Growing Horizons: Endings and Beginning – Chapter 2

March 21, 2130

Asari Mining Complex, Ceres, Sol

Almost clutching the papers in hand, he slowly left the local Asari office of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs. As he stepped into the corridor, he still had the words of Mr. Davidson in his ears.

“Congratulations, Mr. Alberti. Your papers are all in order and we have processed your claim. Your claim has been recognized by us and the IAU.”

Davidson had smiled at that.

“A nice presentation, by the way. But something I’d expect from what is effectively your Masters thesis.”

Slowly a grin spread out over his face as he walked down the corridor of the UN compound in the Prime Torus towards the main concourse, a spring in his step.

Three years. Three years of working his ass off to get everything together for his thesis. Painstakingly planning the mission, designing the habitat, requesting every bit of information he could get his hands on. Three years of work that had payed off.

846 Lipperta was going to be his.

Okay, well… It was going to belong to the Lippstadt Asteroid Mining GmbH. But since he had founded that company…

Ahmed Alberti was in a good mood.

“I see you were much successful, Ahmed.”

His mood rose immediately and the grin only got wider as he turned to face the source of the, mostly faux, British accented voice.

“I was just about to go looking for you, Adam,” he told his friend and silent business partner.

“Riiiight,” Adam replied, rolling his eyes. “I bet you were about to head to the Atomic Rocket to grab a pint.”

Ahmed chuckled.

“Well, my second goal for the day. Getting drunk on success before it’s back into the data mines for us.”

Adam gave him a toothy grin in return.

“Indeed, indeed, old chap. There’s still that decision to be made whether we go local, Chinese or Indian with the Habitat.”

“Eh,” Ahmed made and turned spinwards as they reached the concourse and headed to the next Torus spoke and the Multi transport hub there. “I’m still not sure why we should go for either the Chinese or the Indian hab contracts.”

He looked down at the papers in his hands and shuddered just a little.

“It seems I’ve beaten a Chinese application for Lipperta by just ten minutes,” he said as Adam called for a Multi capsule.

“Come on,” Adam said. “We’re not in the 20th century anymore. The Chinese aren’t going to hold a grudge just because they’ve been beaten to the claim of a single rock in the Belt.”

The capsule arrived and they both stepped in.

“Delta Torus, Spoke Five,” Adam ordered and the capsule began to move along its maglev tracks. “Besides, it seems they are mostly concentrating their efforts around the Greeks and grab a couple of Hildas to act as long term cyclers.”

Slowly the pull of the centripetal force lessened to zero and the capsule moved into the hub of the torus, following a path into the sub-cereran tunnel network that linked the habitat tori of Asari Mining Complex.

“Instead, they are going to take your money, give you a decent quality product and leave you alone.”

Ahmed eyed his friend.

“How do you know that?”

“Oh come on,” Adam said, rolling his eyes. “I’m a data mining, correlation, and analysis specialist. It’s something I do. Besides someone in this partnership had to keep out an eye on the political situation. Especially with the FSEAN is rattling their sabers again.”

Ahmed sighed and massaged his forehead. He could still remember the invasion six years ago.

“Great… And?”

Adam shrugged.

“The MoD is offering to use their new Type 15 escorts to protect valuable cargo and other missions. I reckon we might get some protection there.”

Ahmed nodded.

“Sounds good.”

Adam grinned again and the capsule came to a final halt, after descending into Delta Torus, the main commercial area of Asari. The doors opened and they stepped out into the air, which was filled with the scent of various food stands and some yelling and screaming from vendors. The city government was almost deliberately keeping the atmosphere of Delta Torus like a bazar on Earth, largely because it was a big attraction for tourists from other Districts as well as from other parts of the Solar System.

‘Visit the great Delta Torus! You can find everything here!’

The two companions slowly made their way through the Torus to the Atomic Rocket. For this time of day there was not much happening and the only somewhat strange passerby was an Europan walker. The massive brass, stainless steel and glass contraption moved along on its eight legs, each clacking across the floor, while steam hissed from pistons now and again. Four manipulator arms hung in their resting positions. Its Europan passenger was floating in its glass bubble, tentacles wrapped around brass leavers, pulling at them and punching buttons.

It was always a strange sight to see the steampunk contraptions move along so fluidly, almost animal like.

The shells of the octopoid Europan flashed in an explosion of colors and a translated voice came from a brass speaker grill.

“That good for nothing… If I ever get my tentacles on that slimy…”

Ahmed made sure to move out of the way of the apparently quire infuriated Europan, before spotting the entrance to the Rocket. A large neon sign that could have come straight from a 1950s movie hung over the entrance, which was flanked by a pair of glass boxes.

Adam groaned as he saw the posters in one of the boxes.

“Great… Frank is back.”

Ahmed in turn grinned.

“Oh, this is going to be fun,” he said and chuckled.

Just as they were about to enter the Rocket, a pair of burly men in the coveralls of the Torus Maintenance Staff walked out, the name tags on one man reading ‘Wazlav’, while the other read ‘Wilfried’, a struggling suited man between them. The suited man was cursing loudly in Italian and Ahmed winced. Wazlav in turn responded with several harsh sounding words in Polish, finishing with the unambiguous ‘Kurwa’, where both of them flung the man to the ground.

“Do you know who I am?” the suit screamed, his voice almost breaking in his rage.

“Do not know, do not care,” Wazlav replied in broken English. “Do not come back.”

The suit stuttered, before pulling himself up from his prone position.

“Fucking Janitors!” he screamed. “You will hear from my lawyer!”

Ahmed winced. Bad move. No one called a member of the Maintenance Staff a janitor. They were highly specialized workers with at least bachelor degree in their area of expertise. Not to mention they made sure that no one died a horrible death due to space. Spacers in general and Belters in particular held the Maintenance Staff in high regard for that fact alone.

As the man moved out of hearing distance, the man sighed.

“Fucking Earthers,” he said, his broken accent gone, it was just an affectation when he got angry. “Always trying to get into trouble.”

“Da sachse wat,”* Wilfried noted drily.

Next to Ahmed, Adam grinned again.

“Wazlav, my good chap,” he said jovially. “What good fortune to meet you on this hour.”

Wazlav eyed Adam in return.

“What do you want…”

“Oh, I just want you to explain a few things to my partner. We have a few problems concerning a habitat. Ahmed isn’t sure whether we should get local, Chinese or Indian. I personally say to go with the Chinese model.”

The two Maintenance technicians turned chuckled and walked back into the bar.

“We can do that over a drink. I take it your claim got through?”

They followed and entered the bar, to be greeted by a rendition of ‘Banned from Argo’ coming from the live band on the bars stage. Today it was ‘Captain Frank and the Crewmen’, even though the drummer was a woman. Frank was actually the owner of a tug craft, the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and the others of the band were his crew mates.

Adam groaned at the choice of music.

“Oh come on, Frank,” he yelled over the music.” Play something else.”

“Why?” he asked between verses of the song, a huge grin on his face. “The song fits perfectly.”

Then he continued singing.

Ahmed just chuckled and followed Wazlav and his friend into one of the booths, which was decorated posters of old SciFi magazines, like Amazing Stories. The bar itself looked like it was ripped straight from one of the novels itself, looking very much like a 1950s version of a science fiction spacer bar. A lot of polished metal, leather and glass.

“One of the usual for me, Thorsten,” Ahmed called out to the barkeeper, who nodded back at hi as he and Adam joined the others, who were nursing their own drinks.

“So, Wazlav,” Adam said as he had settled down with his usual problems. “Care to tell my friend why we should get a Chinese hab since we’re on a tight budget?”

Wazlav smirked.

“Oh, that’s easy,” the Maintenance man said and leaned back. “It’s cheap, it’s good quality and the Chinese almost come up to Russian standards when it comes to ruggedness. And you’d find a lot of Maintenance guys that know the Chinese stuff.”

He took a sip of his beer, as Ahmeds beer arrived.

“Sure you can go with the Indian stuff, but while they are cheaper than the Chinese, they have a worse MTB, Main Time Between Failures. It’s going to give your maintenance guys a workout. Not to mention the higher follow up costs for the manufacturing rights of the replacement parts. And since you are on a tight financial and mass budget, that’s going to eat into your stock.”

Wazlav then grinned.

“As for our local stuff,” he said with a sigh. “Might as well get a hab with solid gold toilets. Sure, there is to loyalty to Ceres to consider, but… while its solid construction, and the best available on the market, the quality has its costs. Not good for someone on a budget.”

He pointed at Adam.

“I have to agree with fluffy here. Go for the Chinese hab. It’s going to be cheaper in the long run. I’ve read your Masters thesis. If you actually pull this off, you can by a better hab later. And everyone else is going to buy themselves some Chinese habs…”

* translation: Indeed.

Growing Horizons: Endings and Beginning – Chapter 1

December 13, 1009 BC

Raydsul Orbital Complex, Cterin, 61 Virginis

Slowly the blue, green, brown and white orb rotated beneath the view port, its view shifting just a little with the rotation of the Orbital Complex.

Cterin was a wonderful world.

Lush green expanses of vegetation, meandering blue rivers cutting through the landscape and its great forests. Great cities were place along the shores of lakes, some of them millennia old, build when the old Empires were great. Monuments, old and new, visited by scholars and tourists daily, at awe to the great works of the Quetzal.

The vast stretches of the oceans, blue and full of life. The massive bulks of the great arches floating along the coastlines on their endless journeys of trade and commerce. Each arch a city of its own, build to house ever growing populations for the last two millennia.

Cterin was a wonderful world. The home world. The birthplace of the Quetzal.

But Cterin was a dying world as well. It was to be the third world to be killed by the great cancer of the plague.

Rynem of the Gerant Vorem, Sovereign of Thriem, stood on the viewport, unblinking eyes staring down at his dying home, the hands of all four arms balled into fists. Even after the past two cycles, he still could not understand why this all was happening. Try as he might he could not understand why the creators of the Onouch’l Automatons would destroy the ecosystems of entire worlds.

“Why?” he whispered as he looked down at his dying home, while he made a high keening noise, not unlike the distress cries of a youngling.

Even from medium orbit, he could see the vast mats of The Plague swimming on the surface of the ocean beneath. Single celled organisms with a shell of dense, hard polymers that grew everywhere, using any resource to multiply.

He had seen images and videos of Quetzal infected by The Plague. How the enzymes and acids produced by the organisms slowly decayed the living bodies, covering them in biofilms of greenish biopolymers, while they writhed in agony.

Nothing could finally kill The Plague. Any conventional attempts to kill the organisms were defeated by their biopolymer cell membranes, no antibiotics could penetrate, no enzymes or acids eat away the cell membranes. Heat and pressure were useless, as was extreme cold. Ionizing radiation had a hard time to penetrate the hydrogen rich biopolymer membranes and if they did, enzymes and other cell products repaired the multiple redundant cell cores.

Only fission and fusion weapons were able to hold The Plague at bay, but at what cost? How could one destroy the entire planet with nuclear weapons to save it from a biological one?

“Why?” he whispered again, his mind trying again to find a way to save his home.

There was a flash of light in his field of view and he closes his eyes, pressed them shut.

Another one. Another shuttle that had launched from the surface, trying to flee from the now quarantined world. A shiver ran through his body as his mind involuntarily supplied him with images of afraid and panicked Quetzal crammed into every nook and cranny aboard the shuttle craft as they ran for orbit. Only to be shot down by one of the surviving automaton craft build by the Quetzal.

“Damn you,” he whispered and opened his eyes again, the claws of his upper hands digging hard enough into his palms to draw blood.

He looked back up through the view port again, only to see another flash of light from another dying shuttle craft.

“Damn you!”

His voice was louder this time as he turned his upper body around on his coiled up body, staring at the white feathered quetzal that lay coiled up not too far away, unmoving and apparently unfeeling.

“How?” Rynem almost screamed as he glared at the figure. “How can you just sit there without any emotion?”

The Quetzals head rose slightly as he looked back over at him.

“No emotions?” the avatar of one of the Quetzal automaton craft asked, his own voice a horse whisper. “No… emotions.”

The light of a third noiseless explosion flashed through the view port and a holographic image came into being next to the coiled up form of the avatar. Slowly it began to cycle through the images of one Quetzal after the other, each with a name displayed beneath it. Faster and faster.

The white feathered avatar pressed his own eyes shut and seemed to tremble.

“I grieve for every life that I am forced to take,” he said silently. “Those faces? They are the faces of everyone aboard one of the shuttle craft that I was forced to destroy to enforce the quarantine. Thirty two thousand, five hundred and forty-six lives. Afraid for their lives. Filled with panic from having seen their fellows die a horrible death from The Plague.”

The avatar drew in a simulated breath.

“You have no idea how I feel,” he continued, his voice almost dead. “I am forced to kill those that I have been constructed to protect. I have to kill them to ensure the survival of those in orbit. To ensure the survival of the final convoy, before the Onouch’l return to ensure everyone in this system is dead.”

He opened his eyes again, white pupils staring back at Rynem.

“You should go,” the avatar said softly. “You have a duty to your surviving people, just as I have a final duty to protect this world from the Onouch’l.”

Rynem stared back at the avatar of Petan, one of the oldest of the Automatons build by the Quetzal, build by his own nation. For a moment he remembered the almost innocent personality the Synthetic Intellect had when he was first activated, ten cycles ago. Gone was that innocence of a Youngling, replaced with the weariness of a veteran warrior that had seen too much death. Gone was the friendly barter between an Automaton craft Intellect and the heir to the Thriem Sovereignty.

32546 Quetzal lives had been ended by him as they tried to flee the quarantined planet below. Lives that had to be ended to ensure the survival of the remaining Quetzal. It was a racial, genetic imperative to ensure the survival of the people, but intellectually it was still hard to see the dead of a world.

Rynem himself had given that order, nearly one cycle ago, as the only one with high enough order clearance that was off planet, when the Onouch’l Automatons had appeared over Cterin for the first time and managed to drop a single bomb filled with The Plague into the oceans of his home. Back then, almost all the other heads of nations had backed him up, only to falter one by one as their own lives were at stake.

Sometimes even the strong instincts for survival of the Quetzal were badly strained. The first shuttle craft had attempted to evacuate the old Sovereign of Thriem, his own predecessor. Attempting to argue for his own immunity of The Plague, it had been one of the Negnal war craft that had destroyed the shuttle during ascent, leaving Rynem the Sovereign.

Then more had tried to leave and the first crews of warcraft had stopped following the quarantine orders until only the Automaton craft were left, destroying every shuttle craft that tried to leave.

“Leave, Rynem of the Gerant Vorem,” Petan said. “You have your duty, I have mine.”

The silence in the room fell again, only the light hum of the environmental systems audible, as the two friends of ten cycles stared at each other.

“You have to preserve with the living, Sovereign of Thriem,” Petan continued after a few moments of silence. “While I guard the dead.”

Unblinking eyes stared at each other, before a hollow, empty sounding chuckle burst forth from the Synthetic Intellect.

“Perhaps it was inevitable,” he said and turned to face the blue, green, brown and white orb that rotated past the view port. “I was named after the Guardian of the Dead. And I shall be guarding a dead world.”

Rynem was tempted to say more, but his friend had changed since the Onouch’l Automatons had first attacked the Ormiold and the Quetzal and Turukal had come to their aid. He had seen a world dying of The Plague. Seen how a quarantine failed and infected the orbital infrastructure. Seen how the Onouch’l had returned and reduced the remaining orbital structures to scrap, only to screen the world beneath from intervention.

Only fifteen thousand Ormiold, all of them colonists in cold sleep, had survived. And entire colony mission of their way of putting settlements on other worlds. A meticulously planned mission what carried everything with it to build a colony for all fifteen thousand colonists from scratch. Mining equipment, fabricators, reactors and solar power grids, live stock in cold sleep, they had everything to create a settlement in less than six months.

And Petan had seen the same on the Turukal home world, all the colony worlds of the three races. Each killed one after the other, its existing ecosphere replaced by one entirely made of The Plague. The Turukal had been able to impose a limited quarantine of the planetary surface, but soon the commanders of military spacecraft and stations had stopped carrying out their orders to destroy shuttles coming from the surface, infecting some stations with the Plague, before the survivors were extracted.

Of the Turukal, twenty five thousand were now in cold sleep, survivors of orbital infrastructure, asteroid mining outposts and science stations. With them came mining equipment and three entire orbital structures quickly converted into FTL capable spacecraft.

Rynem looked back out of the view port for a few moments, before his eyes lingered on the avatar of Petan again.

Everyone owed Petan and the other Automatons their life. Quetzal commanders may have been able to continue to keep the quarantine for longer than the Turukal, but in the end it would have broken. The Automatons kept following their orders, they could calculate what would happen if they didn’t. And it hurt all of them.

Now the transport fleet was ready to depart with the last ten thousand Quetzal from the inner system. And whatever remaining infrastructure they had managed to salvage. All was going into a system only about 15 light cycles away, so far unknown to the Onouch’l Automatons as far as everyone knew. A large asteroid had been selected, hollowed out to hide all their spacecraft and had cold sleep capsules installed in the new internal spaces, powered by reactors and controlled by an Ormiold Automaton that had volunteered to run the maintenance.

Other survivors had fled into the outer system, severing all contact to the inner system and trying to survive on their own. And then there was a fleet that had just up and left on their own.

Who knew? Maybe they would make it, maybe they would not.

“Good luck, my friend,” he whispered as he slowly uncurled from his sitting position and made his way out of the viewing area and towards the last shuttle to the transport fleet.

Hopefully they would all survive this and their three peoples had a future.