Tyra Housenn’s internal, cerebral message from her supervisor, Mirandana, auto-connected while Tyra unloaded her vehicle that had dropped her off at the big, old and rusty door to that particular section of the generation-Ship. Big, as in, it was about the size of a two-storey edifice that one would see in the old residential district of the Ship!
Tyra’s self-actuator vehicle, with its canopy in lock-down mode, flashed lights and made some audibles to signify to the woman in her twenties that it was about to park off to the side and the human needed to give it some space so she would not get run-over!
“Mirandana, are you sure this is where the contractor wants me to check for that signal?” By this time, Tyra had finished unpacking her necessary equipment for her maintenance job. She glanced at one of her info-tools. “By stars’ gravity, this portal is so old, it doesn’t even register as having been serviced by any of the contractors since—”
“Launch date of the Ship,” the older woman said over their cerebral-comm. “Yeah, I did a little research on it before the business had me send you over…If you have trouble getting it open, request succor from the synthetics.”
Tyra tsked sarcastically. “We have some explosives that’ll do the job!”
A shared laugh…
“The Company has allotted your payments for a full day’s worth—maximum, Tyra. So, don’t get in too much of a hurry where you hurt yourself or damage the ship, affirmed?”
The Ship-maintenance crewmember wasn’t quite finished yet. “If it’s so important, why are they having a main-tech search for this signal? Shouldn’t some official from one of the engineering schemes do this?”
Tyra could see over the cerebral-comm that her boss showed some apprehension, despite herself. But she merely shrugged. “Corporation gods don’t tell me the details…I’m guessing they have a lot of bigger projects they have to deal with—like making sure our home-Ship doesn’t run out of energy. Or making sure we can withstand the next meteor storm! To them, sending engineering over to look for some unexpected signal deep in the original sector of the Ship would be a little too much like playing archaeology…”
“Digging a little too deep in history, is it,” Tyra quipped as she approached the towering slab of the pitted and dusty metallic door. Various layers of texts and labels from long-ago generations had intermittently graffitied the portal. “And you’ve wondered why I’ve never dated an engineer!”
A chuckle from her over-visor. “I’m guessing it’s just some ancient proximate-reader for a business that’s long-dead.”
That caused Tyra to pause in her tracks. “But to read what? However long it’s been since our Ship voyaged out of our solar system and got barnacled with asteroids, our ancestors had no idea where they were going…so why would they need a proximate-timer?”
“Like I said—too much archaeology for the engineers…that’s why we have you there!”
The main-tech shook her head. “Stars, I love a mystery! Ok, boss; message received…I previously checked all messaging and visuals to ensure functionality parameters are standard, and same goes for my synth-tools and computerables…”
“Ok, that’s an affirmed—contact me directly if something weird happens!”
And their implanted comms were disengaged.
One Hour Later…
Tech-Housenn was finally getting to the point where the heavy, house-sized door was beginning to shutter from all her synthetic-labors’ work of using heat with some oils to get the port sliding! That is, after she had programmed her synths to scrape away at all the rust that had cemented the door!
“Tech-Housenn,” one of the synthetics had audioed over the shrieking of metal scraping against metal as the port nudged, “it is recommended that only five feet is needed for you to passage the port!”
She gave a terse nod. “That would be the most logical approach,” she said over the noise as the other synthetic labors continued to coat the threshold of the huge portal with industrial grease as their mechanical grappling arms forced the looming door to open. Again, just a few feet.
And suddenly, there was silence after the synths finished moving the door… Silence, but for a faint gust of humid, stuffy air that escaped the other side of that time capsule!
While she was reading her portable computerized equipment, Tyra barked out telemetry for the recording. “Oxygen has been slightly burned up in there—nineteen percent; nitrogen, eighty percent…carbon dioxide approaching two-tenths of a percent!...methane just short of thirty-thousandths!”
Tyra ponderously looked up from her reader and peered into the darkened side of the portal while the recording kept going. Her computerable device interjected the obvious.
“Tech-Housenn, something has been using the air during the eon since the commencement of the Ship’s voyage!”
Silence…more moistened air breezing by the main-tech and her small synthetic crew…
“Apparently not,” one of the boxy, somewhat anthropomorphic, synthetics said dryly.
“Synths,” Tyra put to her three mechanicals, “would now be a good time to contact Supervisor Ellisante? She said to do so—directly—if we ran into anything weird…I would classify this as weird!”
Surprisingly, there was a pause among the synths!
“Perhaps it would help if we were to scan for any life forms first,” one of the synths volunteered. “With such a vast space vehicle, it is possible that an enclosed section within the Ship could usurp the original air that was contained after your ancestors decided to close off this section of the Ship.”
There was a series of audibles from Tyra’s portable device. “Tech-Housenn, I took advantage of your conversation and scanned for life signs and have found none—with the exception of mere traces of micro-organisms that normally reside in an urban ecosystem dominated by humans.”
She frowned; slightly relaxing her tense posture. “So, basically, no life signs?”
“That is correct,” the portable responded.
“Tech-Housenn,” another of the three synths input, “it is possible that the aggregate-effects of such germs are responsible for the relatively off-kilter readings; especially over such vast amounts of time.”
There was a chorus of, ’Indeed,’ between the two other synths and the tech’s portable device!
This caused Tyra to feel a lot better, as she nodded to herself. “Affirmed, then…I say we go locate that proximate-timer and get this job done!”
More synthetic affirmations from the synths and her portable. All the synths turned on a built-in light that each harbored; flooding the immediate area behind the portal with electrifying light! But a few seconds after the mechanical laborers and the human stepped through the grand portal, Tyra had a thought as she looked back at the partially opened door behind them.
“I don’t care which one of you, but I’d like one of you synths to stand guard on the other side of the portal…you never know when an emergency might come up and one of us should be on the outside of that gigantic door!”
Without a word, one of the synths simply turned and smoothly gaited toward the slit of light coming through the portal’s hatch…
As the rest of the team cautiously walked further into the cavernous section—the light cast from the two remaining laborers—Tyra finally got to see just how big the enclosed section of her generational Ship was…Tyra’s portable had already scanned the entire sector: well over a million square-feet! One of the synths projected a three-dimensional rendering of the layout of the sector, demarking where the search team was at each second. The overall design of the sector was a bit irregular, in shape. A multitude of compartmentalization—from rooms the size of a simple abode to caverns about a third of that one million square-feet! And as big as that was, main-tech Tyra had to remind herself that the closed-off sector was merely one-fifth of the entire generation-Ship that they all were passengers on…
Not surprisingly, the very cultural feel of that sector of the generational ship was from a vastly different era from Tyra Housenn’s generation. Indeed, while they continued to search for the enigmatic signal, Tyra, the two remaining synths, and her portable device, all had pointed out from time to time the various spots where they could see how Tyra’s ancestors had constructed and expanded upon the original Ship’s layout.
Some parts the small team could tell where the very conception of the Ship itself—the infrastructure and superstructure looked more jumbled with rivers of conduit pipes, perhaps, a hundred feet across each! And as one looked back toward the giant portal, where the search team came from, they were able to tell there were several more years of advanced technology by the time the ancestors had built the looming portal!
How the ancients of Tech-Housenn’s people did this, even the synths and the portable computerable had no viable reference to.
Which, of course, led to the obvious question that needed to be spoken aloud…
“So, why would my ancestors close this sector off from the rest of the Ship,” Tyra put out to any of the computerables.
“And also, Tech-Housenn,” her portable said, “about what timeline did they do this? We’ve been in this cordoned sector for a while, now, and I’ve yet to see any signs of a conflict or an emergency…”
All went quiet as they thought on the questions that were just posed. And then—
“Tech-Housenn,” one of the synths exclaimed; it’s boxy figure quickly swiveled toward another section of the cavern, “I’ve got the signal!”
“Good job…could you take us there?”
“Ma’am!” Using one of the benefits in being a synthetic being, the synth snapped out wheels from beneath its feet and quickly rolled toward where it had found the signal! The other synth of the search party had done the same with its wheels. The human hurried behind both the best she could; her light source emanating from her portable!
The two synths rolled straight into a relatively small section that would’ve been considered a “suite” in ancient times. There were no doors, so it was easy access for all to start looking around the collection of rooms…
“Right here, Tech-Housenn!” This was the other synth.
The two synthetics and the human all converged upon some ancient form of a console. Impossibly, the only instrument working in all the ruins was that flashing, alternating colorful light!
“I suggest touching it, someone,” Tyra’s portable prompted in the frozen awe!
One of the synths took the portable’s suggestion… A high-pitched whirring sound followed and was gone in a few seconds. The flashing light on the console was the same colors, though it glowed a solid light now.
Suddenly, a flash of light winked on in front of them—startling the human! The two synths were surprised, but not startled as the biological being was next to them. That light originated from a large, rectangular surface; smooth and made of glass—or something similar. And within that lit rectangular, flat object were, unmistakably, letters! Indeed, words… Maintenance Tech Tyra Housenn had heard about such ancient systems of communicating before, when she was a little girl growing up in the rotating, cylindrical sector of the Ship. The ancients called such system Writings, or Words…
Accompanying the strange squiggles was a rather severe, flashing picture—an image, of some thin piece of line that was animated. As if that slender needle were quivering. And above it, in addition to that Writing, there were a series of, yet, smaller lines—a bit more blocky, and arranged in an arching fashion.
Tyra checked to make sure her visuals were still recording, and they were. “How curious!”
“…Tech-Housenn—” one of the synths started.
“—isn’t this wonderful, everyone!” She flashed a smile and was truly giddy! “We are witnessing, in real-time, how the ancients communicated with each other! In our era, we’ve been using icono—”
“—Tech Housenn,” this time, the other synthetic laborer tried.
“—and I’ll send this experience today to the major societal journals…perhaps that’s what our ancestors were doing when they abandoned this sector: keeping a kind of reserve for how—”
“—Maintenance Tech Housenn,” her portable actually yelled at her! Obviously, the computerable had gotten her attention. “One of the things we, computerables—including your synths—are programmed for is some basic cultural information. Of course, from contemporary times to most of antiquities… This projection is a deeply disturbing message for every single being residing within the Ship…”
Just before Tyra could respond, one of the synths interjected. “Tech-Housenn, it translates into, Running Low…”
The maintenance tech still did not comprehend. “Low on what?”
“Fuel, Tech-Housenn,” her portable came back in the dialogue. “Apparently, your ancestors had found some kind of fuel where a civilization could run off it for thousands of years.”
“Nuclear, I believe is what they called it,” the other synthetic input.
“Nuclear…” the human repeated, “nuclear—I’ve heard of it! In history, we studied how…”
Her eyes drifted to some corner of the chamber.
“Yes, Tech-Housenn,” the portable said softly, “I think you’ve figured out and completed the task your contractor has given you…your ancestors used this nuclear to power this generational ship for an eon, but in doing so, there, apparently, was an accident. Ma’am, there was a very good reason why your ancestors closed off this sector from the rest of the Ship…”
Now, it was silent between the two synthetic beings, the portable computerable that was attached to Tyra’s upper-left arm, and the young female human…silent except for the ancient electronic alarm—though no longer beeping since one of the synths had engaged the alarm button, but there was a constant humm in place.
“Radiation, Portable,” she asked the small device; half-way not wanting to hear the answer!
“That, Maintenance Tech Housenn, is actually the good news here, today…apparently so much time has gone by since whatever event it was that may have triggered your ancestors’ abandonment of this sector, that the radiation levels are negligible! Though there are trace-amounts. I’d venture to suggest that we not stay here much longer, Tech-Housenn; just to be safe.”
“Tech-Housenn,” one of the two synthetic laborers asked as the team started to turn around to head back to the large portal, “are we to shut the door behind us? It would seem to be the most logic to do; given what we’ve learned here.”
The young woman slightly flinched upon hearing the question—apparently, she had not thought of that!
“That would be the obvious, precautionary thing to do, synth…synthetic Number Two,” she called out over her comm-device to the mechanical that had voluntarily gone back to the portal to stand guard, “we’re on our way back.”
“Indeed, Tech-Housenn…I’ve been observing the reconnaissance team all this time. And I hope you don’t mind, Maintenance Tech Housenn, but I’ve taken the liberty to contact Supervisor Ellisante of the mission. Including connecting the simultaneous-feed of the mission…by the time the four of you arrive, there should be a safety-evaluation crew here to look you all over for any radiation.”
“Affirmed that, synth Two. And thank you…”