play with me, Heraxo,” she snapped. “How big is the extrusion now?”

“We are unsure.”

“Unsure?” Moira turned away from the command deck and stalked towards the airlock leading to engineering. “Unsure? I’ll tell you what’s unsure, you bikuro piece of alien drek. I’m unsure if I should just sell you to the tech cult and use the money to buy a ship with a custom grown synthetic intelligence that will actually follow orders. How’d you like that? I bet you’d last a month at most before the you got bored and started showing your true side. Then we’ll see if you want keep temning around.”

“We did not intend to anger you, darling.”

“Cut the ‘darling’ drek,” Moira shouted, putting all the scorn she could into the word. “Why didn’t you warn me that this was happening?”

“We are still studying the problem. The jump core is sealed and, to our knowledge, the extrusion has yet to escape. We strongly advise you to not open the door.”

“Then tell me what is happening in there. You’ve got sensors. You’ve got midges. How big is the problem?”

“It might be better to ask how deep the problem is.”

“Then pretend that I’m fraking asking that.”

“Please enable visual overlay. I would like to be able to show you without risking a breach of containment.”

Moira scowled, then turned again and strode to the command deck. Just ten minutes before she had been brimming with confidence, contentedly full after sharing a real, professionally cooked meal with Evangeline Satori, and ready to set off and track down a wayward rich boy. Now the constant uncertainty of her life had returned, spilling that cup of confidence and short circuiting the wires of her mind. She reached the command deck, threw herself into the padded seat, and blinked into her virtual vision.

A wire frame projection of the jump core appeared, with a paper cut outline of herself appearing to one side for size reference and a timestamp hovering in the bottom left. Zau/Heraxo said, “We have been monitoring the growth of the extrusion since before you {learned of it/interfered}. What began as a femtoscale speck of unstable matter has since grown.” A point of red appeared at the center of one of the spherical jump core elements, then began to grow, almost imperceptibly until flecks of red foam began to drip from the core down to the floor. “This is the point it reached approximately an hour before you {observed it/interrupted us}, when we determined that we could slow its growth by rerouting power to the other jump core elements.” The animation continued to play at an accelerated speed, showing the foamy red mass holding relatively stable for several hours, then the time stamp froze and Zau/Heraxo said, “What you are about to see is the growth of the extrusion when we jumped from Covington to Abrigeist.” The timestamp began to advance again, the simulation now playing at only twice realtime. In an instant the red mass expanded to fill the entire room.

Moira swore and jumped back in her chair. “Play it again, slower.”

Zau/Heraxo complied, replaying the seconds surrounding the instant of jump at half speed, then again at a quarter speed. Only at one tenth speed did the pattern of growth become visible, the edges of the false color simulation pushing outwards like a billowing cloud of smoke.

“The jump core is now filled. We have sufficient midges in place to observe the extrusion, but the data is becoming difficult to interpret.”

“Don’t you mean difficult for my puny human mind?”

Zau/Heraxo laughed mechanically then said, “No. For once we are as lost as you. This representation shows the growth of the extrusion in external volume, but it masks the changes in complexity that are occurring within it. Allow us to adjust the representation.”

The simulation changed, now showing a gradient of color from white, to green, to yellow, to red, to black. In this view, the mass of foam that now filled the jump core was shot through with tendrils of color like the filaments of a mycelium infesting a forest floor. “Since we emerged from jump, the extrusion has not grown in volume or relative mass, but the complexity of its internal arrangement has increased. In the regions I have color coded as black, the complexity of the network is such that it is beyond the resolution of my sensors to resolve.”

“What does this mean for us?”

“Practically speaking? Nothing, we think. The extrusion did not prevent us from jumping or recharging the jump core, so we do not believe that it will interfere with jump core operation. You have renewed your prohibition on us attempting repairs on our jump core, and you {know nothing of the technology/are an imbecilic child}, so there is no reason for us to reopen the jump core containment door. As long as the chamber remains sealed, we believe that there is no threat to our continued operation.”

“And if you are wrong?” Moira asked, eying the tangled threads of densely twisted exotic matter.

“We will be destroyed upon jumping. {Fortunately/unfortunately} for us, our annihilation will also result in your death, the thought of which brings us immense {joy/sadness}.

Moira closed her eyes and dismissed her visual overlay. She sat in darkness for a moment, weighing her options. They had survived the first jump, and they certainly could not stay here in Abrigeist. Theoretically it was possible to use the gravatic drive to travel to Takni Gothren on a direct chordic flight path, but that journey could take several cycles and place them at risk of capture by at least three hostile governments. Zau/Heraxo’s jump drive was a significant advantage in any fight, lending them the ability to escape at any moment, but it was the sole advantage that they had. Without it, the ship was just another lightly shielded scout vessel with an unusual design and a single especially powerful energy lance.

Moira sighed and shook her head, grimacing. She needed to find someone who could give her answers about this ship before it killed her and, as much as she distrusted the Takni Gothren on principle, they might have the answers she needed. “Zau, take us out of the atmosphere and prepare to jump for Zone Takni Gothren. We need to get on the job.”

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