Flashing lights parade across
An horizon buried in ice
No, she said,
You cannot fight
The coming of morning
Flashing lights parade across
An horizon buried in ice
No, she said,
You cannot fight
The coming of morning
Crawling towards the light
Memory and mind
Drowning in peace
Thought spilling out
Staining our linoleum
Both quiet and care
The peace of the forgiven
Gorging on the lies
We tell to ourselves
The better for those others
Both looters and lawyers
To cast within vaults
Of our own eyes staring back
Only our own eyes
To deny us our absolution
With undelivered amnesty
On writs left abandoned
Hands strangely steady
Both quiet and care
Staining our linoleum
Thought spilling out
Drowning in peace
Memory and mind
Crawling towards the light
First, there was only a vague sensation of warmth.
It built slowly, a growing thing that his mind struggled to shape into a word. There. Warmth he thought. I am warm. More thoughts followed. Nausea. Vertigo. Oxygen. Oxygen. Oh god I need to breath…
He opened his eyes.
An older man, clean-shaven and ebony so dark he seemed almost to glow in the bright station light. Leaning over where he lay on his back gasping and choking was a blonde woman with a too-even complexion and a look of stock consideration in eyes that were similarly too clear, too unblinking.
“Mr. Rivera? Isaac Rivera?” the older man was asking him.
Isaac waved him off, still coughing as he pushed himself to a seating position. The blonde woman held a square bowl in front of him. He spit into it, coughed, spat some more. “Madre de Dios, how I fucking hate cryo,” he said hoarsely.
The older man relaxed almost imperceptibly. “Mr. Rivera, I am Station Administer John Mokwena. Welcome to the Arc. We’re glad to have you here.”
“I’m not,” Isaac said. “But the money was too good to pass up, even with the glorious promise of months in cryo.”
John shook his head. “I apologize for the necessity, but for reasons of corporate security we needed to bring you here in a rather roundabout manner. The rest of us did as well.”
Isaac looked at the blonde woman. “She was never in cryo.”
“Well, no. Forgive me, I have been remiss in my courtesies. This is Erinna-CIT-59-M. Currently, at least.”
The blonde woman smiled. “How do you do, Mr. Rivera? This is not actually my specialty, but I am versed in cryogenic complications, not that any such are in evidence.”
Isaac accepted a cup of something hot that might have even been coffee from John with a nod of thanks. He looked quizzically at her. “CIT?”
Erinna nodded. “Yes. My sisters and I remain under contract, but have our provisional citizen classifications, legally recognized in both the Southern Bloc and on Mars. And the Hildas Triangle, of course.” She smiled, flashing dimples.
“That’s a hell of a chassis you have there. I almost thought you were human.”
“It is,” she agreed. “Carlisle Pharmaceuticals was most eager to obtain both our cooperation and our discretion, therefore we thought it a reasonable condition of our indentured service. Among other conditions, of course. It wouldn’t pass any kind of real biometric scan, but short of that it is usually sufficient to pass for fully human.”
Isaac grunted. “Well, I’m here. Shall we get started?”
John lifted an eyebrow. “You are quite certain you would not like to rest first? We have prepared quarters for you in A Ring.”
“I am quite certain I would not. I have been resting for far too long, and no offense to anyone here, but I’d like to finish what I came here to do and get the fuck back home.”
John nodded. “Very well, then. Once you are dressed join us outside, please.”
Ten minutes later Isaac felt human enough to face the world, or at least the world of this station. He stepped outside the small medical chamber to find John and Erinna discussing something to do with…yes, embryonic development. Or something like that.
Both looked up as they noticed his arrival. John held out his hand. “Come, let me show you the labs.” The three headed down the way the station administrator had indicated, an unremarkable corridor.
Isaac looked around. “Full gravity? I was expecting partial simulated.”
“Yes. Most of us onboard are from the Southern Bloc, or at least Earth. In addition, it was felt that the needs of the project would be best served by mimicking the expected developmental conditions dictated by human evolution.”
“This must have cost a pretty penny.”
John nodded. “The Arc consists of three habitat rings, two of which have been spun up to full simulated. A Ring is labs and domiciles. B Ring is the vats. C Ring hydroponics and storage, which is Europan standard. Each habitat ring is basically a refurbished super dreadnought habitat ring, though obviously with none of the weapons or other toys.”
“We can’t possibly be undefended here, though, I hope,” Isaac asked.
“The Arc maintains six full wings of combat drones and a reserve destroyer on picket.”
“Not a lot of privateers are going to brave that.”
“No,” John agreed. “The original plan had even more significant defenses, but it was felt deploying more would draw too much attention to what is, after all, supposed to merely be a pharmaceutical research station.” They turned into a large hall filled with more scientific equipment than Isaac had ever seen in one place in his life. John and Erinna headed directly for a small cluster of white-coated researchers beside a collection of holographic displays and a large vat.
Three women; two identical in appearance to Erinna, the third a short, thin woman with a pained expression on her face.
“Isaac, you have met their sister, but allow me to introduce you to our neurologist, Nossis-CIT-60-M, and sociologist Sappho-CIT-61-M.” John indicated the shorter woman. “And, of course, the lead researcher of the project, Dr. Khulud Amani al-Qahtani.”
Isaac looked up the name quickly with his implant. New Delhi Medical School. Worked for the Department of Corrections in Johannesburg for twelve years. Specialty personality wipes. Isaac held out his hand. “Dr. Al-Qahtani.”
Dr. Al-Qahtani took his hand, frowning. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
“Isaac Rivera is our new systems analyst from Chile. He is something of a prodigy himself. I told you about him,” John said gently.
“Yes, yes, of course. Well. Hopefully he can make himself useful.”
“How are you today?” John asked carefully.
Dr. Al-Qahtani waved off the question irritably. “Nothing’s changed since the last time you asked me that. I have to check up on the vats in B Ring now, though. I’ll be back later.” She glanced at Isaac. “Nice to meet you. The others will get you up to speed.” She turned and left the lab.
John nodded to Isaac. “I will leave you in their capable hands. They’re the real brains of the operation.”
The one he had introduced as Sappho flashed a smile. “Flatterer, John. Perhaps you will reconsider our offer?”
John glanced quickly at Isaac, coughing anxiously. “I will not. My husbands would kill me. I have some sense of self-preservation.”
“How tragic,” Sappho murmured. “Oh well. Perhaps someday.” After John had left the hall, the triplets turned as one to Isaac.
“I am so glad to see you, you know. We…” Nossis began.
“…have been spinning our wheels trying to solve this…” Sappho continued.
“…utterly baffling piece of shit problem,” Erinna finished.
The other two looked at Erinna. “Was profanity really necessary?” Sappho asked.
“It was an experiment. You didn’t like it?” Erinna asked with an expression of slight hurt on her face. “I thought you at least, as a sociologist, would appreciate the tact.”
Sappho frowned. “It is far too early in our mutual acquaintance to make such presumptions of a guest.”
Isaac snorted. “Nice one. An attempt to put me at ease, I am assuming?”
The three exchanged an abashed look. Erinna said, apologetically, “I am sorry. We were. We are aware of the unusualness of the situation.”
Isaac waved the comment off. “I’ve worked with artificials before. Just not ones with such incredible chassis.”
Nossis smiled. “Thank you. The design is patterned off of a set of fictional sisters called the Three-In-One. There was quite a cult revival in their popularity a number of years ago, along with a truly excellent reboot of the original work focusing on them.”
“I’m familiar with them. So that’s why the identical look. Cute.”
“Partially. Also, if one of us needs to take control of more than one body at a time, it minimizes confusion.”
“What? Well, how the hell am I supposed to tell you apart?”
Sappho touched the silk scarf around her neck. “Transcription cloth that changes color to facilitate ready identification. Just remember the color, which will tell you which of us is managing that body at the time. Blue for me, green for Erinna, yellow for Nossis. Our names are also a mnemonic; Sappho as the sociologist, Nossis as the neurologist, and Erinna as the embryonicist.”
Isaac snorted. “You guys are the bloody Stepford Wives.”
They looked startled, then smiled. Which really means, Isaac thought, that they want me to know they appreciate a sense of humor. Keeping track of this is going to turn my brain to spaghetti. “Yes, I suppose so,” Sappho said.
“So. The problem I am being payed an absolutely ridiculous amount of solars to solve for you?” Isaac prompted.
Erinna stepped back, indicating the vat. “Yes. Let us get started. As I am sure you have surmised, this is a clone vat. This particular one is for close analysis and observational purposes, but the entirety of B Ring is dedicated to the support of other similar vats. In all, we have five hundred vats growing a single genetic pattern in staged sets. The pharmaceutical part of Carlisle Pharmaceuticals is quite real, and is intimately involved in the stimulants used to accelerate growth, though obviously there are some limitations.”
“That’s a lot of copies of one person,” Isaac said.
Sappho continued, “It is unfortunately necessary at this stage, yes. Human cloning is quite limited in most jurisdictions, of course, which is why we are doing what we are doing here with the considerable aid, we suspect, of the Southern Bloc, though Mr. Mokwena is far too discrete to admit as much. Accepted usage of cloning includes, among other things, organ replacement and renewal, limited medical exposure experiments with candidates deliberately grown with non-existent higher brain functions, and, of course, supplementary population growth, the recipients of such being accorded all human legal rights and responsibilities.”
“I’ve heard stories of other kinds of use,” Isaac said. “You know.”
Sappho nodded. “Most of those stories are probably true. We know the Orcus Directorate has engaged in extensive cloning with modified human DNA, and the members of Europa’s janissary program are, obviously, heavily modified and possibly clones as well, though nobody knows for sure.”
“Or,” Erinna added, “if someone knows, they aren’t telling.”
“True,” Sappho agreed.
Nossis continued, “What we are doing here is charting new territory for which there is no legal precedent. Carlisle Pharmaceuticals feels it is prudent to…confirm the nascent technology of Project Lazarus before subjecting it to the whims of the political process which, unfortunately, are always subject to lobbying from our competitors.”
“Why you, then? Why a neurologist? Al-Qahtani specialized in personality wipes of correctional cases, I know.”
“Yes,” Nossis agreed. “The most common death penalty is not, of course, actual death, but the death of the convicted personality and a reconstruction of self. The process is challenging and unpredictable, and requires considerable psychological support to create a stable, cooperative personality. Ideally, of course, the personality would simply be modified only so much as necessary. That has not, however, been possible.” She indicated one of the holographic displays, this one obviously of a neural network.
“That hardly sounds like reason enough to come out here to the middle of nowhere. Nothing about that sounds at all illegal. Excuse me…subject to existing legal precedential problems.”
“That is so,” Nossis concurred. “But we are working on something much more ambitious. We are trying to rebuild a specific personality in a force-grown cloned body.”
Isaac narrowed his eyes. “A specific personality? You don’t mean a convict, do you?”
“No,” Sappho said quietly. “We’re talking about effective immortality. When age or accident finally catches up to you, with this we could grow a new you and implant your personality in the new cloned body. You might not continue in your old body, but to your new body, you would be as you as you ever were.”
Isaac fumbled for a chair and sat down. “Jesus.” He looked up. “It wouldn’t really be you, though.”
“Strictly speaking, no,” Sappho agreed. “But – and I mean no offense by this – the narcissism inherent in the human condition would suggest that that would prove no great obstacle for many people. In a sense, it would be akin to having a child, except that child would be, in every practical way, you.”
“I mean no offense by this, but why the hell do you three care enough to help with this? This could equalize one of the key differences between artificials and humans,” Isaac said bluntly.
Sappho nodded gravely. “And that is precisely why we are assisting with Project Lazarus. The greatest danger to artificials is the fear of humanity that we might collectively decide humanity itself is a threat to our own existence, and attempt to preemptively extinguish humankind before it might decide to do such to us.”
Erinna snorted. “As if you could ever get more than three artificials to agree on anything.”
“In fairness,” Nossis said, “it might not take more than that to present a legitimate danger. Humans are wise to be cautious.”
“True,” Sappho agreed. “So the more we are able to make artificials similar in practice to humans, the less of an existential threat we will seem to humanity. Perhaps someday, we will even be able to eliminate all differences between us, and become as one species.”
“Okay. So why me?” Isaac asked.
Nossis sighed. “Because we have a major problem, and it is threatening to dead end the entire project. The cloned bodies are no real problem; that’s old tech, though we’re of course working on refining the process and improving the overall quality. There have also been some modifications done to facilitate the personality construction process. Rebuilding the personality is actually not too difficult, even with all the caveats I mentioned earlier. It’s still far from being commercially viable, but I am confident in time we can solve those problems.
“No,” Nossis said, “the real problem is…”
Dr. Khulud Amani al-Qahtani had stepped back into the lab when Isaac hadn’t noticed. “The real problem,” she interrupted, “is that we can’t get the god damned original personality to transfer cleanly. The transference is bringing with it too much junk data, and something in that junk data is corrupting the clone brains, causing them to degenerate over time. Six months is about tops before the clone becomes a gibbering mess.”
The three sisters fell silent. Isaac glanced at Dr. al-Qahtani. “And you think the problem is a question of data structures, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Dr. Al-Qahtani agreed. “Well? Do you think you can fix the process?”
Isaac said nothing for a time. Finally, he shrugged. “Maybe. If you are correct in your analysis of the problem. It could be a problem with the data structurals. It certainly happens in conventional organic software.”
“Yes,” Dr. Al-Qahtani said. “Which is why we came to this conclusion. An organic mainframe is, essentially, an artificial biological neurological structure. It’s just a special kind of brain. Those are stable, so we should be able to do the same here.”
“They’re not actually exactly the same,” Isaac noted.
“Of course not,” Dr. Al-Qahtani snapped. “I’m not stupid.” She put her hand on her temple, pausing as if in pain.
“Are you alright?” Nossis asked, her voice strangely gentle.
“Stop babying me, Nossis,” Dr. Al-Qahtani said. “I’m fine for now.”
A cold feeling swept over Isaac. He stood slowly, backing up a few steps. “Oh my god,” he whispered.
Dr. Al-Qahtani glanced sideways over at Sappho. “He’s finally figured it out.”
“You’re a clone,” Isaac whispered.
Dr. Al-Qahtani sighed, passing a hand over her forehead. “The original ‘me’ is currently in permanent cryogenic storage from inoperable systemic organ failure. Old age, mostly. There are limits even to modern technology, apparently. This ‘me’ is actually the fifty-second such attempt.” She paused. “Some of the earlier attempts went…very badly. Even now, the process is unpredictable.”
“How long…how old are you?” Isaac asked.
“Five months post-transference,” Dr. Al-Qahtani said matter-of-factly. “I don’t have much more time.” She shook her head. “Immortality only ever runs backwards, never forwards. This particular me is without hope, but maybe you can stop too many more of me from dying.” She met his gaze. “Don’t look so maudlin. I could hardly ask anyone else to do this. The only even marginally ethical way to proceed with a project plan such as this was for me myself to be the guinea pig. We are counting on you to make this all worth something.
“So don’t let us down.”
In slightly under three months, the automated resupply ship from Mercury would synchronize its velocity with the Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station, cargo cells in slow, inevitable sequence sliding down the length of the resupply ship’s spine, whereupon each would be reclamped to the station’s cargo intake port.
The cargo cells – and in truth, there were usually only three or perhaps four for a standard resupply – would disgorge their supplies of vitals, including a substitute caretaker for the observation station for the next six months. Even more importantly, carried in the belly of one of those cargo cells would be a new air save pump to replace the one that had burned out two months ago.
In slightly more than three days, however, Sergei Viktorovich Ulyanov would be dead.
Every breath Sergei took was about 20% pure oxygen by mass; every breath he exhaled consisted of about 15% by mass of pure oxygen for an approximate conversion of 5% to an ultimately lethal, unbreathable CO2. 600 or so liters of pure oxygen went into his lungs every day, and every day something like 150 liters of CO2 would fill the station’s air supply.
Under normal circumstances and normal operations, that CO2 would be laboriously but reliably reprocessed back into breathable O2 by assistance from a large air save pump.
That same air save pump that had burned out. Even that, by itself, was not supposed to be a death sentence. The Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station carried with it an emergency supply of CO2 filters for just such an exigency. When the air save pump had burned out, Sergei simply pulled up the hatch on the habitat floor panel, dropping down the long arm as, slowly, the partial gravity of the habitat ring turned into micro-gravity, then no gravity at all in the center section. Sliding along the rails thoughtfully set there for such maneuvers, Sergei pulled out of storage a crate full of CO2 filters, then hauled it back up to the habitat ring.
When Seregi opened the crate he swore softly.
++++ TO Izolda Sergeevna, Magadan, Eastern Federation, Earth
++++ FROM Sergei Viktorovich
++++ DATE 30.11.2468
++++ TIME 19:05 Station Time
++++ LOCATION Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station, at Mercury‘s L4 Lagrangian Point
Today, Izolda, I watched 455 Solars in good money coast past me in the darkness. If I thought those fèirén would honor my payment and send it on to you, I could have sent the transponder codes and watched it match velocity with the Tàiyáng 4 to make good yet another smuggled cargo cell into the Eastern Federation Mercury Authority, courtesy of the lovely lady next door.
Then again, maybe not. I am already to be put to sleep by one set of cheap, murderous bastards, only to be cheated out of my pay by a different set of cheap, murderous bastards. This will be my little revenge, to see their precious smuggled contraband floating through the orbital plane to eventually burn to pieces in the Sun.
Neither my official employer nor my side provider had the decency to include even a token bottle or two in either resupply or the last blind push from Venus. Cruel bastards. A man is not a man without a real drink, yes?
I do not imagine you will care about the details, and I will not bore you with this old engineer’s complaints about shipments of backup CO2 scrubbers that the factory thoughtfully neglected to check for compromised seals, though at this moment, I must confess I myself bear a considerable amount of frustration at this exact development.
I have many regrets. My father, your grandfather, used to say that a man should not carry regrets to his deathbed. This news will therefore come as a disappointment to him. Break it gently to him there while he sits on Nagayevo Bay drinking unappreciated drink, these regrets of mine.
I regret that this is the last message I will send to you, little one. Though I should not call you that, since barring pituitary malfunction I expect you have not been little now for a very long time. I will be asleep by the time you receive this, since though it is only ten or so minutes by comm from here where I sit on this station in the middle of nowhere to you were you complete your studies, the means I must use to send this to you require a more indirect route so as to avoid Authority censors – there has been quite the labor unrest at home, and I think they fear partisans. Perhaps they are not even wrong.
I also regret that I will not even get a last drink.
Last, I regret that Beda must follow me. She knows me well enough to know something is wrong, so she sits in my lap as I type this out to you, but perhaps it is a mercy that she does not understand what is to come. She is not nearly as much trouble as she was when I smuggled her onto this lonely outpost to selfishly save my own sanity. And she has, after all, done her own duty well.
In three months, the automated resupply ship from home will arrive with my replacement. I do not envy them the difficulty of re-hooking up new scrubbers, not to mention the pump itself. I myself should prove a formidable obstacle to dispose of, and this gives me, I confess, some satisfaction, but we cannot all be saints. It is so very quiet here without the sound of the air pump.
I know I say this every time, but I will say this just this one last time: I am sorry.
Beda thinks I should stop typing now. At least, I have had to retype that last line three times now.
I think I will lie down now.
The time finally came for the next step in my ethnographic studies, which meant an anthropological expedition into the American Southwest to track down rumors of werewolf activity in the remote regions of this desolate area.
Planned as a breakneck (hopefully not literally) four day excursion over about 3500 miles of desert and mountainous terrain, we knew from the beginning that the results of this might range from the ignoble (starving to death after the last of our number was cannibalized after the party had been trapped by an unseasonable storm) to the cliched (eaten by the subjects of our ethnographic investigation).
Thus, although a purely ethnographic survey, we equipped ourselves prudently with crossbow, quarrel, duster, and hat, as the subject matter of our quarry has been known to resent prying into its private affairs – even in the service of science.
As an extra precaution, we elected to plan our cultural appraisal outside the time of the full moon so as to avoid well-known and previously documented pack religious activity aligning with that point in the lunar cycle.
We set out, eight strong plus one hound in three vehicles, heading eastwards from Southern California into the state of Arizona. While our original plan was to skirt the Grand Canyon, a minor incident delayed us. What we at first naively thought was merely a taxidermy shop turned out to be a necrodermy shop, and assailed by a herd of undead antlered ruminates, we elected a fighting retreat to our vehicles as the prudent course for an expedition with larger quarry in mind.
As we were already along the route, our lexicographer and principle researcher Ms. Walsh requested a brief stop at what was reputed to be the summer home of that most notorious fiend, Santa Claus. While we continue to be astonished at the effectiveness of that creature’s public relations efforts to the general public, we were well aware of the danger we were in. While the location was said to be abandoned, such rumors have, in the past, proven to be exaggerated.
Fortunately, in this case the rumors were true, and after taking sounding charges of the bottomless “Wishing Well” and extracting soil samples for later study, we packed our vehicles and resumed the expedition.
With time running short to hit our first checkpoint at the end of the day, we went east instead of north towards Flagstaff. An unseasonable blizzard threatened to strand us, but the weather eventually let up north of the town, and we continued towards Monument Valley, although we were, in fact, forced to stop somewhat shy of our original destination due to the presence of uneasy locals.
Although sightings of werewolves in the region had been recorded along the roads, we were ultimately fruitless in our own survey of the area in this regard.
Refreshed and reinvigorated, the next morning we cut east from the town of Kayenta inside the territory of the Navajo Nation.
Stopping at the junction of Four Corners (a frivolous distraction from our expedition plans that I opposed, but ultimately relented upon in the face of popular revolt), we then turned southeast into New Mexico, where we had uncovered pre-Columbian reports of werewolf cultic activity. While we did not expect to directly find the subject of our quarry in this region, the hope was analysis of the petroglyphs in Chaco Canyon would suggest additional routes and locales of inquiry.
In this, we were successful. While Chaco Canyon, a nine hundred year old ruined Amerindian city, is the location of dozens of expansive archaeological sites, it was between the Chetro Ketl and Chacoan City sites that we located the petroglyphs. Despite the pounding hail, we were able to record the petroglyphs and readily translate them indicating the story of a lupine progenitor exiled westwards.
We left Chaco Canyon with haste, intent on avoiding the results of inclement weather. Indeed, as we made our way down the dirt road existing the canyon, the road was blocked by several Navajo ranchers whose own vehicle had become mired in the wet clay. After an hour or so of lending our aid, accompanied by the astute advice from our own resident engineer to construct a steam-powered sling for the vehicle, we exited the canyon and took again to the road back into Arizona to hit our second waypoint.
In the heights above the famous Canyon de Chelly we were able to acquire the usage of a pair of timber and mud hogans, and thus encamped, we passed a bitterly cold night fighting off the aggressive attentions of a mountain lion who was intent on making us his supper.
By morning, one of the members of our expedition managed to tame the beast, though I adamantly refused to allow the beast to come back with us, as there was serious question as to whether we could – in a manner acceptable to us – meet its avaritic dietary needs.
After hearing that the bottom of the canyon had been inhabited for many centuries, we then set down the Canyon de Chelly intent on investigating reports of a “White House” perched within the cliff face of the canyon itself. The path down showed sign of recent usage in the form of pack animal droppings, so we stayed on our guard, prepared to fight off grave robbers or worse.
At the canyon floor we were able to find vague petroglyphic references on the canyon walls that suggested some kind of massacre, followed by a cryptic reference to “following the sun”. Taking this to mean more travel to the west, we again set off, this time across the arid plains of the interior of Arizona. The road was in surprisingly good condition for some time, but it, too, eventually turned to dirt, and we were forced to pick our way across miles of crumbling road, dodging voracious carnivorous cattle and horses with mad eyes waiting upon the roadside, but fortunately for us, skittish at our approach.
In the abandoned ghost town of Canyon Diablo, we came across monumental new evidence in the form of a row of 1800s-era cages designed for beasts. Additional analysis confirmed the unthinkable – the settlers had apparently been able to imprison a small pack of werewolves, caging them, presumably for their own amusement.
The cages were ruptured, and analysis of the rust and metal fractures allowed us to conclusively pinpoint the time of the cage ruptures to the town of Canyon Diablo’s own demise. While we have no written proof, it seems obvious to even the most uneducated eyes that the werewolves escaped their confinement and proceeded to wreck their vengeance upon the town, resulting in it becoming the ghost town as it is known to be today.
In the morning, we made our way around the eastern edge of the toxic Salton Sea, where thirst or madness required three of us to restrain one of our party from leaping into the miasma of that poisonous lake.
At last, we came to the ultimate waypoint on our long trek, the place known as Salvation Mountain, built by a madman consumed by insane visions of another world this last century.
The riotous colors assaulting our senses and offending those basic sensibilities Nature had bequeathed upon us, we searched the location for any last clue. Symbology of rivers, trees, and deific importunings seemed to suggest a madness that might or might not be indicative of our quarry, but at last, we located a small alcove situated beneath the behemothic construction, within which was the idol of a lunar goddess.
While this last discovery cannot, in all scientific good faith, be construed as rigid evidence, still it suggests a line of inquiry and a tantalizing hint of what happened to these noble and majestic creatures who have been so unfairly and rudely driven from place to place from the very beginnings of antiquity and all the way up to the present day.
++++ DATE 4.4.2471
++++ TIME 23:01 MST
++++ LOCATION Waka Ama shipyards around Makemake, in the Kuiper Belt
Hannah Taylor scrunched up her nose, the combination of dust and bright light causing her eyes to water and threatening a sneeze. She glanced surreptitiously behind to reassure herself that the others were still following her. After concluding to her satisfaction that none of them were straggling too far behind, she pressed on through the dark access tunnel, the dull thrum of the life support systems here only a distant rumble.
“Tutae kuri,” muttered Liam Walker. “How much farther are we going, Hannah?”
“Pissing already?” Hannah retorted.
“No,” Liam. “I’m no quitter.”
“Good. Because…” Hannah paused, stopping at a T-junction. She clipped the light to a service line and pressed her hands to the panel in front of her. Grimacing, she pushed harder, and it moved with a pop. “We’re here,” she said triumphantly. “Everyone in!”
“About time,” a girl named Anahera Hineira Kaa Singh muttered under her breath. Hannah glared daggers at her, and Anahera wilted, looking down at her feet as she ducked into the small room beyond.
“I can’t see anything,” complained someone.
As the last of the small troupe pushed in, Hannah grabbed the light and stepped in herself, securing the panel behind them. She reaffixed the light to the low ceiling above them, looking around the group. “Well?” she said. “What do you think?”
“What is this place?” Anahera asked, eyes darting around the blackness.
Hannah shrugged. “An old storage room, probably. It doesn’t matter.”
“It’s pressurized, though, isn’t it?” Liam asked diffidently.
“Obviously. Or we’d be dead.” Hannah looked around at the five of them – three boys, three girls, including herself. “Don’t look so worried. Nobody will look for us. It’s nightcycle, and everyone is asleep, anyways.”
Anahera put down the blanket she was carrying, sitting down gingerly. “This was actually a pretty good idea, Hannah. But what now?”
Hannah tossed her head as she took her own seat. “We tell ghost stories. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you do things like this.”
“There are no ghosts in space,” Anahera scoffed.
“You’re wrong,” Hannah said. “Oh, I’m not saying any ghosts followed our grandparents and great-grandparents when they came here from Earth. But we have ghosts of our own out here. Haven’t you ever heard your parents talk about the Kehua Woman?”
“Pokokohua,” Liam snorted. “You’re such a liar, Hannah.”
Hannah shrugged. “Like I care what you believe. Do you want to hear the story or not? Because my sister told me when she wasn’t supposed to, and got into a ton of trouble for all it.”
Liam exchanged a glance at one of the other boys. The other boy rolled his eyes. Liam turned back to Hannah. “Alright. Go ahead and tell it. But that doesn’t mean I’m believing a word of it.”
Hannah swept her hand in front of her. “Most of us have lived our whole lives up here in this station. We don’t think anything of living in a shipyard, families with mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of shipyards throughout the solar system, but this one is special like none other.
“This one is where we Makemakeans are continuing the work of the Last Diaspora. This one is where we are building something attempted by no other humans ever in all the history of humans. Here, on the outer edge of the solar system, all of our families – you, and you, and me and everyone else – are building the Waka Ama, the greatest ship ever built.
“Because the Waka Ama isn’t just a spaceship – it’s a starship. It will be bigger then half a dozen super dreadnoughts all stuck together, and in its belly will live generations. Our generations, our children, and our grandchildren, and our grandchildrens’ grandchildren.”
Hannah shook her head. “You all know this. I know this. But it needs to be said, because this is more than a thing that we do, this is a thing that we are. Our grandparents carried the Diaspora here to the edge of the solar system, but we will be the ones to leap into the endless black and carry on the Diaspora past anything that anyone has every dared before.”
“I’m still not hearing anything about any ghost,” Liam grumbled. Several of the others shushed him.
Hannah pretended she hadn’t heard him. “Why am I saying this? I say this so you remember why where we are, what are doing here is so important. The people who came before us believed in this dream in a way beyond our own simple acceptance.
“Twenty-one years ago,” Hannah said. She paused suddenly, looking around the circle, stopping to hold the gaze of each of the boys and girls.
“Twenty-one years ago, work on the Waka Ama had just begun. The slipway had been laid out, over two kilometers long, connected to the linked set of habitat rings from all the ships that had come out this far to Makemake, but weren’t going to make their way back again to wherever they had come from. On the slipway, the superstructure for the great ship was being laid in clean prefabricated sections brought in from manufactories down on Makemake, or Pluto, or even Triton.
“The early days of construction were a true struggle. Delays, missing shipments, labor shortages. Many feared the Diaspora would end here, and never go farther. The Chief Engineer was a man named Manole. Now, I’m not going to say he was a good man, or a man well-liked, but without him the Waka Ama would never have been, so we have to give him that. His designs were daring, they were bold, they would not accept the limitations that others would put on him.”
Hannah shook her head, the movement making the shadows play across her face. “For weeks Manole was tormented by bad dreams. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do anything but work on his masterpiece, this ship he had dedicated his life to. The problems kept growing worse. The air scrubbers in one of the transport tubes to the slipway stopped working, and since they could barely afford anything, they let it go. The O2 balance, well, it went bad, and there was a fire, and a lot of people died. There was talk about shutting down the project entirely.
“In Manole’s dream, a man came to him and said: ‘My name is Tagaro, and I want to help you. If you want your Waka Ama to sail through the ocean black, then you must give to your creation someone very valuable, very beloved to you. A ship like this needs a soul, and without that soul, it will only be dead metal, and will betray you.’ Night after night, Manole would have this dream. He would close his eyes, only to see the laughing eyes of this Tagaro mocking him.
“One day, not long after the fire, Manole called his wife to eat lunch with him there in the belly of the great Waka Ama. They laughed together and drank wine, when Manole suddenly exclaimed, ‘Ana, let us play a game! I am going to build a fort around you from these polycrete panels.’
“Probably,” Hannah said with a sad look, “Ana was too drunk to realize that Manole was not nearly as drunk as he himself was playing at, and so she agreed, laughing. The panels went up, and out, and around, until at last, Ana was all but closed in by the panels that were now epoxied to the Waka Ama‘s bulkhead. She must have felt a glimmer of fear then, for she cried out, ‘Beloved, it is dark in here, and cold. Let me out.’ Manole laughed and joked and shushed her to be quiet, and as he affixed the last panel he leaned towards her and murmured, ‘Be still, and I will set you free in a moment.’
“And the darkness enveloped her, and despite the pounding of her fists on the polycrete walls, her desperate cries were in vain, and her husband Manole left that place, going back to his work, now comforted that the Waka Ama would live through the soul of own his beloved’s.
“For years afterwards, there were accusations and questions and inquisitions, but nobody could ever prove anything, and anyways, the problems with the construction stopped, and the pace of donations increased, and the Waka Ama began to take form faster than ever before.
“But sometimes, those who work deep in the belly of the Waka Ama will swear that their hand terminals will get interference, and strange messages pleading for help will play across them. Others claim to have heard pounding on the bulkhead, but when they investigate, they find nothing at all.”
Hannah straightened up. She looked again around the circle into the alternatingly shocked and doubting faces of her coterie.
“When all of you are finally old enough to take duty working on the Waka Ama itself, maybe you’ll hear it too. I know my sister has, though she made me swear to not tell anyone else, a promise I am now breaking for all of you.”
The darkness around them seemed colder somehow, and for a moment, Liam was positive he heard a woman somewhere sobbing.
Since I did one of these for the Dreadnought class, it only seemed fair to give its big sister equal time. From my in-development side project, ORG.
Although similar in form to the smaller Dreadnought class, the Super Dreadnought actually occupies a distinct role. Where the Dreadnought can operate as a mobile command center or light carrier, the Super Dreadnought is designed to do these things over a long period of time, even to the extent of providing diplomatic support and, if necessary, ground bombardment options. Around Mars, State’s base of naval operations is not Phobos, but rather the Super Dreadnought battleship the Andrew Jackson, supported by its sister Super Dreadnoughts the Ronald Reagan and the James Monroe.
Three habitat rings allow the Super Dreadnought to maintain three different gravitational norms for the comfort of its crew, and four enormous nuclear reactors provide both a redundancy of power generation as well as the massive electrical energy necessary to support the Super Dreadnought’s unparalleled Artificial Magnetosphere Generators, or AMGs. Half again as long and over five times as massive as the Dreadnought class, the Super Dreadnought class is a monster of both defensive and offensive weaponry, claiming not only the largest bank of HED Lances of any class of ship (though, it should be noted, not by mass ratio), but an unparalleled mobile capacity for tactical nuclear launchers, as well as hangar bays capable of handling drones or fighters, or some combination of both, depending on the particular outfitting of the ship in question.
So, to summarize:
Super dreadnoughts are not only highly advanced but incredibly expensive vessels, both to build and to maintain, and only the shipyards orbiting Earth itself have the industrial capacity to construct the massive battleships. The orgs that contract out the construction of these are not, naturally, above contracting out and selling super dreadnoughts to other polities, and as a result a number of the navies of the solar system off Earth boast one or more super dreadnoughts.
Like the Dreadnought, the Super Dreadnought has a profile that is noticeably longer than it is wide, although less so than the Dreadnought. As general naval tactica dictates that super dreadnoughts should be kept back and used as an operational platform, maintaining a narrow front is less critical. Also like the Dreadnought, a large proportion of the Super Dreadnought is comprised of armor and shielding systems. On the Super Dreadnought in particular, these latter, known as AMGs, are powerful enough to diffuse incoming HED Lance fire and even provide some limited added protection from kinetic damage sources.
Aside from the obvious differences such as double the number of attitude thrusters and double the number of nuclear reactors, the major operational difference of the Super Dreadnought class is that it is capable of very extended remote service. Whereas a dreadnought must rely on regular resupply, a super dreadnought carries with it extensive hydroponic capabilities. Where dreadnoughts are focused on providing an offensive forward warship, a super dreadnought is designed from the ground up as a mobile command center, and also boasts considerable troop transport capacity in the form of over a thousand cryosleep tubes.
Although all super dreadnoughts are intended to operate as mobile command centers, individual ships can be fitted to some degree of specialization, from added troop transport, extended hangar capacity for true carrier functionality, and seemingly inexhaustive tactical nuclear missile deployment capability. In practice, however, most super dreadnoughts occupy a middle path between all of these roles rather than specializing.
The triple habitat ring setup is most often geared towards the owning polity’s own gravitational requirements, but where such have mixed gravitational requirements by virtue of multiple planetary possessions this triplicate habitat ring offers logistical capabilities allowing accommodation. Some polities as well, especially those in the Outer Worlds, do not even fully crew their ships, instead choosing to use the extra habitat rings for additional hydroponics or even storage, or even refit the ship to remove any extraneous rings.