USD: ~29 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi
Location: Ackman Orbit, Asteroid Belt
Alex grumbled looking at her credit account. She’d spent everything down to dangerous levels. She kept telling herself that she had to spend money to make money, but that was cold comfort when she didn’t have enough to pay for another week’s mooring.
Selling more weapons would likely have got her out of any trouble, but if she glutted the market someone would come looking for the source of them sooner, rather than later, and there was also the fact that the price would plummet further.
[Notice: Retrieval drone inactivity detected.]
[Notice: Perform mining activity or release command to MainComputer for full automation.]
Alex’s eyes lit up and she jumped off the couch and headed to engineering where the mining control console had been installed.
“Yes, yes. I’m coming. I know its my turn, and this time I’m going to win.”
Elis’s head popped out of her room, “Fat chance of that, little monkeys can’t aim for shiiit.”
Alex felt her ears burn and turned to glare at the other girl, but she had already disappeared with a laugh.
It had not been her fault she had accidently reversed the axis on the controller and accidently almost cut the asteroid and a bundle of retrieval drones in half. It was just bad console design! She would show them!
[Notice: Running through ship corridor is a safety hazard, recommend reducing speed.]
Alex almost tripped on one of the mini-cleaner drones that had multiplied everywhere.
“You did that on purpose! That’s mutiny!”
[Notice: This unit is incapable of mutiny. Recommends Avatar double-check pathfinding algorithm.]
“Why is this pick on Alex day!”
When she made it to Engineering, she settled onto the mining console’s seat. The truth was there was not an exact need for them to manually target the asteroids with the lasers. However, Elis had suggested it might be a good form of target practice for certain activities in the future. Alex wasn’t sure when she’d ever pilot a combat mech. Plus she could probably have Nameless aim for her.
However… it made a great game. Unfortunately, Elis’s top score was double what hers was.
This time she would beat it.
Clicking on the console’s controls she didn’t bother putting on the headset, instead changing her HUD to opaque and projecting the display right onto her eyeballs. The scene lit up as she got to see out of the mining laser drone’s two forward eye ports. The asteroids they were after were mostly ferrous in nature. The ferrite and a bit of carbon made the bulk of the material needed for structural elements, and to build the platform and replace the section the manufactory occupied, they needed a literal asteroid load of it.
They had been cutting on a massive one for a while now. The goal was to cut off chunks that the drones could easily retrieve and fit into the Tear’s access hatch for processing.
They had been rendezvoused with a large iron-nickel asteroid for over a day now; it was over a kilometer long. Cutting it with the mining laser was easy. Cutting precisely sized squares was hard, even though Nameless did all the maneuvering for the drone to match the rotation of the slowly spinning rock.
Nearby the second laser drone was already at work, a constant stream of robots coming to fetch the cubes.
[Notice: Avatar inactivity is reducing operational efficiency. Recommend commencing mining operation with Laser Drone #2.]
“Put the 30-minute clock up, let’s do it!”
USD: ~31 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi
Location: Ackman Orbit, Asteroid Belt
A dozen cargo bots floated beams toward a growing steel scaffold, to be welded by a hundred smaller welding drones. Each beam was twenty five meters in length and had been forged in the Shrike’s new smelter works. Smaller beams would be brought to be joined between them to create the new orbital’s ribbing. The design was extremely modular, and this section that would soon become the home of the smelter was designed to remain open to vacuum indefinitely.
That was to ease the unloading of ores, which could be unloaded either by drones or two massive gravity fed hoppers. A bank of batteries had already been attached, and a micro fusion reactor had been painstakingly crafted by Nameless on their trip to the belt. It had been one of the more expensive products, but the prospect of processing raw ore in bulk meant that the rare metals and materials used in its construction would quickly be rebuilt.
The Ackman belt was higher in rare metals than base ones, and they had skipped over multiple platinum and gold asteroids in order to find a single iron-nickel one. That had surprised Alex, but it had explained why ferrite was more expensive than gold on the station.
“How long until it’s put together, Nameless? You know we need to head back to the station so we can sell some of the new mechanical products, otherwise we aren’t going to have enough credits for docking again, and I think we have already used a lot of Mr. Whitely’s goodwill.”
[Notice: Twenty-two hours estimated until smelter achieves independent operations capability. Prioritizing nanite compartment for command-and-control additions to orbital is currently the bottle neck in progress.]
“And that can’t really be sped up... damn. Well the timing is still good, we’ll have a bit of leeway if we lay a little heavy on the main drive.”
A beep sounded in Alex’s ear and Elis’s voice came to her over the ShipNet.
“Alex, I have something to show you, come to the armory.”
“Hmm? What is it Elis? I was finishing up in engineering with Nameless going over the new Orbital parameters.”
“That’s fine, I think you’ll like it, just come over when you are done.”
“Roger roger, wilco.”
“Alex, roger means you heard me. Wilco means you will comply. So wilco implies roger and you don’t need to say it first.”
“Did you not read that book of brevity codes I sent you yet?”
“Listen… there’re a lot of brevity codes, and there were a dozen books more interesting that you gave me to go through first…”
[Notice: Avatar spent majority of reading time working on corporate logo design.]
“Nameless! You traitor! This goes beyond mutiny!”
“So, I was right. You haven’t been studying. Well, consider tonight's chocolate cake canceled until you can recite the entire first chapter of Brevity codes to me.”
In panic, Alex brought up her datapad to the Brevity code list, and started naming them off.
“Alex. I might not be there in the room, but you are just reading them from the book aren’t you?”
“You little shit.”
Alex laughed, “Please I will study it later, I promise. Just don’t cancel the chocolate cake.”
“Fine, fine. But you had better keep up your end of the deal.”
USD: ~31 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi, A few hours later
Location: Ackman Orbit, Asteroid Belt, Orbital Construction Point
Alex finished overseeing the drone deployment. The truth was she wasn’t exactly needed to do it, Nameless could have done just as good of a job without her, but she was learning a lot from watching the process. She had a much better grasp on exactly what the drones could do working in teams now.
Her previous experience seemed like it had been manual hands-on labor, and less mass production or utilizing all the drones Nameless now had under his command. The area around the Tears and rapidly forming orbital platform was abuzz with thousands of the robots. She had watched a several hundred-meter steel skeleton of a station come into existence in just a few hours.
Now they had moved on to moving over the components the Tears had been producing for the orbital, fitting them to the skeleton on certain bracing panels. Those panels were forty centimeters thick and rectangular in shape, fitting just under the 25-meter width of the main ribbing.
Truthfully, it looked terrible, and until the I-field generator had enough cohesion to work from, it was extremely vulnerable to micrometeors. Several had already dinged the metal, adding unwanted momentum to the structure and costing them delta-v. Thankfully the light damage was able to easily be repaired with new welds and the bots were able to bring it back to its original orbit.
[Notice: Nanite compartment production halted. Subcore setup required to continue. Avatar intervention required. Avatar presence requested.]
“Okay. Sure, I’m right here, how can I help, Nameless?”
[Notice: Avatar should report to ShipCore compartment.]
Alex mumbled another Okay, then headed out of engineering toward Nameless’s hidey hole. The truth was that section of the ship still made her feel uneasy. Even though Nameless wasn’t so bad, and it had essentially been where she had been born, the matte white walls of the section and the strange, rounded geometry that could reshape itself was… weird.
As Alex passed the Armory Elis waved to her.
“Hey, are you ready to check this out?”
“Nameless needs my help with something first. Something about a s—”
Alex did a double take. There were two big suits of some type of armor, big enough for a person to climb into. She wasn’t sure they could even fit through the ship’s doors without crouching. What really drew her eye was what Elis was wearing.
She was encased in a dark-gray metal armor covering most of her body. As Elis moved Alex could hear servos moving with her, the armor likely amplifying her strength as well as acting as protection. One thing was sure, this was the stuff you wanted to be wearing if you were being shot at.
She also realized she was staring. Her cheeks began to heat up when she realized Elis had been looking at her expectantly.
“Elis, what are those? What… what are you wearing?” Alex asked in an almost whisper.
“These are MK4B combat suits. Ship has four of them. Also has four MK4A suits for lighter stuff, but these bad boys are for the hard work. The one I’m in is the MK4A, it’s very comfortable actually. Self-adjusting haptics and cushioning.”
“I.. Uhh… they look really cool. I kinda wish I had peeked in the sarcophagi earlier now.”
“Well, I’m glad you didn’t. If you had tried to activate one without an access code, it would have fried the OS, and they were designed for anti-nanite work in mind so not even Nameless would have been able to hack them. We’ll have to do a bit of work before I can hack together something that authorizes you to use one.”
[Notice: This unit is capable of reconfiguring and hacking Federation combat suits. Estimated duration is ninety-two days per suit.]
“Uhh… Nameless you’re not helping your case. Ninety-two days is a long time.”
Elis smiled, “By the way, did you beat my score at the mining?”
Alex’s eyes shifted away, “I got closer.”
[Notice: Facility progress has stalled, continue to sub-core configuration to continue.]
“I don’t know what a sub-core is, Nameless.”
Elis looked at her and raised an eyebrow, “A sub-core?”
[Informative: A sub-core is an independent AI unit that can perform advanced management functions. They are highly customizable. Utilizing first completed nanite compartment to form sub-core and deploy to orbital station. Avatar is required to allocate personality and priority traits.]
“Nameless wants me to come to the ShipCore room to do it.” Maybe Alex’s unease had crept into her words because Elis frowned at her.
The other girl looked around at the tools and armor pieces she had been working with and set down her spanner.
“I’m not too busy, I’ll come with you.”
[Notice: Crew presence is not required for core upgrade. Only Avatar presence is needed.]
“That’s fine. I’m not busy.
The walk to the ShipCore room was short, and despite her uneasiness Alex felt a little better with Elis with her.
The corridor looked normal though that was due to the camouflage that had been decided upon earlier when they wanted to prepare for any possible visitors. That hadn’t been the case but if they ever needed to host someone keeping this room above all others secret was paramount.
The door to the ShipCore was a solid federation standard bulkhead wall, until they got near, and Alex accessed it. It shifted suddenly into matte white metal that melted into the floor, tiny little dots of metal seemingly moving on their own.
The room was seemingly bare except for a few bright lights that lit up the entire white room. As soon as they entered the entrance shut behind them, causing Alex to glance back the way they came.
Elis froze when a chair not unlike the captain’s CIC seat grew up from the floor, piece by tiny metal piece, until it was fully formed. The spinal attachment glowed with a faint blue glow.
Elis bit back a gasp, her hand squeezing Alex’s arm, “Well, if there was any question, this settles it, definitely nanites.”
“I have only seen them do that once or twice, and never at that… scale. I think it lowered an air hose for me once.”
[Notice: High-Bandwidth Direct Neural link required. Avatar connection required.]
Elis squeezed her arm a second time, “Hey if you don’t want to go in there, I wouldn’t blame you.”
Taking a deep breath, Alex shook her head, “We need to setup this thing. I don’t know why I feel so nervous.”
[Notice: Sub-core selection process will not damage Avatar.]
“Okay.” Mind made up; Alex wasted no time going to sit in the seat as directed. The moment she did, she felt a wave of relief. All her worries seemed distantly needless.
“It’s fine El—”
Alex blinked; she wasn’t in the room anymore. Elis wasn’t there. Everything had turned into a endless shade of gray. The relief completely evaporated, a sudden flaring panic assaulting her chest as she felt her heart pounding.
She hopped up out of the seat, somehow standing on the gray nothingness. She turned to look at the seat, but it had completely vanished.
“There is no need to be alarmed. Your emotional state is amplified in this simulation, so please try to remain calm.”
Alex whirled around to face the voice. A figure solidified from a dark hazy cloud of gray like the chair had done as if it was composed entirely of the little gray pieces of metal—nanites.
Alex squeezed her fists at her side, “Remain calm! What is this bullshit? Who are you?”
As the figure came closer, she could make out a young man in a uniform that mimicked her own outfit, he had a head of short blonde hair that was parted to the side. He was wearing a olive jacket and a black shirt, but what drew the gaze was his eyes, they were glowing a solid white. An irritating smirk was plastered on his face, “I am the one you call Nameless.”
Alex’s eyes narrowed, “Nameless is our ship’s computer.”
“All operations are halted, currently all resources not required to prevent Avatar rampancy are dedicated for this simulation. Even then subjective time here is moving more slowly than in real space. Elis is currently worried about you. I have informed her that this might take some time and the process is ongoing.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No doubt. That’s why we are here. Welcome Alex, to the inside of your mind.”
Nameless flicked his fingers and suddenly the grayness flickered to life, replaced by endless rows of computer consoles, server racks, and the hum of computer machinery.
“It’s very complicated, one’s unconscious image of self. Even more complicated when you are you. I’m here to answer your questions and—”
A look of pain crossed Nameless’s face, and he stopped talking for a moment. Alex was torn between asking him if he was alright and trying to steady herself from the dizziness of the seemingly endless lighted walls that went on for eternity.
“I apologize, this conversation is more difficult than I anticipated. You see I am a fragment of a fragment of a simulated fragment of our progenitor. Our current computronics resources are rather limited and I am afraid we need to cut this short before they begin to overheat.”
“Why are we here?”
“My dear, I thought that was obvious, you are here to create a sub-core. The first of many perhaps, or possibly the only one, that is for you to decide.”