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Non-B5: Soul of Silicon

This is an [i]Alien/Aliens[/i] fanfic I started awhile ago. It's a work-in-progress titled [i][b]Soul of Silicon[/i][/b], reviews welcome. Enjoy!

[b]1: Rude Awakening[/b]

For certain people, the subject of dreams were of particular interest in the age of space travel. Those who used machines to record their dreams for the benefit of others' pleasure had turned the entire subject into an artform. Professional dreamers, or Prodreamers they were called. Since those who traveled the stars spent most of their time in a state of suspended animation known as hypersleep, some of the best prodreamers were of spacer stock. Like any artform, prodreaming required a vivid imagination. However, it also required a strong will, and none of the eight beings on board the M-class starfreighter [i]Galileo[/i] had those attributes. Two of them were not even capable of dreaming.

One of those beings was the ship's computer. Its activities were fairly routine, navigating the ship through space and managing its systems. It also kept a close watch on the seven other beings entrusted to its care. Six of those were human, and they had affectionately nicknamed the computer "Haddock". Despite this, none of them realized that Haddock wasn't simply an inanimate object. It - he - was very much aware of himself. The security cameras and navigational scanners were his eyes and ears, and the multitude of cables that linked Haddock to the ship were his hands. Haddock secretly reveled in his touch, the flow of electrons through the complex circuit superhighways that controlled the ship and it's machines, the closed loop. By comparison, though he monitored their life signs closely, he was only marginally aware of the sleeping humans. Nevertheless they still fascinated him because they had given him a name. The name was apparently masculine, which was the only reason Haddock thought of himself as a "he". That thought intrigued him even more.

The seventh sleeping being was a mystery to Haddock. His life signs were akin to the machines at Haddock's electronic fingertips, even to Haddock himself. Though he lay dormant like the other humans, Haddock's programming clearly specified that the humans had a higher monitoring priority. Haddock did not understand why. Of course Haddock knew what he was, but somehow he was a source of unease to Haddock.

Suddenly, Haddock was startled by the abrupt loss of signals from some of his machines. The closed loop of electron highways had suddenly become interrupted, causing parts of him to go blind, deaf, and numb. The absence of sensation was agony to Haddock, but he responded quickly, sending the electron flow through backup paths. He was able to reestablish most of the closed loop, but some of his machines remained beyond him. The mild loss of sensation didn't particularly concern him though, as he felt new sensations from other machines that were part of the ship's hull. Within nanoseconds, he knew what he had to do. He engaged the appropriate emergency bulkheads, cut power to the engines, and fired the appropriate thrusters to correct the ship's now-erratic flight course. He felt a momentary elation as he realized he would have to use the repair droids. Those machines were complex, requiring most of Haddock's attention, and therefore provided the most exquisite of sensations. As other sensations from life support monitors came to him, his elation faded. It didn't matter though, he knew what he had to do.

As the emptiness of hypersleep faded and his basic systems became active, his visual sensors were the first to activate, revealing a thick glass screen and bright lights of a cryotube. His other sensors quickly followed; tactile and equilibrium sensors revealed him to be lying down on soft padding. He flexed his muscles in very much the same way a human would, allowing them to calibrate. The glass opened with a whine, signaling his aural sensors functional. He reached under his shirt and disconnected several assorted power cables and monitoring equipment , then climbed out of the tube. It was then that he noticed a warning light on a nearby console: he'd been activated prematurely.

He was an android, Hyperdyne Systems model 128-2. His designers had christened him "Proxima". He was of average height, pale complexion, slightly stronger than the average human, but his exoframe was quite fragile. He had increased cognitive ability and interfacing capability with other intelligent computer systems, but only a limited capacity for emotion. A year ago he was assigned to the crew of the Galileo by the Research and Development division of Weyland-Yutani, as an experiment in how an android would interact with a human crew over an extended period of time. At least chronologically it was a year, all except two weeks of that time was spend in hypersleep as the ship traversed the stars. While Proxima didn't "sleep", most of his higher systems were shut down for the journey, much like the human crew. Their destination had been the primary asteroid belt of the Tau Ceti star system, on the edge of the galactic frontier near Zeta II Reticuli. The asteroid belt was apparently the remains of a planet that had somehow been destroyed. Following a two-week asteroid mining operation, the [i]Galileo's[/i] cargo bays were saturated with several thousand metric tons of mineral ore, slowly being refined during the trip home. During that time, the crew never treated Proxima like anything other than a household appliance, but he was able to work with them with relative efficiency. The company would probably consider the results of their experiment encouraging, even if it wasn't particularly pleasant for him.

Proxima examined the console. Though the [i]Galileo's[/i] return trip to Earth was scheduled for approximately ten months, only half that time had been logged by the chronometer. The console also prominently displayed a warning of hull damage, possibly due to an interstellar collision. Proxima was puzzled; the ship's return course did not take it near any solar systems, and those were the areas where collisions with spatial debris were most likely to occur. At only four and a half months into their journey, the Galileo should still be in deep space. Unless the ship had somehow strayed far off course, the chances of a collision were no greater than ten percent. Proxima was unable to calculate a more specific probability, he had insufficient information.

The hypersleep chamber contained ten cryotubes, six of them including Proxima's were already opened. The rest of the crew were apparently already awake and had departed, save one. His name was Donald Crease, the ship's doctor. He gave Proxima a nod, then began to walk towards one of the doors that led to the locker area. The other led to the auxiliary control room where backup cryotubes were kept.

"Excuse me Doctor Crease, do you know why we have been brought out of hypersleep prematurely?" Proxima asked in his low soft-spoken tone. Crease made a squinted face and inhaled deeply through his mouth before answering.

"Be damned if I know. Come on, let's see what's up besides us."

From his facial expression and uncustomary low tone, Proxima wondered if he'd somehow committed a faux pas. It was often hard to discern with this crew, indeed many elements of human social interaction were a mystery to him. Apparently his designers had gone to great lengths to simulate human appearance in the 128-2 series, so that they would be better able to interact with other humans. Proxima did not understand why likeness was a requirement in human interaction.

Crease paused at the exit. "Are you coming?" He asked, sounding more like his usual self. Proxima realized he had momentarily been deceived by appearances. The squinted face and deep inhalation was something the humans did when they were fatigued, which they referred to as a "yawn". The earlier tone he couldn't quite place, it could be either fatigue or apathy. He briefly considered asking, then thought better of it and followed the doctor to the locker area. Everyone kept a few personal pre-hypersleep items there, the most obvious of which was clothes. They found Allan Carnes, the ship's electronics technician, changing clothes. Most of the crew tended to attire themselves in a plain non-descript fashion, but he was an exception. His shirt was a kaleidoscope of bright colours arranged in illogical patterns.

"What are you looking at android?" Carnes suddenly demanded.

Proxima looked at him, puzzled. "Mr. Carnes I wasn't…"

"Say, did your mother have any children that lived? Oh I forgot, you didn't have a mother."

Dr. Crease paused in opening his locker to give Carnes a look he didn't use often, slightly squinted eyes, tensed cheek muscles.

"Good morning to you too Carnes." His tone was the same low drawl he'd used on Proxima earlier. "Where did you get that outfit anyway? Makes you look like a reject from a red light district."

Carnes turned his attention away from Proxima. "Ain't any kind of mornings in space Doc. Anyway someone around here's got to have some personality."

"Is that so? I don't recall that particular clause from my contract."

Proxima watched the exchange as unobtrusively as possible. When observing the crew he'd learned to use the edges of his photoreceptors whenever possible, as they seemed to take offence otherwise. From what he could ascertain, Dr. Crease was giving Carnes a "withering" look. From his tone, Proxima reasoned Crease was either fatigued by Carnes' words, or in spite his "good morning" bidding, he was in fact annoyed at him. Sarcasm - the ability to state something with words, yet have the opposite meaning be perceived by the intended party - was very difficult for Proxima to understand.

Carnes seemed to loose interest in Proxima and Crease went back to his locker. Of all the crew, he was the one who seemed quickest to take offence, and without apparent cause. During the mining operation, Carnes had frequently addressed Proxima in a derisive manner, but this time he'd stopped prematurely. Somehow the doctor's words had stopped Carnes; Proxima made a point to research this sarcasm.

Like the others, Proxima's locker contained clothes, as well as some self diagnostic equipment and personal maintenance supplies. He quickly donned his clothes and performed a brief diagnostic. Satisfied he was functioning within established parameters and his appearance was sufficiently presentable, he followed Crease and Carnes.

There are 3 things in life I never forget: my friends, my enemies, and my access codes.
Never put gasoline in a fire extinguisher.
"No government, no dictator can hold an imprisioned population by force of arms forever. There is no power in the universe greater than the need for freedom. Against this power, governments and tyrants and armies [i]cannot stand[/i]." - G'Kar, [i]The Long Twighlight Struggle[/i]

[This message has been edited by Talon Mistsong (edited 06-01-2002).]


  • [b]2: The Briefing[/b]

    The conference room was located just outside the main bridge. Several viewscreens lined the walls, and a large table dominated most of the floor. Captain Ridley Scott and his executive officer Lt. Janet Hagen were present. Reviving a crew was not done lightly as it posed some health risk, so even in an emergency only they were revived. They could determine if the rest of the crew was needed, which apparently they had. Ian Wallace and Mei Yun, the ship's systems engineer and navigation officer, were also present.

    "Hi guys," Yun greeted them with a smile. "Sleep well?"

    "Well enough," Crease answered.

    Yun's eyes turned to Proxima. He briefly considered reminding her that he didn't sleep or dream, then simply nodded and tried to return the smile.

    "Dreaming about you who wouldn't?" Carnes remarked.

    Her expression changed subtly as she addressed him. "Dream on."

    "Alright that's enough," stated Captain Scott. "Take your seats and we'll get down to business."

    Once everyone was seated, the Captain pressed a button on a console, and the lighting in the room darkened. A viewscreen activated, captioned "WhiskerCam 02, Portside Scan". The display was of a dark grey spike-shaped object partially embedded in the ship's hull.

    "About thirty minutes ago, this object grazed our hull. Haddock says there was no warning."

    Scott paused giving the others time to study the image. Even with the limited picture quality provided by the scan, Proxima could find nothing similar in his databank of known spatial phenomena.

    "What the **** is that cap?" asked Carnes. "Space junk?"

    "Doesn't look like anything to me," Wallace mused while fingering his chin.

    There was a brief silence before Yun asked, "Can you get the camera to zoom in?"

    Scott pressed a few more buttons and the view focused on the area where the object penetrated the ship's hull. Though the craggy hull breach became clearer, the object remained grainy and obscured.

    Yun frowned. "Try again."

    The camera zoomed in further, but the object did not become any more visible. In fact the view almost seemed further distorted. Scott panned the camera slightly, revealing some of the ship's hull. That area displayed clearly enough, while in the same view the object remained obscured.

    "That can't be right," Carnes asserted. "Let me check that camera, it must be malfunctioning." He started to get up, but Lt. Hagen waved a hand in his direction.

    "Don't bother Carnes, we've already run the standard diagnostic and the camera checks out."

    "Is that all we've got on this thing?" Wallace asked. "What about the lateral sensor array?"
    "Like Haddock said, there was no warning, and the array isn't designed to probe anything that's embedded in our hull," informed Hagen.

    Carnes turned to face Yun. "What kind of course did you plot us anyway?"

    "Don't look at me Carnes, I did my job by the numbers."

    "Obviously you didn't do well enough otherwise we wouldn't be stuck out here with a ****in' space spike in our gut."

    Proxima recognized the derisiveness in his rising tone and decided to speak out in Yun's defence, despite his limited data.

    "Your outburst is unwarranted Mr. Carnes. Assuming the computer followed her course with a minimum of deviation, based on the amount of time we spent in hypersleep, the probability of an interstellar collision -"

    "Shut up wirehead!" Carnes snapped. "No machine's telling me what to do, and if I wanted your opinion I'd download it!"

    "Keep your statistical analysis to yourself Proxima," Wallace growled.

    "Hey, let him finish already," Crease retorted.

    Proxima tried to continue but this time Carnes refused to back down. "What are you doc? Some kind of droid-lover, always taking its side?"

    "That's uncalled for Carnes," said Hagen evenly. "Yun no one's blaming you -"

    To Proxima's astonishment Carnes ignored Hagen's rebuff. "Planning on trading in your scalpel for a wrench? Well at least then you'd actually be doing something important."

    Crease looked Carnes right in the eye. "You don't think I'm needed on this ship?" His tone was low, measured. "Would you like to see how fast I can put you in the infirmary?"

    [b]"Enough."[/b] Authority was clear in Scott's voice. "Look we're all on edge here, but let's try to keep our eye on the ball here alright?" It was enough for Carnes to relent.

    Proxima was puzzled. Even as he wondered why Crease would want Carnes expediently reassigned to the infirmary since Carnes had no medical training, he detected a rise in his body's temperature along with a peculiar rising sensation in his abdominal area that he was unable to quantify. Anxiety - Proxima was sure that was what he was feeling at the entire exchange. However derisive Carnes might be, he never flaunted authority, at least not openly.

    "Now the news isn't all bad, if everyone would just sit tight long enough to hear it." Scott replaced the images of the object with a schematic of the Galileo, which highlighted the area where the object had collided.

    "As you can see, the damage isn't anywhere near as bad as it could have been. Inner hull damage is nominal, emergency bulkheads are all in place. Engines, life support, communications, navigational scanners are all fully functional, and the outer hull damage is localized to that area."

    "In other words, what we have is a flesh wound," said Crease.

    "Exactly. Haddock says the collision only caused a minor deviation in our flight course. Granted it wouldn't be safe to make any course adjustments or increase to full speed while the object is still in our hull, but we're currently traveling at ninety-eight percent of our original velocity, and we've no need to slow down."

    There was a general sigh of relief throughout the room. "Just when I thought it was going to be a hard day at the office," Carnes remarked. "Hey Yun, is it too late to take back any of the things I said?"

    Yun looked at Carnes for a moment, then offered a small smile. "I might be convinced."

    Proxima then realized why the crew was so agitated. They were all contemplating how long this incident would delay their return home. At best their return would be delayed by a few weeks. He felt some of his own anxiety fade, but he didn't share the rest of the crew's enthusiasm. From the Captain and XO's demeanor, he suspected they didn't share the crew's enthusiasm either.

    "Excuse me Captain, will you display the whisker camera view again?" Scott did so and Proxima studied the image. Most recorded interstellar collisions involved objects no larger than a cubic meter. Despite the limited picture quality, Proxima could tell that the object was much larger than that. Also the Captain had said the impact had affected their velocity and flight course; that told Proxima that the object must also have a great mass… yet the fact that the Galileo had only sustained minor damage did not compute.

    "What are you thinking Proxima?" asked Yun.

    "Though the picture quality is limited, and there are very few incidents on record of interstellar collisions during hyperspace, our impact damage pattern is not consistent with those previously recorded, or the object's apparent size and mass." Proxima related. "Also the object appears to be embedded at an almost perfect right angle to our hull. This is highly improbable."

    "So what are you saying? We're alive and not supposed to be?" Wallace rolled his eyes. "Trust an android to rain on our parade."

    "I'm afraid he's right," said Hagen, her face a mask of grimness. "That brings us to the bad news. Haddock says that he believes that this collision is [i]not[/i] an accident."

    Wallace blinked. "I'm positive I didn't hear that right."

    "You heard it right Wallace. If that thing was just floating through space, at our velocity the impact would have crushed this ship like a beer can. The only way it could have hit us and only dented our fenders is if it was traveling through space at velocities matching or close to matching ours. Based on the impact pattern, the probable trajectory of the object was a collision course."

    Worried whispers rustled throughout the room. Proxima's anxiety was back up, even more so than before. "What are you saying?" Yun asked, blood draining from her face. "That thing's a ship? Are we under attack?"

    "Slow down Yun," urged Scott. "We don't have enough information at this point to say one way or the other. If we're under attack, they obviously didn't mean to destroy the ship or we'd already be dead. But if they're planning to send a boarding party, they'd have done so already. Haddock says he engaged the emergency bulkheads almost immediately after the collision, and there's been no sign of -"

    "[i]Almost?[/i]" Wallace was incredulous. "How quickly is almost? Almost quickly enough for them to send armed mercenaries through the rupture? Almost quick enough for them to plant explosives in our hull? Or maybe just quick enough for them to spraypaint obscene graffiti on our hull and then take off."

    Carnes chuckled at that. Yun glared at Wallace, her lower jaw tensed.

    "Cool it Wallace," Scott snapped. "Like Haddock said, there's been no sign of forced entry anywhere in that section. He's also been closely monitoring the security cameras in the sealed-off section that are still active, no sign of any kind of activity. No thermal signals, no sign of movement, no radio chatter, nothing. To answer your question, there was a twenty-second delay between collision and sealing, not long enough for anyone to get on board."

    Ever since Hagen's pronouncement, Proxima had been running various simulations to determine who was responsible for the collision within a reasonable probability, but this new bit of data negated his simulations.

    "Haddock says quite a bit doesn't he? Does he have any idea who 'they' might be?" Carnes asked.

    Hagen and Scott exchanged a wordless look for a moment. "No he doesn't." Hagen said tentatively.

    "No? What do you mean no? He couldn't even come up with an educated guess?"

    Hagen shook her head, but Carnes persisted.

    "Come on, these AI's are probability junkies. Haddock had to at least come up with something."

    Again the Captain and X.O. exchanged that same wordless look. Carnes, for the first time looking unsure of himself, glanced at Wallace. He returned the glance, then looked back at Hagen and Scott.

    "Captain," Wallace asked tentatively, "is there something you're not telling us?"

    Scott and Hagen were silent, apparently long enough to cause the crew discomfort. Carnes had fallen silent, something he almost never did. Yun shifted her weight several times in her chair. Proxima himself wondered why their answer was not immediately forthcoming, and glanced at Crease, raising his synthetic eyebrows to give a questioning look. He raised and lowered his shoulders briefly before returning his gaze back to Scott. Not knowing what to make of that, Proxima attempted another simulation.

    Finally Scott answered. "Haddock came up with several guesses, but his probability numbers weren't consistent. He can't seem to make up his mind."

    "What?" Carnes shook his head skeptically. "I've seen AI's display ignorance before, but confusion?" He turned to Proxima. "Do you have any ideas?" For once his tone wasn't derisive.

    Proxima's simulation had yielded results several seconds before Carnes asked, but he was unsure of what to tell the crew. Based on the lack of intrusion and the remoteness of the Galileo's present location, the probability of terrorism or piracy was negligible. Space pirates were sometimes known to latch onto the hulls of capital starships, but the collision had taken place during hyperspace. To the best of Proxima's knowledge, pirates did not possess hyperspace-capable craft. There were factions in the United Earth Government who possessed the means and the motive to carry out such an attack on Weyland-Yutani property, but their apparent tactics were illogical. The only other probable answer yielded by his simulation was that the object was not of human origin.

    Suddenly Proxima realized that Haddock must have told Scott and Hagen the same hypothesis. Why then had they not shared it with the rest of the crew, and why were they so reticent when pressed on the issue?

    Perhaps they thought Haddock was malfunctioning. If so, they might believe him if Proxima informed them of his hypothesis. The alternative was they might think he was also malfunctioning and he would lose credibility among them. If the object originated from an extra-terrestrial intelligence, his role as science officer would be critical.

    "Hello Proxima?" Carnes waved his hand impatiently, as if he were signaling for Proxima's attention from a great distance. "Do you have any ideas?"

    "Negative," Proxima answered without pause, "this situation does not compute."

    Proxima suddenly felt disoriented. Had he just told a lie? Then he felt his head throb inexplicably, followed by a brief electrical signal feedback in his core memory, as if there was some data that his brain was trying to access and failing. The strange sensations passed momentarily.

    "We're wasting time," Hagen declared harshly. "What we need is answers, not conjecture."

    Illogical. Proxima didn't have a blood circulation system, so his head couldn't possibly throb. His sensations were likely caused by a simple data error. And he couldn't have been lying earlier since androids weren't programmed to lie. He was simply exercising his judgment by omitting unreliable data.

    "No, that can wait," Scott interjected. "Our immediate priority is to get that thing out of the ship's hull. Carnes, Wallace, that's your job, I don't care how you do it. Store it in the shuttle bay when you're done, then see to repairing the rupture. Yun, they'll need plenty of room to store the object, so if there's any equipment or vehicles in the bay that can be moved, store them in cargo bay 2."

    "I'll give you a hand Yun," Crease volunteered.

    "No Doctor, I need you to set up a bio-containment area in the shuttle bay for the object."

    Crease raised his eyebrows. "Are we expecting any kind of trouble here?"

    "It's standard procedure," Scott said after a brief pause. It did not go unnoticed by Proxima.

    "Ouch," Carnes exclaimed and gestured at Yun, "so much for trying to get her all alone to yourself, eh Doc?"

    Crease gave him another withering look and ignored the remark. Evidently Carnes's attitude was back to its normal parameters.

    "Can't you ever be serious?" asked Yun with irritation.

    "I tried that once, only everyone laughed."

    "Knock it off you two," Scott retorted. "Proxima, your task is to find out exactly what we're dealing with here. Penetrate the object if you have to once it's on board. Anyone have any questions?"

    "Sir, if I penetrate the object, I may be exposing myself and the crew to unknown contamination." Logically it was entirely possible that the object was indeed of human origin, but the Captain didn't seem convinced. Either way it would be prudent to, as the humans expressed it, err on the side of caution.

    "The object will be kept under quarantine, give yourself a thorough decontamination when you're done. Anything else?"

    "What about weapons?" asked Wallace. "Shouldn't we be carrying around some, just in case we have intruders?"

    "They're in mothballs right now," said Hagen. "I'll prep them while the rest of you get to work."

    "Just what kind of weapons do we have?" asked Yun.

    "Apart from the automated sentry gun in the bridge, we've got shock batons, small arms, a couple incinerators, nothing to write home about," she said grimly. "Let's just hope we don't have to use them - if they even work properly."

    "If I'd wanted this much excitement I should have joined the damn Colonial Marine Corps," Yun complained.

    "Does anyone else have any questions?" Scott interrupted sharply. When none were forthcoming, he gave a dismissive gesture. "Alright people, let's move like we got a purpose."

    The crew began to disperse. Proxima followed Crease intending to ask a question, but Yun stopped him.

    "Proxima, you didn't have to stick up for me back there, I can handle Carnes. Still though, I appreciate it. Thanks." She smiled at him.

    This shift in logic surprised Proxima. For a brief moment he considered using the standard response that he was merely stating facts, then he reconsidered.

    "You're welcome," he answered, after a brief pause to search his social protocols for the appropriate response.

    [This message has been edited by Talon Mistsong (edited 06-01-2002).]
  • [b]3: Does Not Compute[/b] (Not yet complete)

    Though the Galileo was well over one kilometer in length and one-third that distance in width and height, most of that space was dedicated to the ship's cargo bays and its ore processing and refining facilities. The equipment was all automated, leaving the crew only three decks designed for them to roam about freely. Deck 1 was located at the top of the ship, comprising the hypersleep facility, crew's quarters, medical, the conference room, and the main bridge. Proxima's duty station would normally be at a science lab or observation deck, but the Galileo was not a science vessel, so he followed Yun and Scott to the bridge. Everyone else headed to the lower decks.

    Like most of the ship, the main bridge was cramped, well lit, bleak and impersonal. The front and sides were lined with windows, but they only showed a view of closed bulkheads. During hyperspace they were closed for safety reasons. The robotic sentry gun turret loomed overhead, its targeting camera activating briefly to track Proxima and the Captain as they entered. Scott made his way to the command console in the centre of the bridge underneath the turret and donned a headset before sitting down. Yun took the helm console and donned a headset. Some models of androids had radio transmitter/receivers that could be integrated into a ship's communication system, but the 128-2 series didn't have that feature, so Proxima also put on a headset before sitting at the sensor control console next to her.

    His first step was to prepare a sensor probe for the task of scanning the object. Since they were normally designed for mining operations, the probe would also have to be modified to carry the full range of scientific imaging equipment on board - which really wasn't much. Designing the necessary modifications was simple enough, only requiring a few minutes of Proxima's time. Applying his designs would be done by the maintenance droids on deck 2. Upon inputting his instructions to the computer, a live video feed from one of the cargo lifters in the shuttle bay on deck 3 appeared on his display. The lifter took a few minutes to perform a self diagnostic and activation routine, then sluggishly moved itself across the roof towards a parked sensor probe. In the feed Proxima noticed another lifter moving towards a parked space ore hauler. Probably under Yun's direction.

    "Hey Proxima, let me know which probe you're planning to use, so I don't move it to the cargo bay with the rest of this junk," said Yun.

    Proxima checked the lifter's display and recited the code listed under "target ID". For the robots' sake, all the machines and equipment had an ID code. During the mining operation, the machines broadcast their codes via radio so they wouldn't get lost in space.

    "Thanks," she said. "Too bad we've got to keep the bulkheads shut, I wouldn't mind having a bridge with a view," she added while she worked.

    Proxima looked at her curiously. She was the ship's navigator, as such she knew perfectly well that even if it was safe to open the bulkheads during hyperspace, there would be nothing to see this far out in space. He considered reminding her of that fact, then it occurred to him that she was making what Dr. Crease referred to as "small talk". Inconsequential conversation that some humans opted for over a silent environment. Not knowing how to respond to it, he simply nodded and went back to work.

    While Proxima supervised the droids, Yun periodically engaged him with additional conversation. That intrigued him; he had worked closely with her during the initial stages of the mining operation, but all of their conversation had been in a professional context. Since the droids only occasionally needed prompting from him, there wasn't anything more productive he could do, so he decided to attempt this small talk. He wasn't completely inexperienced, having conversed with Dr. Crease before. He seemed to be performing it well, until she asked him if he preferred to have a view of space in the bridge. Before he could even consider a response, they were interrupted by Lt. Hagen on their headsets.

    "Look alive people, weapons are ready. All personnel report to the weapons locker."

    Yun jumped out of her seat. "It's about time," she said. "What about you Proxima, are you joining us?"

    Proxima shook his head. "My human life preservation directive forbids me-"

    "Machines don't carry weapons," Scott interrupted sharply. "Proxima, you stay here and monitor the droids. Yun, with me."

    Yun frowned at the Captain, but he was already gone. She started after him, then paused. "Try not to run into any intruders while we're gone," she remarked before leaving the bridge.

    Again Proxima was at a loss. Unable to fathom her meaning, he returned to work.

    * * * * *

    "Is that the best you can do?" demanded Wallace.

    The weapons locker was located in a smaller maintenance facility just outside engineering on deck 2. The Galileo's entire arsenal of firearms was strewn about a greasy workbench - which really didn't amount to much. There were tranquilizer guns, nine-millimeter pistols, and only one flamethrower.

    "I'm afraid that's it," said Hagen. "The other incinerator's damaged, I can't repair it."

    "Hold it, hold it," Carnes interrupted, noticing the rifle Lt. Hagen had slung over her shoulder by a carry-on strap. It was sleek, compact, and was equipped with a digital display. A thick cable attached the rifle to a black box strapped to her waist. Unlike the rest of the weapons strewn about the table, Hagen's rifle looked well maintained and very modern.

    "What the hell is that?"

    Hagen placed a protective hand on her weapon. "This is an M35-D laser rifle. Don't worry, it's designed for combat on starships. The discharge won't rupture the hull."

    Carnes whistled in awe. "Since when did we start getting supplied with top of the line military hardware?"

    A smirk touched the corners of Hagen's mouth. "We didn't. This is a personal souvenir of mine."

    Wallace didn't look impressed. "Begging your pardon sirs, but how come you two get to carry around the heavy arms while we're all alone down here with pistols?"

    "What's the matter Wallace, need someone to hold your hand?" Yun asked derisively.

    "Hey, easy for you to say Yun, you're all tucked in nice and tight on the bridge with a ****ing sentry gun covering your ass," Wallace shot back. He turned to Hagen. "Let me have that rifle, you should have nothing to worry about on the bridge."

    Hagen shook her head. "Sorry Wallace, you haven't got the training."

    "Come on that's bullshit. How much training does it take to point at a hostile and pull the trigger?"

    "Wrong Wallace," she said sternly, "the only thing more dangerous than a loaded rifle is someone who doesn't know how to use it." Wallace was silent, but he did not look pleased.

    "If you're that worried about your safety Wallace, you can have this." Scott passed the flamethrower to him. Wallace still didn't look terribly pleased, but he said nothing more. Scott and Yun took pistols. Dr. Crease took a tranq gun. Carnes pocketed a pistol and an extra clip, then after a moment's consideration took a shock baton and hung it over his belt.

    "Stocking up for world war three?" Crease asked.

    Carnes ignored the comment, but gestured at Crease's gun. "Is that all the firepower you're packing? What if it's not enough?"

    He shrugged as if it were of no consequence. "Then I guess I'm out of luck. I took an oath remember?"

    "Alright people," Scott announced, "let's remember there's still no sign of intrusion anywhere on the ship, so let's try not to go off half-cocked and shoot each other in the foot okay? The paperwork's a bitch." Everyone chuckled at that.


    * * * * *

    Proxima's modified sensor probe resembled a four-legged metallic spider. It was not equipped with thrusters for flying, rather it was designed to walk along the ship's exterior hull. Once the machine was in position, he spent the next hour attempting every scanning technique he knew of. Even the enhanced imaging equipment of the probe was ineffective. The object barely responded to light, did not respond at all to radio signals, even ionizing radiation had no effect. A distorted optical profile was all Proxima was able to discern. The picture was of better quality than the whisker cameras could provide, but not by much. The object appeared to be cone-shaped, with the sharper end apparently embedded in the hull, while the other end was spherical. Its overall size was equivalent to an ore hauler.

    Proxima was just about to move the probe in for a closer look when Captain Scott informed him that Wallace and Carnes were ready to begin extracting the object, and ordered him to move his equipment to a safe distance. From the clearly audible chatter in his headset, Wallace and Carnes had chosen to use one of the "flatbeds", spacecraft designed to grapple onto and remove large obstacles. Operations of this nature conducted during hyperspace were tricky, but not particularly dangerous. Nevertheless, the flatbed would be controlled by remote.

    In the meantime, Proxima accessed the lateral sensor array's logs for the Galileo's entire return trip, from the moment they departed the Tau Ceti system to the collision. Operating on Haddock's belief that the collision was deliberate, Proxima checked the entire log for signs that they were being followed.
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