Lines. A Transhuman Sci-fi Novel by Joshua L.A. Jones

Chapter 4: Tock

In orbit around the Moon, the recently refitted Hyper-nova class cargo ship Rabelais waits for the solar storm to pass. Three robotic arms hold the spiral-shaped ship steady in the middle of a docking ring above the launch platform on Selene Station. The electro-magnetic shield generated by the cylindrical station struggles to deflect a surge in the stream of charged particles from the Coronal Mass Ejection. The magnetic bubble bends. Sensors go off.  The station’s AI increases the energy output to compensate. The shield does not snap. Only a few minor systems are affected as the gale of cosmic wind passes. 

The all clear is given to the docked vessels. The fresh officers on the Rabelais wait for the captain to board from his lunar shuttle as they man their two-dimensional touch screen consoles on the elevated rim of the saucer-shaped bridge. All but one of the crew made sure to wear their formal gray uniforms. The navigation officer gets final clearance from the station to depart and inputs a course to Jupiter. A diagnostic is run by the engineer on all propulsion subsystems. The port airlock of the ship makes a seal with the shuttle transporting the captain and a two-part whistle sounds on all decks.

The navigation officer makes a quick glance over to the next station and winks to the life-support officer. She flips back her long raven hair but does not look at him as she leans over and whispers, “Why is the doctor wearing blue?”

He scans the deck over to the doctor and sees him busy reading a display while scratching his scalp through his thick sandy blonde locks.     

“I heard he’s a big shot but got caught trading illegal tech, so he had to do penance on the Corkscrew,” the navigation officer says.

“Corkscrew?” she asks.

“That’s what they called this ship at the Ares Complex on Deimos where the ship was refitted. Seems like a less than dignified nickname for the first ship to venture beyond the Oort Cloud doesn’t it?” 

“The ship was refitted on Deimos?  I would never have signed on if I knew the ship was modified there. I don’t trust the Martians since the corruption trials. Too many so-called accidents,” she says. He scans the deck again.

“Espionage and sabotage were problems of the past, but after the embargo, they cleaned up. Nothing to worry about. The captain should be here any second.”   

The doctor overheard every word and thinks, I forgot how young some people are but everyone looks young with the blasted nannite robots in our bodies. It was so much easier a hundred years ago. He goes back to scanning the medical records of the passengers.                

The captain with his arms across his barrel chest steps through the bulkhead into the main corridor. He thinks, Nice to see you old girl still humming away like the day we first met.  His metal rimmed boots clang on the walkway’s honeycomb grid in the middle of the smooth and seamless corridor that leads to the bridge but his gait slows. He feels every millimeter of his body being pulled down and thinks damn low lunar gravity, next time I stay in the G-Acclimation chamber longer.   

The captain comes to a halt at the closed hatch to the bridge. He straightens his gray jacket and tugs at the black brim of his flat gray cap. 

“Open.” 

The hatchway irises into the internal frame of the oval bulkhead.               

He passes through the door onto the rim of the bridge. The scent of ozone wafts passes by.  The crew stands at attention, arms rigid at their sides, and he sweeps by the four officers.  The captain stops before the steps leading down to his station in the center of the deck and surveys his domain. The doctor’s ankle length blue coat drapes over his crossed legs as he picks at his fingernails. 

The captain overlooks the doctor and says, “At ease.”  Without reply, the crew goes back to work. The captain looks at the deck below and a patch of darkness like a sunspot in a sea of platinum makes him smile. His chair, modified for emergencies during the refit, detects his presence. The auto-fit seat sits like a titled teacup made of dark volcanic glass half-filled with coffee in the middle of the recessed floor. A holographic emitter cabinet is attached below the armrest. Three pieces of intelligent polymer parchment from the Customs Office in Geneva are spread across the top of the emitter like a deck of cards.   

The captain stomps down the three steps and sweeps over to the device. With his meaty left hand, he swipes the slick sheets up as he rolls his eyes back. He slides into his chair and the tiny interlocking modules adjust to form fit his body. The intelligent surface rises around his legs and back as if he were being immersed in water. The seat warms to match his body temperature.  He rubs his furrowed forehead and the documents are drawn into his natural visual field with a sigh. The captain thinks, The long one must be from that damn aristocrat

The law demands the captain read all the letters before they depart and he will leave the longest for last. He sends a signal from his Intra-Cranial Implant to the chair and it creates a flat ledge where he places the letters down and he slips the first piece of parchment over the ledge with his fingertips, clamps down and raises the stiff letter. The heat of his palm activates the embedded carbon nano-tube pigments and the encrypted words become visible. This prompts the microchips in the parchment to send a signal to confirm the reader’s identity. After a final check with Customs in the Tranquility colony, the deciphering code is sent from the ship’s vault files through his frontal lobe wet-ware implants. The text brightens. The captain bites his lip and tastes blood.          

 

Dearest Brother,

Life turned out to twist more and more as I went down the wrong path. I was misguided and am sorry for all of the pain I caused the family. To make amends, I’ve added an additional 100 years to my sleep sentence so you will not need to go into Social Salvation Hibernation and also signed over my credits so you can go to a Bio-Smith. Please get the biotech gray matter Intra-Cranial Implants so you can have access to all of the facilities, especially the upgraded Hyper-net that was denied to us.  My two birthrights now belong to our dear sister, so she might be a parent one day. Hopefully, her children will grow up to do something significant. 

Do not worry about me. The cryo-stations have metal-rimmed. Be free. 

Troilus Sammuels.

 

The captain shakes his head and picks up the next letter.

To whom it may concern,

Being poor is the only real crime now and I say screw the rest of you rich so-called transcended classes. I can’t afford the genetic modifications but I could have gotten the nanotech, but since the new laws, I can’t get anything unless it’s a package gene deal with the Genomancers. To live, I must dream away time or so the propaganda says. Zombie life isn’t life at all! Maintaining the population balance is garbage! All garbage! This is just giving the death sentence to us poorer folk. Heed my words; there will be another power problem in the cryo-stations of the outlying moons of Saturn and Uranus where they send us. I couldn’t get a grunt job working in the hydrocarbon pools of Titan but now I must go sleep in the space nearby, not funny at all.  As for the Blue Bloods, I should say no-bloods, suck vacuum. Humanity is not ready for this almost immortality and it is going to get messy. I hope the Naturalists burn your houses down along with the cushy cryo-stations around Callisto. 

Bonnie Bruce

 

The captain thinks, Quite passionate but misguided, and now for him, the Crat.

Dear Time,

The cosmos seems to be just a dance of entropy and I do not have the proper shoes for the ball.   

It seems we are no longer living sacraments of the stars that gave birth to us.  Now we are just dead stellar bodies adrift between galaxies. The hydrogen fuel of humanity has been spent. Is there an end? Will gravity loosen its hold and dark energy reign until the black holes evaporate? I wish I knew. 

I am afraid of the long sleep in the perfect spheres rolling like ball bearings in the massive rings that encompass the moons of Jupiter. The cryo-stations are flawed. The cold plasma shields protecting the glittering colonies on Earth’s heavenly sister still fail. What chance do I have saucer-shaped the outer stations? Now because of my sins, I go to the farther reaches into an exile of ice where my prayers will not be heard. 

But I deserve it, I am nothing compared to the fearful intelligence of my ancestor who bent space and saved the human race as a child. Ophelia Eveline Lysander. My ancestor.  Humanity was not ready for her. She was the first step into the next level of evolution. 

I so worshipped her as a child. How could one person deny the apocalypse, create the company that gave us true AI and organic interfaces with digital storage systems, and fund nano-technology? She was the foundation of what we are, even the androids, and they outnumber us ten to one on Earth. I barely see faces anymore that does not have the sheen of plastic. Why did she leave us?  

I must pay my respects to the other great member of my clan. Eveline Lysander was the mirror image of Ophelia and opened up inter-stellar travel. Strange that she and Ophelia looked so similar and it must have been a genetic anomaly in the family. I only hope my meager existence meant something though and that I do not dishonor my revered clan. Even though they say the procedure has been perfected, most of the long sleepers have not come out yet. It will be a blessing if madness comes. 

And Time, thank you and keep on the clock.  

Dylan Elliot Lysander

A thin compartment rises from the left side of the auto-fit chair and the captain tosses the letters inside.

“Couldn’t read twenty of those. Bloody Lysander whelp. The second letter is on the money though. The Saturn stations have been on the fritz and fingernails to purge the Seds. All right everyone. Let’s get ready for the first thrust,” the captain says to his crewmen and his informal comments melt away their anxiety over proper protocol. He turns on the navigational hologram and taps the three suggested jump coordinates to Jupiter in the three-dimensional spatial grid.  They are locked in.   

“Captain, excuse me but what do you mean by Seds?” the communications officer asks and waves his hand through a rotating red orb hologram above his console indicating the computer is recording.     

“Slang from my old crew. The cream rises to the top. The sediment falls to the bottom.” 

“Oh, but I thought one of the passengers was a member of the most celebrated family?” the life-support officer asks. She checks the atmospheric readings of the ship and brushes back her transparent hair with slender fingers.

“He’s Lysander, but only half. He was injured in a vehicle accident and had a partial hemisphere reconstruction, so technically does not have all the rights the aristocrats gave themselves. He is a cyber charity case. Doesn’t matter, he’s going to Callisto,” the captain says.

“Of all the things we can do to extend life and eliminate disease, we still can’t grow a personality. The nannites can try but parts of the human consciousness elude us by pulling the quantum strings of we mortal puppets,” the doctor chimes in. 

The captain turns his attention to the doctor and thinks his pure white skin makes him look like a marble bust of Mozart with a blonde wig. The doctor stares back. Their eyes lock in mutual distrust. The doctor pushes himself up out of his chair and says, “Open”.  His blue coattails draft behind as he propels himself off the bridge. The navigation officer’s eyes widen as he shakes his head in amazement.   

“You know what? The ozone smell is getting to me. Computer pump in the pastoral scents I have preprogrammed,” the captain says and the scent of pine and lavender is pumped through the osmotic vents into the bridge.

The doctor’s metal-rimmed shoes clang and clack like a tin bell as he storms down the corridor and he thinks, This captain is going to be a problem. The control nexus of the doctor’s Intra-Cranial Implants reminds him to check on his patients. The doctor decides to see Mr. Lysander in his quarters last since he is still awake. First, he makes his way to the cargo bay where two merchant class men are in stasis.   

The oval bulkhead to the bridge begins to reform, cell by cell, like a crystal fast growing in a solution. When the door is fully formed, the captain turns to his slight executive officer who is busy scanning the hull for micro-fractures at his nearby console. 

“A strange one that Dr. Drang. Better to just leave him alone,” the captain says.

“Indeed sir. The scan is complete. The robotic docking arms have detached. A primary thrust can now be engaged, sir.”

“Light the torch.”    

The ship’s outer hull begins to spin, a metallic screw spitting out space behind it, reflecting photons back at the sun. The diamond shaped array of plasma engines come online and fire. The craft gains the necessary velocity for the primed reaction and the gravity-drive is engaged. The Moon passes away like a scorned child left behind. The course is scanned for illegally dumped space debris between Mars and the Asteroid Belt as time slows and they reach near the speed of light. 

Mr. Lysander watches the stars distort and grow tails through his portal until the first leg of the trip ends and the stars become fixed points of distant light again. The Rabelais slows as it reaches Martian space. All systems are scanned and they wait for clearance through the meta-space communications conduits from the Vallis Marineris space traffic controllers. The crew prepares the craft for the second thrust after passing by the rusty planet pimpled with domes.   

The conventional engines come online. The gravity-drive primes up. Time slows again as their speed increases as they ride the Space-Time Well in front of them like cosmic surfers.  Mr. Lysander watches the stars smear across the canvas of expanding space with the depth of polished coal.        

After numerous breaks, a few naps, and a meal, Dr. Drang eventually completes his check-up of the patients in the cargo hold. The two sleeping passengers’ metabolic readings are normal. As he puts his coat on, the doctor bumps into one of the cryo-tubes with his elbow and says, “With so few people left in the solar system, you think I’d have a little room.”  He makes his leave down the central corridor to see his last patient Mr. Lysander who had been given additional anti-anxiety drugs. 

In his quarters, the damaged aristocrat rubs his bald head as he slips into his titanium hibernation tube for the last leg of the journey and says, “How uncomfortable. So, this is why some people call them cryo-caskets.” He thinks a tube is where we all come from and it is very likely where I will end. The doorbell chimes and the doctor enters his chamber as the hibernation tube seals and vents.

Back on the bridge, the captain watches his executive officer blink and wonders what is wrong?

“Nervous?” the Captain asks and his hard-chiseled face softens.

“No, but I have not done this since the new supplement drives in my ICI became operational. I’m not nervous. I had a Mantra program installed in my new intra-cranial implants as a tool to guide meditation but it’s disorienting. It won’t shut up sometimes,” the executive officer replies. 

“Just like the whispers of the cold winds,” the captain says.

“Excuse me captain, but what are you talking about?” he asks.

“I think it’s the background noise from my ICI’s communicating. We aren't supposed to hear it, but I have ever since I was thawed from stasis.”

“Cryo-stasis does not interfere with cognitive processes or sensory input. I worked on Callisto. What you are experiencing is connectivity interference in your control nexus. You should have it looked at,” the communications officer says.

“Kid, you obviously haven’t been in the freezer yet. It’s cold and you can feel the wind blow in your dreams. It changes you. When you live for another fifty years… you won’t be so certain. And, by the way, I had it checked,” the captain says as he sends an ICI signal to the chair to retract. He slides out and shakes his head as he walks toward the hatch.                   

“Captain, I’m sorry. I was out of line. Was it really that bad being asleep for a couple years?” the communications officer asks.

“For me, it was not a couple years. I was in one of the Pioneer groups before the stations so-called. I’m sure you’ve heard about that ancient history. Let me warn all of you, sleep insanity still exists. You just don’t hear about it on the Hyper-net anymore. Do whatever you can to not be put to sleep,” the captain says and rolls the flat gray cap off his head to reveal his bald skull scarred with large vertical stripes. He bows down to each of the crew so they can see the marks. Chins drop, gasps are held back, and silence tells the captain what he wanted to hear.  

“The lights burned these into my head when they tried to treat me. Took the rest of my hair too. I decided to leave it as a reminder of my humanity considering how this seems to be slipping away from us every day. What are we called now anyway? Cyber Sapiens, Techno Sapiens or Homo Cyberian?” the captain asks. The crew keeps their mouths shut. 

“Never mind, I’m going to check out my quarters,” the captain says and leaves the Bridge.

Never heard Techno Sapien before, the navigation officer thinks.

In the compact quarters of Mr. Lysander, the sound of metabolic monitors chime and beep as Mr. Lysander sleeps in the cryo-tube. The doctor has illegally deactivated his nannites so the potent sedatives he administered will drift into his bloodstream. They act fast and begin to slow his heart rate. Mr. Lysander unconsciously resists the compounds that begin to whisk his will away and he begins to spasm. His limbs flail and hit the inside of the container.  His core body temperature cools as anti-freeze compounds and Sorbitol are injected but remain below toxic levels to strengthen the sedative’s effects. It will make it appear to be a stasis accident.   

Dr. Drang sees he is resisting. He thinks, This last Lysander should be dying. He checks Mr. Lysander’s medical chart on the computer and knows they must be wrong. The cryo-tube’s alarms go off. Dr. Drang hits the release code and opens the tube to inject emergency trauma nannites. He waits. Mr. Lysander convulses but then is still. After a few moments, the doctor takes a deep breath and says, “Shit. Something messed with my systems.”  The doctor taps the intercom on the wall. 

“Intercom open. Captain, I am having problems in Mr. Lysander’s quarters. Are we having any system malfunctions? I can’t get my scanners to work properly?” Dr. Drang asks and rushes over to check the patient. The nannites continue to repair the internal cellular damage and cover up his tracks.

“Dr. Drang, the only thing I can think of is there were a few huge blasts of cosmic wind before we took off. But no problems were reported. The active EM shielding has been up the whole time. I can send help if you need it,” the captain says. Realizing that could be trouble, the doctor says, “No, I can handle it.”

“Fine, I’m heading back to the bridge if you need me, doctor.” 

Dr. Drang trembles, his coat whips across the sleek floor, and his metabolic nannites react by cascading his system with serotonin to soothe him. He thinks I must be more careful, but the Lysander cannot be allowed to live or she will end me.        

The Jovian system is made in good time for the old freighter and they slow down for approach and prepare to dock with the cryo-station. As they get into range of the station’s EM shield, an urgent message is sent to the doctor to come to the bridge by the communications officer. Dr. Drang clacks down the narrow hall on the honeycomb walkway. He halts, gazes out a starboard portal and pats the front of his coat flat. The charge from the planet’s magnetosphere sends electrical arcs hopping along the exterior hull. A couple of the Jovian moons drift by in the window shimmering like colorful rocks polished by powerful rapids. 

“There was once a great red spot, but it died. Soon another will replace it,” the doctor says and brushes the front of his jacket flat.

Dr. Drang lunges through the hatch before it is fully absorbed into the bulkhead and sees the captain standing next to a hologram of a rapidly revolving star. The captain stares at the turbulent yellow center that writhes with solar prominences and bending magnetic fields.

Dr. Drang’s eyes lower as he says, “A storm. Really? You could have told me that a bloody storm could disrupt the systems!” 

The captain continues to stare at the hologram and the crew watches him. “What the hell?” the doctor asks.

“Doctor, I think the captain is having one of those LDS episodes,” the navigation officer states.

“It’s Long Sleep Disorder, LSD. When did this start?”

“A few minutes ago when we pulled up the weather forecast for the sun. He just started staring at the hologram when it began rotating.”

“It’s not because of my LSD. I just trance out sometimes. I forgot you are a new crew and should have warned you. Sorry,” the Captain says, blinks and pivots to stare directly at the doctor. 

“What about LSD? You never informed me of this captain,” Dr. Drang says. A vein throbs on his forehead.

“You didn’t examine my medical records?” the captain asks and waves his hand through the fiery hologram. He sneers at the doctor with a gaze that could smelt aluminum. 

“Luckily I will not experience the sleep. I conscripted replacements in perpetuity as I’m a part of the Initiate Program,” Dr. Drang says.

“So, you are one of them. How old are you?” the captain asks.

“I was born in the month of Mars. That is all you need to know,” the doctor says while turning away knowing what the response will be.

“One of the elite prefects right here on my ship. How the hell did that happen?”

“Didn’t you check my records?”

“You must have been there with Ophelia in the beginning.”

“Yes. I was there when we saved the Earth and rescued the trapped consciousnesses from the World Wide Mind system. It was a fortunate tragedy but as a result, we discovered the reboot drugs and the holographic memory enervators. Enough of this, I must go and check on my patients,” the doctor says and exits the bridge. The captain bites his lower lip. 

“Computer, I want the preloaded fragrance of bananas pumped in now. So you know, crew, I always dock with the aroma of bananas filling the bridge. It’s the symbolism. You know docking, a banana. It’s funny… never mind,” the captain says and waves the crew off with a flick of his wrist. 

Final clearance is given by the cryo-station to dock. All the primary systems are functional and the docking sequence slowly begins. The sleeping mechanical stowaway onboard activates and powers up.


Chapter 2 will be available next week.

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