Chapter 48 (Original Archive)
IAS turn 54 - Hall of the Mountain King
Arkady slept uneasily that night. Half-formed memories of his father and mother
swam in a sea of forgotten shadows. Familiar faces shared tales, the details of
which he couldn't recall. He woke early and tossed and turned. He looked up at
the magnetic icon attached to the bulkhead beside his bed, said a prayer for Bailey,
and soon gave up on going back to sleep. He rose, wrapped a towel around his waist,
and walked through the ship to the matter compiler.
Orderly rows of shoes, shirts, trousers, socks, underwear and a case of shotgun shells
sat beside Hephaestus's power station. The attire was plain, but sturdy. When Arkady
was dressed, he scrutinized the ammunition: 12 shells, non-lethal. The compiler was
still humming and the display announced it was restarting a suit of reflective armor.
Arkady locked the shells in the munitions locker, left the rest of the clothes outside
the crew's quarters, and went to the bridge. He was surprised to find Nike and Chelydra
there. "Good morning, Arkady," Nike said. "Did you sleep well?"
"Not really. I was thinking about Bailey. I was the one who made that fishing pole."
"It was not your fault."
Arkady nodded, but he saw the hideous fish again with Bailey in its maw. He had reached
for his weapon but hesitated to fire, unsure of hitting Bailey. If he had fired, would
Bailey still be alive?
"It's just as well you're up early. The sun will be up soon and I'm eager to get out
of here so we can make camp in daylight, but something has come up that I'd like you
all to see. Pandora, would you please send a wake up call to the crew? Perhaps a little
music will be easier than a marine's voice to wake up to."
"Do you have any suggestions?"
"I don't know, something that starts quiet and builds to a climax, but not too long."
"Edvard Grieg, Hall of the Mountain King," Pandora replied and loaded the file.
French horns gently buzzed in the crews' ears and pizzicato strings marched softly
through their dreams. Slow and steadily they increased their feverish melody until
a choir joined the orchestra, shouting at full volume. When the music was over,
Pandora told the crew, "Good morning. Please report to the bridge."
Nike sent the reconnaissance drone's video feed to the holoprojector as bleary-eyed
crew members stumbled onto the bridge. The hologram displayed a portion of the desert
near the mountains with notes and flags. "Pandora alerted me this morning that there's
a caravan heading toward us." Nike zoomed in on a flag and revealed twenty or so
leviathans like the one they'd seen Janus riding. The speed and direction indicators
declared they were heading right for them at 25 KPH, but they hardly moved against
the map's scale. Nike turned on the terrain notes Horatio had given them and the
crew saw they were moving away from the city marked 'Eden'. Nike zoomed in closer
and they saw men in the broad wooden saddles. As many as five or six rode on each
creature's back. A single leviathan in the middle bore a wooden structure like a
litter, 2 meters long and a meter tall with lattice walls; two riders sat above
the beast's neck.
The drone flew closer to the men and they pointed up at the camera. The crew of the
Pandora saw their mouths move as they shouted, but they heard nothing. One of the
two drivers, without slowing his steed, climbed from his seat and knocked on the
wall of the litter behind him. He must have shouted something and heard a reply,
because a moment later he returned to his seat.
"How far away are they," Bud asked, "and whose bright idea was the Evil Boss music?"
"875 kilometers. At their present speed they'll arrive here in 35 hours if they don't
stop to battle Sikalas or rest their mounts, and Pandora chose the music.
We're taking suggestions."
Yawning, Irsa walks onto the bridge. "Morris's favorite music.
I miss Morris. Is it really called 'Evil Boss Music'?"
Irsa asked as she stretched out for a moment.
[Irsa:] "Is it really called 'Evil Boss Music'?"
"No," Bud replied, "but it sure reminds me of a video game."
[Nike:] "At their present speed they'll arrive here in 35 hours
if they don't stop to battle Sikalas or rest their mounts."
"I assume Galt's riding inside that box, enjoying the shade," Arkady said,
"while his followers will be baking in the sun soon. Are they heading straight for us?"
"Nearly. He seems to have a good intelligence network," Nike responded. Bud nodded.
"We shouldn't wait around for him. I'd rather not face him yet. Take your stations, we're taking off."
Nike, Percy, Amanda, Bud and Arkady sat in the five command chairs, and the rest of the crew sat behind them.
They fastened themselves into their grav harnesses. Chelydra joined them after letting THX-1492 out of the ship.
THX flew the spare aircar up and over the harbor where they'd spent the last three nights, and the Pandora lifted
off behind it. As the ship rumbled and roared into the sky, the shaking compiler aborted its current project, a suit
of reflective armor, and recycled the portion it had constructed.
The flight was smooth. The windows gave only a view of the sky above but the crew watched the ocean glide
by on the video displays and the holoprojector. Becka read her book while the rest of the crew settled in for
a long trip. They were silent at first, but boredom drew them into conversations. They discussed their plans to
reach orbit, how they might find the Alexandria or the Warden, and the beauty and serenity of the uninhabited world below.
When at last they reached the other side of the ocean, the rich green mountains of the far continent rose from the waters
and silenced the crew once more. No signs of man marred the natural wonders of this untouched land.
The Pandora followed THX over mountainous jungles and descended with it into a valley that seemed no different
from any of the others around it. They did not see the clearing until they were practically on top of it. THX flew the
aircar into one of the ruins and Arkady set the Pandora down on the dense grass at the bottom of the pit north of the ruins.
The holoprojectors and video monitors displayed the dense jungle surrounding them.
"Welcome to our new home for a while," Nike said. "Arkady, you're on elevator duty. Make it the compiler's top priority,
and get right on it. Security team, secure the area."
Irsa will scout around the Pandora in ever-widening circles looking for potential food.
Any roots, leaves, fruit and seeds she finds she will have analyzed by the food analyzer.
By the way, someone really should check on Irsa's food gathering once in a while.
THX will exit the spare aircar and begins a thorough reconaissance of the area scouting out for any dangers.
THX was the first to patrol the area. The robot exited its aircar and scouted around the ruins for danger.
When the Pandora's engines ceased making noise, the surrounding jungle was perfectly still except for
the faint sound of wind blowing through the trees high above the excavation. THX's infrared sensors
scanned the area but detected no significant heat signatures.
Irsa walked down the gangplank with Chelydra's security team and flew up the embankment, searching
for potential food. The vegetation was mostly rough underbrush, trees, and vines. She collected samples
of leaves that looked edible, but nothing seemed appetizing.
Arkady went to the galley and ate a breakfast of Irsa's vegetables and a peanut flavored HEaVE bar,
then he went to the garage and started compiling the pieces for the elevator.
As they appraoched the ruin site, Percy scratched at the stubble scattered about his cheeks, chin and emerging wattle. He wasn't a spring chicken and he wondered why the clone bays of the Warden had spit out such a mid-life version of himself. Maybe that's how old he was when he'd given his DNA sample. Maybe he'd updated his sample after a few years in the original voyage. Maybe he would be better thinking about the mission and quit his introspection.
But just what was their mission? They had lofty but achievable goals--save the Warden, solve the mystery of Rho-1 Cancri A, but ultimately, was it to repopulate the galaxy with the human race? They were doing a lousy job of it. How many had died in his company, since he'd walked out of the clone pod? He frowned, then shook his head in spite of himself. One day at a time, Mister Jenkins, he thought.
He looked up from his bridge station and let his gaze drift across the bridge crew. Marine Captain and Pandora's Captain, Nike. Amanda the math professor. Bud the... oldest living human being, and now bereft of presumably his best friend. His gaze ended with Arkady. Two pilots, two academics, and the oldest human alive. Sounded like a bar joke. The rest of the crew and guests on board were counting on them, on him, for their survival, to lead them. To find answers, to save the day.
As they landed, and the crew spread out, he caught Nike's attention.
"I'm having a mid-life crisis!" he admitted. He held up a hand to stave off any quick reply.
"No, I don't want to go fly the sports car in the garage... not that kind of crisis!" He sighed. "I feel as if I'm a bit misplaced for this... mission. I had my crack at surviving the hazards of a career on the Warden, and I failed. But Warden's clone bays have given me a second chance. Presumably, there's something up here," he said, knocking on his head, "that Warden felt was needed to ensure its crew's survival, or at least her survival, and I don't think resuming a career as a computer programmer is neither my destiny nor my personal career aspiration. Amanda can probably keep this fancy bucket's computers going.... I guess what I'm saying is, I think I'm going to assign myself to the uh, away team."
"This ain't Star Trek, Percy," Nike smirked.
"Well whatever you want to call it!" he laughed. "I'm gonna suit up and head out. Transform and roll out. Stretch my legs. Explore the ruins."
"Well, you don't need my permission. I'll claim to be the Captain of the Pandora, but I'm not one of the Warden Captains. Wherever they are, they've long stopped giving orders to the crew of the Warden. Even recombinant crew members," she finished, punching Percy in the chest. "You want to go play jungle man, go for it."
Percy smiled. He didn't need to, but he saluted anyway and headed to his quarters.
Inside his room, he changed his clothes. He grimaced, realizing he'd worn the same uniform several days straight. He strapped on his light duralloy plated suit on top of his Warden uniform, clipped his laser pistol on, grabbed the sheets of paper from the bag he'd procured back on the Warden, and stuffed them in his fanny pack, which he stuffed into one of the packs attached to his suit. He saw his computer, then remembered something he'd meant to do.
"Alaric," Pandora replied, "created the first fully autonomous,
artificial, sapient creature and died in the process. His creation,
assumed by European authorities to be Alaric's murderer, was destroyed
without trial or due process. His death established the precedent
abrogating the rights of AIs that still may be valid on Eridani.
Perhaps the transmissions from the colony can shed some light on the
subject. May I have your permission to download them from the Alexandria?"
As he walked to the storage room he hailed the bridge. "Nike, think you can get Pandora to download those colony transmission logs from Alexandria? A little light reading for when I get back."
At storage, he grabbed two 1-liter bottles of water, stuffing them in his pockets. He also grabbed three Type IV small hydrogen cells. He wasn't sure what he'd be shooting at, but he figured 40 shots of an energy pistol were better than 10. [I assume the cells are compatible.] He didn't see any combat knives or machetes so he wandered to the matter compiler. Seeing it inactive, he pulled up its inventory of blades. He figured it wouldn't take too long for it to spit one out. As he waited, he started humming the tune he'd awakened to.
OOC: the small Type IV hydrogen cells work just fine in Percy's laser pistol.
"Nike, think you can get Pandora to download
the colony transmissions from the Alexandria?"
"Sure thing," Nike replied.
Percy found Arkady in the garage hunched over the matter compiler's display. "What's up Ark? Is there a decent knife in the template files? I may need one while I'm out exploring the jungle."
"I've already got the compiler cooking something up, Percy. Looks like it's gonna take a while. These instructions aren't as easy as I hoped they would be. I've got a pocket knife though. If you think you can use it, you can have it. I found it on the Warden." Arkady fished in his pockets, found the knife, and handed it to Percy.
OOC: We never determined what sort of knife it is other than a 'pocket knife' so I'll leave it up to Percy/Ben to decide what it looks like.
Percy stepped out of the Pandora and into the valley they'd landed in. He'd seen the place through THX-1492's sensors from half a world away, but there was nothing like witnessing it first-hand. He wandered among the monumental black stones, carved by alien hands and etched with eldritch runes. He cast furtive glaces at the trees towering above him, as if the builders--or their descendants- -were watching him, then hiked to the southern end of the valley where the crumbling dropship lay in ruins. Percy entered the overgrown gangplank, tread carefully past the long dead skeleton in power armor, and journeyed through the dropship's root infested chambers and corridors. He searched through the remains but found nothing of value. The destruction that time and nature had performed upon her were complete and total.
THX's infrared sensors scanned the area at the bottom of the excavation but detected no significant heat signatures other than the crew members.
Irsa flew around the valley, but she found nothing interesting that looked edible.
"My sensors show no threats in our immediate vicinity," Pandora spoke to the crew over their comms, "but I cannot see outside of the excavation. Please be careful."
Percy searched through the ruins for anything of value, but found only a few moldy and chewed-up pamphlets describing life in the colonies of Eridani. He wandered through the dropship, avoiding the chamber THX had warned them was contaminated with radiation, and returned to the excavated ruins before sundown. Darkness swallowed the bottom of the deep excavation in minutes.
He returned to the ship with the rest of the crew and found Arkady on the bridge explaining to Nike what he'd accomplished. "Hephaestus can assemble the parts, but it's too dangerous to assemble here. There's a tall rocky hill nearby that's safe for construction. Hephaestus could use the aircars to shuttle the pieces for assembly, but we'd run out of Hydrogen cells and building a cell energizer will take too long. I suggest we construct vibroblades and have our two medbot assistants cut a path to the hill."
"How long will the elevator take to build?" Nike asked.
Arkady's hands danced awkwardly from his pockets and back again. "Several weeks, I think. I can get the anchor assembled in a few days, but the first cable drop will take a week, and we have to be sure there are no storms coming before we send up climbers to insulate and strengthen the tether. Assuming the weather goes our way, we can be in orbit in three weeks."
"Can we start lowering the tether from the Alexandria now?"
"As long as we don't deploy the last 18 kilometers of cable during a storm and expose the Alexandria to a lightning strike, sure."
"Right, crossing the streams is bad, got it. Amanda, can you take care of that?"
Sitting behind Percy's PostIt Noted workstation, Amanda logged into the orbiting ship's computers and executed her commands. Many kilometers above them, a satellite drifted a safe distance from the Alexandria, and then fired a small projectile toward the planet. As the projectile fell, dragging a thin cable behind, the satellite drifted up, converting the friction in the spool to energy its rockets burned, keeping it stable. Amanda, monitoring the video feed from a camera in the bottom of the projectile, watched the planet below as the rest of the crew settled in for the evening.
The next morning Chelydra led the security team down the gangplank with Shlitzee and her two helper bots armed with vibroblades. They found the bottom of the ancient excavation ramp and began cutting a path that spiraled around the pit, cutting away underbrush and shaving down roots and trunks to yield a passage. They were careful not to fell any trees or risk hitting the Pandora below.
The tireless robots reached the edge of the pit by midafternoon, and by evening they had blazed a trail well into the dense jungle beyond. Vine draped trees limited visibility. Slivers of sunlight filtered down through dense canopies of growth high above them. Shlitzee's laser spun to life whenever a leaf fell or a twig snapped, but no living creatures stirred in their vicinity. The jungle was as silent as a tomb.
Irsa goes out during the day looking for food, bringing back samples at first to check for safety and then going out again to bring back more of anything the computer says is food as well as the occaisional spear making supplies(pieces of wood, flint nodules and a new hammerstone) .
THX-1492 assists in the construction of the space elevator by overseeing the constructor- bots.