Rendezvous with Calisto - Part One
Amid the collection of computers, machinery, and other assorted mechanical tidbits that Alex dared not to guess at, Bethany popped her head out from behind a computer terminal at Alex's grunt of frustration; she raised her eyebrows. "What?" she asked.
"Nothing." Scattered out on the table before Alex, a wild assortment of machine parts that looked like a jumbled mess of chaos laughed manically at his confusion. From what Bethany spoke about the technology aboard this ship compared to that of Interpol, say, he should have a much easier time adjusting here. The further removed from Interpol the technology went, the lower the tech level became since all the money and affluence lied with the centralized government. Not to mention they were conspiring with the Elders.
"Just ask Goog."
Bethany squinted. "Didn't anyone set you up on the nets? Nuugh. You have a SoftPAD at least, right? No, of course you don't. It'd be useless without a registered account on the nets."
Slipping out from behind the terminal she was working on, Bethany moved across the room and disappeared behind a mountain of machine parts. Several exasperated moans filtered through the ceiling-high pile of discarded parts, followed by a loud crash of metal falling on metal. "I know I have a spare or two back here," she called out. "Aha!"
In her right hand, she carried out a crumpled up sheet of aluminum foil that turned out to be two sheets; Bethany unraveled the ball, straightened it on her leg, and then pulled both sheets apart. She handed one to Alex. "You can give this other one to Katlyn, and help her set up her account next time you see her."
Alex recognized the foil from the several glimpses he'd had earlier in this bizarre trip. Smooth, cool to the touch--unfolded the SoftPAD, as Bethany had called it, displayed a holographic screen with a series of buttons along the bottom and top of the screen. On the screen a red logo rotated, a giant UNS circled in white with a saw-toothed border around the circle, underneath which only one button was lit and contained the word connect.
"Just pressed the button," Bethany said.
Alex did so only to find his reward was a deep voice that startled him one step closer to needing a new pair of shorts. "Welcome to the Universal Networking System."
Alex glanced up to find Bethany grinning at his fear-induced pale complexion. "Yuck it up," he mumbled. "Now what?"
"You need an account. So... press new."
"I don't see--" Alex stopped talking. The connect button no longer said connect; now it read verify, followed by a new button that had lit up reading new. Both of them matched the holographic 3Dedness of the screen, elevated off the metal sheet (which is strongly felt wasn't metal.) He did as Bethany said, pressing his finger through the new button.
After a series of questions that Bethany helped him through with false information, the screen shifted to a light blue and displayed a list of networks he could access. Bethany yanked her SoftPAD from her pocket, logged in, and made a few adjustments. As soon as she finished, the list on Alex's screen multiplied tenfold.
"We have very skilled system manipulators that were able to get us complete access to all the networks." Bethany rolled her eyes. "Elders, pfft--we control the universe."
"This list is enormous," said Alex. "It'd take me a year just to sort through them."
"Connect to Goog. Should be a button for it on the bottom."
Sure enough, down in the bottom right-hand corner a button read Goog. He pressed the button and almost collapsed as his knees lost all power to hold him up. Across the top of the screen read, "Google," in alternating colors of red, green, blue, and yellow. "You have got to be kidding me."
"Hello, Alex," came a voice with a faint grainy, wizened tinge to it; there was nothing mechanical about this voice, unlike the first voice he'd heard. "How may the Goog help you today?"
"Goog is a fully sentient program--the only in existence, in fact." Bethany sidled up next to Alex, a little too close for comfort, and grinned impishly. "Just talk to him; he can explain everything."
The popularity of Google in Alex's time made it seem plausible that the word might still exist here in the future, but the coloring of the Google logo sealed the idea that this was the exact same Google survived some 500 years after its creation. Granted this wasn't the same program, but after 500 years of coding evolution, he wondered just how much of the original code still existed in there. Sentient computer, though--Alex had his doubts.
Bethany pointed across the screen at a small, near invisible, pinprick in the top left-hand corner of the SoftPAD. "That's the vidcam. Anything you point it toward the SoftPAD can scan and retrieve--useful for vidchats and porn nets. Only other thing of note I can tell you, nobody can see what you see." She pointed at another pinprick on the right-hand side of the SoftPAD. "That's the laser that's painting the display directly to your eyeball. More specifically, to the eyeball of the person connected."
"Uh huh. Laser... eyeball..." Would anyone be able to blame him for worrying he'd go blind because of this? Anything else want to go wrong, that would be it.
"Just relax, old timer. If you don't know what something is, bend the corner of the SoftPAD down and point that pinprick at it, and then ask Goog what it is. It'll tell you far more than even you could want to know."
"And this is the bridge," said Sela. She stepped through the door with Katlyn right behind her.
The bridge was not much to look at--a tight, confined compartment, smaller than any other room in the ship. Through a wide window at the head of the room, stars twinkled dimly as the ship propelled forward. Under the window, crammed up against the wall, were two consoles and two chairs. Not much room to maneuver comfortably in here, but both consoles could control everything and in Sela's experience, the less amount of people that could be on the bridge at once the better.
Jared turned around in his seat at the arrival. Sela made introductions. "Jared, Katlyn. Katlyn, Jared. He's our top pilot in the Pure League. Jared, I want you to teach Katlyn how to fly."
Both Katlyn and Jared blinked in unison. "Uh, captain?" Jared questioned. "We're on a schedule, I though."
"Correct. Nevertheless, we have a ten-day buffer at the speeds we've traveled. So I want you to use that buffer and get her familiar with the systems and how they operate."
Katlyn said, "I didn't realize flying was part of the job description."
She was right; flying had no part in the job Sela requested of her. There were, however, good intentions behind learning to fly. It would give Katlyn a new skill to hone and keep her occupied until they went planet-side; she'd also feel more like part of the crew. Most important, though, was the unknown on any given mission. They could be stranded on a planet and have no means of contacting anyone in the League. If that happened, they'd have to fly out of there in a ship (probably stolen) and if Katlyn didn't know how to fly, they'd both have to hope Sela wasn't seriously injured. Hope was a last resort you didn't want to factor into your plans; only a fool would rely on it.
"Enjoy yourself, Katlyn. Nothing can compare to flying a ship in space."
Katlyn glanced at Sela hesitantly, and then nodded.
Sela sat on the sofa in her quarters, sipping at brandy. Next to her, Yerik rubbed at the scars on his leg through his pants, something he picked up during all those years he spent in the hospital after the war. She'd asked him about it and he told her that he'd often dive into such deep thought to escape the pain that when he'd finally emerged from that safe place only to discover he was massaging the scars without realizing it. Pain and wounds were no hidden mystery to Sela; she'd had her fair share of recovery time, laid up in a bed with nothing to do but struggle against an unending pain.
Across from them, seated ramrod straight in the cheap wooden chair from the desk, Horus finished his report about the interrogation. It went about as well as anyone expected, meaning no new knowledge was gathered despite all of Horus's best efforts.
"What about information from encrypted data?" Yerik asked.
"Worthless," Sela replied. "Secret files, yes, but nothing pertaining to the base on Calisto. Nothing relevant to anything we're trying to accomplish. Heather is still searching for more data bunkers."
Horus snorted. "Those two annoy me. If they used half the effort they expend ripping into each other's flesh for actual work, we might have something by now."
Heather was the best data infiltrator in three galaxies and her protege had the potential to match her under the right guidance; both of them together can do amazing things once they get to it. Given the difficulty in acquiring Heather's services, pushing her at this stage would just alienate her and that was not something Sela wanted to happen. The Pure League would suffer if she left, so putting up with a few eccentricities was just fine with Sela.
"Is Beth watching spy closely?"
"Alex is not a spy, Yerik." Sela abandoned her glass on the floor. Headaches were common now, deep penetrating headaches that echoed for hours. Yerik's mistrust of the newcomers, while warranted, didn't help. Telling him that she ordered Jared to train Katlyn how to fly wouldn't be prudent. Not if she wished to survive the headache--his enraged screaming would split her brain in half. "He's helping, whether he likes it or not. And whether you like it or not, we need all the hands we can get. So let it go for now."
With a sound of displeasure, Yerik crossed his arms over his chest and sulked. For a man of his age, it rather amused Sela to see him do that.
"Will the assault be fully operational by the time we get to Calisto?"
Horus nodded. "Indeed. We're almost ready now. A few more modifications to the explosive-deployment system Beth is working on and we should be prepared."
"See to it she keeps at it until it's ready. Anything else?"
"No--oh, yes. Franky was in the engine room again. Talk to him or I will put the fear of that particular part of the ship into him. I won't have that moon chewer stumbling into the interrogation room."
Moon chewer was a poor choice of words, especially in front of Yerik. Where it came from nobody was entirely sure; common theory placed it around three hundred years ago when a disturbed individual crashed his ship on the moon and died while trying to eat the rocks there with some notion that they were cheese. He never actually got as far as eating any of the rocks because he had to open his spacesuit before he could get the rock in his mouth.
Yerik jerked forward, eyes narrowed. "Frank is hero. Watch what you say or I make you chew rock on moon."
Defensively, though not in the least sorry he said it, Horus stood. "I think I'll leave now before anything untoward happens."
"Good idea," Sela said, cutting off Yerik before he spoke again. She gave up the chance at motherhood to fight this war; when situations like this arose, as they did often on this ship, she didn't regret it any.To be continued...