Chapter 5: Solar storm and internal stress  

Six Chandrasekhar-class vessels with hulls like cut diamonds wait in line to dock with the Cook cryo-station behind the Rabelais. The heavily shielded annulus space station, a spoked wheel among the stars, rotates as it orbits Jupiter near the geologically active moon Io spitting out carbon plumes. The Rabelais begins the final docking sequence and Dr. Drang peeks out a portside portal towards the giant planet raging with supercharged blue auroras over bands of Sulphur orange clouds cinching tighter among the poles. 

“Still astonishing. Atmospheric paint spun in the centrifuge of gravity. Burgundy typhoons flow and methane rain falls. Wish I was alive to see the Great Red Spot before it vanished,” he says, sighs, and plods to the medical bay.     

An attendant on the Cook activates the magnetic clamps and pulls in the Rabelais into the range of the robotic arms that take hold of the ship with a gentle grip and connect it to an airlock. The reception for the Rabelais is finalized and a vibration is conducted to the ship through the docking arm to indicate that the airlock is sealed. The vibration resonates in the hull and activates the stowaway device. 

The dampening field surrounding the machine shuts off. The segmented arms reach out and push up like a metal spider. The device emits an ultrasonic sound wave and a signal is transmitted out into space. The wave crashes through the ship. Headaches begin to pulse within the crew. Internal alarms sound and their nannites try to block pain receptors but are not fast enough. Two breaths later, the crew falls to the floor, unconscious.   

In a nearby monitor satellite, Eveline, the hybrid entity with digital cinnamon hair downloads after a trip through the meta-space communications conduits. The hybrid receives the signal from the device and sends the primary code to the stowaway. The external monitors of the satellite activate and she watches the station revolve in the deep vacuum.    

The spider device grips the primary tubes of the bio-electric liquid filtration system that line the ship’s secondary hull.  It reaches final resonance and detonates. The hull buckles and bursts venting atmospheric gases into space. 

The Captain’s chair senses the drop in pressure and the programmable material become s molten and seals around him. The bright explosion is seen from the Ganymede observatory like a nascent star beginning to fuse. As the glare dissipates across the darkness of space, the search for survivors from the Rabelais and the space station begins in doubt.

All rescue and recovery vehicles in the spatial grid are launched. The two undamaged Chandrasekhar-class ships scan for survivors and all they find is one object with a life sign. A black egg spins in the reflected light of Jupiter and the Captain is secure inside. The escape pod collides with jagged fragments of shimmering metallic shrapnel and the gas giant’s gravity tugs the wreckage toward its turbulent surface while most of the debris is drawn towards the volcanic surface of Io where the mining facilities have been warned.    

Small fragments of debris in the wake of the explosion are on a collision course with the outer antennae of the Fafnir station orbiting near Europa. The crisis ready crewmen inside the gargantuan station spinning like a gleaming discus attend to their duties as their nannites manifest serenity protocols and interceptor satellites are sent to catch the shrapnel. The Fafnir’s crew goes about their business. Down in the laundry, gray uniforms are cleaned and pressed. Cryo-vaults are monitored for anomalous metabolic readings.

On Fafnir’s level four promenade, two lovers discuss the future.

“Vercin, do you think the Ganymede colony will replace this station?” a female first level engineer asks while kneeling on an opaque polymer floor panel. She activates a cold soldering tool and strips a black floor hinge on the deck. The hinge is replaced and she stops, puts down the tool and makes sure her silken amethyst hair is secured in a ponytail.        

“Honestly, I think there will be more need for sleep centers. The Naturalists and the TDC members will probably be caught soon and isolated for re-education in the new Neptune centers. The next cargo, I mean noble volunteers, will be placed in places like this even if the Ganymede underground facility and Callisto surface colony finally get up and running properly. I hear work on Callisto is coming along, and it should be, considering the moon has its own magnetic field. Plus, the Martian center, uh the ancient one, Achilles will soon be shut down in order to get more workers for the terraforming factories,” Vercin says. He takes off his white hip length jacket and rubs his bald head while leaning against a wall panel.

“I don’t know if they will catch many TDC members. They seem like they’d rather die and be re-educated,” she says and stands up. Her toolbox clamps shut with an edged snap.

“Let them. Then resources don’t have to be diverted and others don’t have to be put to sleep every five years. But, as long as we work here, we don’t have to worry about the real long-term cryo-storage,” he says. He walks a few steps over to the handprint identifier on the wall and her work log is updated. 

“You want to have sex before I check vitals in the vault or later?” Vercin asks.

“Later. We both need time to freshen up,” she says. She releases her ponytail.

“You are right of course. Meet you in my quarters after my shift.  If not send an ICI message,” Vercin says and blows a kiss.

He walks down the plastic white hallway to an elevator transport that takes him to Level Three. The transport detaches from the main shaft and travels horizontally out to the external hull of the station. Dull thuds echo as the rail system transport connects to the passageway and speeds him around the outside of the station. Ripples of electricity generated from Jupiter’s magnetic field race across the ceramic shielding in loops and waves. He yawns and reaches his 1/200th slice of the station. The transport is drawn to the vault deep inside near the dark core.    

Vercin opens the oval door to his cryo-vault. The white light of the hallway is momentarily tarnished with the dark blemish of his shadow. He steps on the flat octagonal monitoring platform and his weight activates the sensors. A hair-thin holographic ledger appears beside his head and Vercin taps the control panel to his side. The platform zips along a rail system in between two dark rows of cryo-tubes thirty high and three hundred deep. He takes individual readings with the aid of his ICI’s and the ledger stores the data. 

The sleeper learning programs are operating at peak efficiency and use individual memories to create educational dreams. Each sleeper’s Influence Program guides their long dreams as all of the information stored in their subconscious mind generates a reality. The cycle begins today for some but for others, it ends. Vercin is told by the vault’s AI who he will be waking on his shift so he pulls up their files.    

Dee Ponce and Leon Mercurio are scheduled to go through the Phoenix System, Vercin thinks as he examines the records. Lovebirds who sold their BR’s to go in together and get up together. How sweet. If they only knew what BR’s are going for today they would never have had to sleep so long. 

“With that money, I could have bought Tahiti. Actually, why would I want that nuclear waste? Wait, Mercurio?  My universe!” Vercin says.     

The Phoenix System is initiated and the nannites begin the endocrine revival along with the electrical balancing of the brainstem. The anti-freeze agents are neutralized as no ice crystals have formed to cause gaps between the cells and the nannites repair any other cellular damage.  Nepenthe is injected to stimulate the cortex along with the adrenaline, calcium, and potassium concoction to bring the muscles back into an active state. Only minor atrophy has occurred as the tech trainees did well to electrically contract the skeletal and voluntary musculature during the past years. The couple revives more slowly than usual over the course of two days in the hatching bay.          

Before the new Awakees can be introduced, the news of sabotage from the salvage crews seeps through every recycled breath. The news was even more difficult to accept when evidence of an explosive device was found and the weapons expert on Ganymede positively identified the device.  An open transmission from Mars relays a news story on a Naturalist group that is taking responsibility for the bombing as they were fulfilling a vendetta against the House of Lysander and the Apotheosis Gene scientist Drang. The message from the Naturalists sets all cryo-stations on high alert but they go about business as they always do. 

The newly awoken Dee Ponce stretches her back, a woman of elegant symmetry. Drowsy and chilled, Dee is led by two gray uniformed male attendants down the forever curving plastic white promenade of the central deck to her rehabilitation cell. Another Awakee, Thomas Mann, an android merchant, watches Dee being helped by on unsteady legs and thinks she would make a great sex instruction android and she’s even wearing the blue body suit. He waves. Dee waves back.  

Dee stands without assistance at the door to her chambers. Her retinal scan opens the entrance to reveal her love Leon, in a full body insulation suit, sitting on the edge of a mattress sprouted from the intelligent metamorphic surface of the cell wall. His closed yes open wide to reveal a glassy stare. He smiles with the power of a star. Dee thinks he looks “zombified”, slang used by people on Earth who suffered from LSD. Her face chills under the draft of the atmospheric recycler above the door. She thinks soon we will feel the hot sand between our toes and she realizes she can’t smell anything. 

A wispy male attaché in a pinstripe suit, a man who just reached third level Biotech status, pushes by Dee and steps up to Leon and waits for him to speak. Leon brushes back his hair dark as a black hole and stares at the attaché with a ferocity reserved for only true predators.   

“Sir, if I may Mr. Mercurio, I have an investment opportunity for you. Out here we hear a lot of rumors and I decided to create a clearinghouse of information to serve the political system back on Mars and Earth. You can have first access and…”

“Cease your words. They are mumbles, and I sincerely hope you are not trying to take advantage of me in this state. That would be unwise. My love is here, and money is pale in comparison, so be gone. All of you,” he says and they scurry away. He turns his attention up to Dee as he blinks away the haze that covers his vision.   

“Hello my love, welcome to, well, the inside of an egg. Let’s see, small, check, harsh lighting, check, two old interactive consoles, flat no less, check, and it’s cold. Yes, I believe that’s everything I didn’t want. But what am I complaining about? You are here,” Leon says and lifts up to embraces her. For a moment they are fused and cherish the other’s body heat. Eyes look into eyes and they kiss a full, hot kiss each has dreamt about for years. 

“Leon I’m so happy to see you. What happened to your hair? I don’t know if I like it or not.  It’s too long,” Dee says and run her fingers through his hair.

“I will have it cut,” he says.

“I thought we asked for real windows. Oh well, I’m starving and guess what? I placed a few things in storage before we slept. Steak and asparagus your favorite,” she says with a glint in her eyes. She winks and pats him on the butt. The biotech who monitors the cell hides away in cloisters on the other side of the station whispers, “Lucky, lucky Popsicles. I haven’t had steak in three years.”

“Haven’t in five and don’t call me a Popsicle,” Leon says and taps the side of his head, “You think I couldn’t monitor you? This place is overpriced.” 

The biotech puts his hands on his hips and thinks, His clan probably financed the station and he is bigger in person than his images in the Hyper-net

“Yes, Dee my darling. Let’s eat. I’ve been dreaming about it,” Leon says

“Leon, I can’t wait to get off this chilly station,” Dee says.

“You must go to med-bay thirteen first Ms. Ponce before you can eat,” the biotech says through the intercom. She shrugs as they exit and are led by two spherical roll-bots to separate med-bays.  

Dee sits in a medical bay, curved as a horseshoe and just as steely, cold as dry ice, and lit in an ominous twilight. The hair on her arms stands as two robotic physicians give her a cursory examination with medical scanner hands. When the robots leave, a door opens. A wall of light crashes through and two very proper Administrators in off-white suits and black ties enter. She grabs her robe from the wall hook and sits on the edge of the examination table. The news about Tahiti is delivered as if it were directions to the bathroom. Dee covers her face with her hands and hunches over as she shakes her head. As the Administrators turn to exit, they request that she tell Leon the news since coming from them might induce more stress than necessary. 

Down the bending promenade, Jupiter Shine fills the passageway through the narrow windows as Dee resolves to be direct with Leon when he is strong enough and this decision causes adrenaline and cortisol to pump through her veins causing her hands to sweat and her heartbeat quickens.  Her nannites adjust her neurotransmitters to diminish the anxiety and the circulatory system is then washed with dopamine. She realizes she can smell again and the air of the station reminds her of spring in the lake country as serenity like a warm breeze passes through her human frame.

Leon waits for Dee outside the dining hall.  

She forces a smile while approaching and kisses him on the cheek. The thought of holding back information from Leon makes Dee want to pop and dissolve into the vacuum of space. Their warm hands clasp tight. He squeezes her hand and rubs her thumb with his. They walk by a few tables affixed to ribs of the hall’s white support beams that have begun to self-illuminate with a soft glow. Each person in the hall has a personalized holographic scene of a beach or a waterfall floating above the center of their table as the Dining Hall AI monitors their metabolic nannites for stress and glucose levels. 

The dining hall, warmer than the rest of the station, is even with the aroma freshly baked cookies piped in through the ventilation system. The pastel colors of the tables spur a memory of his mother and the summers in Canada, but Leon wills it away. 

Dee and Leon sit down across from each other.  Leon fumbles with his fork a few times and thinks that the lack of coordination must be an after-effect of the dormant state.  An android in a chef’s hat walks down the center aisle and serves their food.  Dee flutters her eyelids with a soft loving gaze but her facial muscles begin to spasm while the rest of her body is under the re-constructive strain of her nannites.  She has never experienced spasms before and it causes her to hesitate.  A single tear falls from her right eye and falls across the corner of her plump lips.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“I have the same coordination problem. Can’t seem to control anything. I was tripping over my feet and bumping into the wall panels,” Dee says and sips a green nutrient-rich fluid through a neon straw as her hand begins to twitch.  She does not know how long she can last. 

“The odd proportions of this place are hard enough to deal with. Everything is round, curved, and the ceiling is the floor. It’s like trying to navigate inside a giant silver donut with two hundred spokes. I just want to go home. The North American citadel, we’ll go to Tahiti later,” Leon says and rolls his neck. He waits for Dee’s reply but the silence lingers and makes him nervous.

“Listen, honey.  There is some tragic news about home, I know this is fragile time but...” 

She gets up and slides around the smooth edge of the table, grabs Leon’s right side and puts her arm around his waist.  She braces herself for turmoil and kneels on the floor.  His jaw bites down, his toes curl, as he brings his chin to his chest to look down at her with round eyes that would rather be blind than see her in pain.  

“Go on, tell me. What? Did the Earth explode or is there some new virus that our augmented immune systems can’t deal with?”

“No, there is no virus. I’m sorry but remember how you thought a total clan war was inevitable.  You were right and most of the Pacific Rim is in ruins including Tahiti.”

“What? Is my family safe?” he asks with eyes narrow.

“No. The Administrators told me there was a nuclear attack against Tahiti. No survivors were found. The Morimotos and the Kelleys were wiped out too. Australia is barely habitable. ”

“All my family?”

“They said no survivors. I’m so sorry Leon.”

He sits as a hollow statue, expressionless. Dee hugs him around the waist and peers up to him.  He brushes her hair with his fingertips and opens his eyes as wide as he can while looking upon her worried face. Leon nods once and raises her up.

“I feared this would happen, but it is not unexpected. Let’s get out of here and find out what else has happened in the last five years,” he says. 

They shuffle down the curved corridor led by a spherical roll-bot back to the private quarters.  The door to their room is absorbed into the walls without a sound after they enter. The seats and beds extend from the walls and floor as if they were melted and then molded from the existing material. Anticipating Leon’s distress, the monitors set high levels of oxygen and lowered the pressure of the internal atmosphere to create a mild sense of therapeutic detachment. A tan holographic face of a young woman with ever changing eye color appears on the computer console. Dee says, “Activate.”

“This is The Central Information Depository. How can I help you?” ask the computer’s AI in a sultry voice.

Dee raises an eyebrow. Tension grows like an expanding red giant star. 

“I would like to know about the status of my accounts.”

“Yes, Dee Ponce.  Your voice is recognized and allows access to the news media on Earth, but an encrypted code was created by you to remind you when you were re-initialized,” the AI states.

“Stop, I know the password and we are not programs so, therefore, we are not initialized.  The sequence is 366fountain12b. Grant access,” Dee states.

“Your account balance is 35 million Euro credits plus 40 million Canadian dollars plus 160 million American, North and South credits. 1500 LibCoin. One million African credits have been excised from your account to pay for station amenities,” the hologram says and the image refreshes an older woman’s face. 

“Now list the current top ten news stories of the last four years and then begin from the date we went into stasis with the headlines from each major news source bi-monthly,” Dee says and sits down.  Leon reclines to a seated position on the bed that molds to support his body. His thumb and index finger hold the tip of his nose as he rocks.

“Get on with the story,” Leon shouts, begins to chuckle, and then says in a quiet voice, “I hate these projected news portals and their idiotic programs. We’ll go on the Hyper-net later.”   

A Supervisory Analyst monitoring metabolic rates thinks they will be damaged if they enter the Hyper-net now and we must place limits on them. Leon knows they are being watched so he scans the room with his eyes and has his pre-frontal cortex implants augment the data.

Dee draws a blank but starts to speak and then stops, but begins again, “Information on Population problems and manifest a full body please, the disembodied head is distasteful.”

A holographic matrix blossoms and an androgynous being with a pewter face and large blue doe eyes is created. It hovers above the floor and its voice rolls along the walls of the round room, “Thank you for your inquiry. After the failure of the Methuselah and Norn projects, the political powers revised the zero-sum population initiatives. Two years ago, new legislation was passed. Before, each death required the BR’s to be transferred equally and without problems in the probate courts, but now trusts may be drawn up to distribute them to other various institutions besides...”

Dee is overcome with a sensation she has never had before, hot pain strikes through her temples, a migraine headache evolves, and she sits down. The hologram briefly pauses after the room’s AI sensing her heart rate jump sends an alert and stops. The Bio-techs in the observation room automatically react by dictating notes of her condition to the station’s AI core and the alarm is sounded for more technicians to pay attention to their biological progress. Dee’s nannites finally re-calibrate and come online to aid her but have not encountered this problem before.

“May I proceed?” the hologram asks.

“Yes, go ahead,” she says and closes her weary eyes. 

  “Sorry dear, I must ask this first. What about the atmospheric projects on Earth?” Leon asks.

“Please specify?” the hologram says with no mouth movement. 

“Purification and restoration of the ionosphere and troposphere, plus industrial pollution and CO2 levels.”

“The Boreas Project was completed one year after your dormancy. All atmospheric recyclers exceeded expectation and have ceased operation. All industry has met the purity standards of production and the new molecular morphing technology can change the byproducts into useable elements. Anything more?”

“Yes, have the explorers of the Astrae Project gone off to Gliese 581?” Leon asks and a hot pain strikes his head and runs down his spine to his mid-back. The tendrils of pain follow his nervous system to his lumbar vertebrae and the electrical storm spreads along his back.  This triggers another alarm as more technicians monitor the situation. The AI answers, “Yes” as Dee feels a sharp pain behind her eyes and passes out. Leon rubs his temples and does not notice her slump over.

“The mission to Gliese 581, one of the first solar systems found with terrestrial planets over a two hundred years ago, went underway ten months ago with the succor of the Lysander Institute. The Argus Excelsior journey will be 46 light years and will take them 75 solar years.  The 1000 person crew has been genetically modified for long-phase space travel, including the radiation resistance gene, and will be able to live over 150,000 like most humans. Their nannites also have been improved to deal with less gravity. The ship, however, is nearly a perfect simulation of Earth at sea level. They also have the breakthrough adaptive genetic therapy, which allows them to activate or create specific bodily changes, such as gills for a water planet or larger lungs for low oxygen atmospheres.”  

Leon passes out and drifts with Dee on swift currents of slumber and as the bodies shut down so does the hologram. The technicians reach them shortly and resuscitate them after amending their program tolerances.