FICTIONAL LIFE

 

 

ARION

©2022 by Ted R. Blasingame

 

Chapter Two - El-Five

 

The windows of a sleek, aerodynamic space plane darkened quickly as the vehicle rose above the atmosphere of the marbled world. Once it attained an orbital altitude, it would follow three rotations before it boosted up to the L5 Lagrange Point between Terra and its moon, Luna, where it would dock with a permanent space station.

It was a routine flight for most of the vessel’s passengers, and few of them bothered to notice the vista outside the glasteel windows. Sitting near the middle left of the compartment in an acceleration couch was Dr. Kathleen Ruston, and now that the harsh boost to the edge of space had smoothed out, she oriented herself upright. She unstrapped a lightweight tablet from a black bag belted in beside her and applied her thumb to the biometric sign-in box on its large screen. Her shoulder-length auburn hair was held back from her face in the decreasing gravity by a thin band, but she had to blow a stray strand from her eyes.

“Where is your hat?” said a voice from the tablet screen.

She glanced at the three-dimensional, disembodied head of Arion. “I think I left it on the seat in the waiting area of the terminal,” she replied with a frown. “Otherwise I would just remove the wig and stow it in my bag. The best I could do in the meantime was a ponytail holder I had with me. Someone from the project on the next flight up will probably find it and bring it with them.” The hat in question was standard issue to those on the project, primarily to keep hair in check in the absence of gravity.

“I can have a new one printed for you by the end of your shift.”

“No need. I have a spare in my quarters.”

“That is the third hat you have lost,” teased the SI with a reproachful smirk.

“That is the third hat I have lost in the last six years,” Kate reminded him. “That averages to only one every other year.”

“It is a good thing you will not be wearing one while in cryo. Even in sleep, you would lose your hats; by the time we arrive at Bellerophon, you would have lost thirty-eight of them.”

“Smart aleck.”

“Only when necessary.”

The woman rubbed a shoulder with her fingers and grimaced. “The interview didn’t take as long as I expected, but I’m still tense. I have never liked being put on display. I could have gotten more accomplished if I had just stayed on the ship and let you face Harken alone.”

“That is your own fault for aspiring to be the project director. I am only the mere minion saddled with all the other aspects of the mission.”

“Mere minion,” Kate said with a snort. “I didn’t need to be there at all.”

“Mr. Harken included you in the conversation. It is not as if he ignored you to talk to me.”

“That’s only because I’m prettier than you are.”

Arion’s virtual face broke into a genuine smile. “As it should be,” he replied.

Dr. Kate returned the smile, but said nothing more.  She felt comfortable with the SI and privately considered him one of her closest friends. It was rare she had this kind of interaction with anyone else, instead portraying the matriarch of the project with professionalism and a stoic demeanor to practically everyone else.

It was not that she was a taskmaster by any means, but she was generally all-business when it came to the project and she was generally viewed as a no-nonsense woman who could rarely be swayed if someone came up against her decisions with little to back it up. It did not help her image that she was often seen wearing the project hat without her auburn locks beneath it and that combined with having no eyebrows sometimes made her look severe. She liked the way she looked with the lifelike wig made to match her original hair color, but sometimes it could get hot and it just felt better to go without it. Everyone she worked with knew that she had lost her hair from cancer treatments, but when out in public the wig went with her.

She took a brief glance around the compartment at the other passengers. Most of them appeared to be mechanics and technicians on their way to add their collective assistance in finalizing Arion-1. The ship had been under construction for years and was nearing completion.  Kate had been with the project since before the vessel’s keel was laid and it sometimes amazed her that the mission that it had been designed for was actually about to begin.

Among the passengers was the ship’s chief surgeon and medical officer, Dr. Satoru Kazama, who seemed to be having a lively discussion with botanist Dr. Bali Manhigh.

“Oh, I agree that it was the dream of mankind,” Manhigh was saying, “but despite that it was an Earth-like rocky world, Mars was dead for a reason. The atmosphere is too thin and does nothing to protect the planet from the sun’s harmful radiation, the temperature is too cold and the air pressure is too low. Any surface liquid water it may have had boiled away eons ago and the planet is nothing more than a sun baked stone covered in iron dust!”

“It is no wonder the colony failed,” Kazama agreed, removing his round-rim glasses to clean them on his shirt. “There was too much radiation to stay above ground, so the colony habitats had to be constructed beneath the surface in ancient lava caves near Arsia Mons. Those who were stuck living in them suffered perpetual depression, and there was a high percentage of cancer and death among its population.”

Bali nodded. “Most who went there to colonize all wished they had never left home, and only a few of them remaining after everyone else had died were ever able to make it back to Earth.  No wonder the place was abandoned.”

“Now it is nothing more than an automated outpost left on the dead world. Initial reports back from Bellerophon promotes it as a better place to live than the fiasco that was Mars. Let’s all hope that is true or we will be wasting decades to go a long way to die.”

Dr. Kate sighed inwardly. Her folks had been among the few lucky ones who were able to return to Earth from the failed Mars colony.  She herself had been four years of age when her family immigrated to the red world, but they had packed it in after only a single Martian year. Both of her parents died of radiation poisoning within six months back on Earth, and her elder sister had succumbed three months after them.  Kathleen had somehow survived bone cancer with a newly approved treatment, and although she had permanently lost all bodily hair in the process, she was now cancer-free and relatively healthy.

She looked up when a broad-shouldered man in a gray woolly-pully commando sweater hauled himself up out of his couch near the front and relocated to an empty one just in front of her. He looked every bit of the ex-marine that he was, solid and confident in his movements. The man strapped himself into the harness, and then without even looking back at her, held out something over his shoulder.

“I have something that belongs to you,” he said dryly.  It was a denim gray cap with the Arion logo embroidered across the front and a commander’s scrambled egg motif on the bill.  Kate took it, purposefully ignoring the smirk on the SI’s face on her tablet screen.

“Thank you, Mr. Edwards. I thought I had left it down at the terminal.”

“A technician handed it to me just as I boarded.”

Tucking her auburn locks beneath it, she placed the hat snugly upon her head. She was about to offer further discussion, but the security chief of Arion-1 reclined his acceleration couch and laced his fingers together across his stomach to nap.

She discovered Arion peering quietly at her from the tablet. “Something on your mind?” she asked.

“There is always something on my mind, but there is nothing that I need to bring up.”

“Fine. What is our estimated time of arrival?”

“ETA is six hours, eleven minutes until docking with El-Five.”

The director settled back in her own couch and pulled the bill of the cap down over her eyes. “Please wake me twenty minutes before we arrive.”

“Yes, ma’am.” 

*** 

When the space plane backed up to the orbital facility with thrusters, Kate took special interest in the bustle of activity surrounding a pair of matched vessels, each bigger than any ship ever built on the Earth below; the larger of the two even dwarfed the size of the space station itself, although much of its internal structure was open to the void of space during its construction.

Simply called “El-Five”, the orbital platform was nothing more than a series of interconnected modules arranged in an H-formation with each of the Arion spacecraft docked on opposing arms.  Circling the central cross-piece of the H, however, was a rotating ring housing staff quarters and administrative offices for station personnel in a sustained one-gravity environment. 

Inside the non-rotating docks and bays of the connected modules, the compartments were free floating where gravity at the L5 Lagrange point between the Earth and the moon canceled out one another’s influence.

Scaffolding fenced in both interstellar vessels, but the grid work surrounding Arion-1 was being methodically disassembled and secured to a platform outside the station in preparation for the upcoming launch; individual suited figures swarmed over the scaffolding like gnats in their activities.  Only a few external panels of radiation shielding for the smaller vessel were still being installed, but they would be sealed long before departure. The larger of the two ships was little more than a skeletal structure in its construction with only specific internal areas showing development.

Neither vessel was intended to enter a planet’s atmosphere, so aerodynamics had never been a design factor.  Each finished ship would resemble little more than a series of fat horizontal tubes with a softly rounded nose on one end of the vessel, with the tachyon engines pushed out in twin blisters at the rear. Mounted just above the engine pods of Arion-1 like colorful remora fish were two personnel shuttle planes, Secretariat and Omaha, and just below the engines were larger cargo shuttle trucks Sir Barton and War Admiral, all to be put into service once the colony ship had reached its destination. Continuing the equine theme for the project vessels, their names had been chosen by public contest to reflect past Triple-Crown race winners. Each of the small craft was painted in a different color scheme designed to make them easy to identify from a distance.

However, like the woolly-pully sweaters that project personnel wore, the entire color scheme of the primary ship’s hull was battleship gray. Only a fully rendered painting of the Arion logo on both port and starboard sides of the fuselage provided a spot of additional color.

Along the sides of the vessel were cargo bay doors at the fore and aft ends for housing the earth-moving and home-building equipment to be delivered to the surface of Bellerophon.  Even now, the bay doors were open to receive large rectangular shipping containers being offloaded from a docked shuttle truck and placed into storage racks by hefty robotic arms; there would be a huge amount of building materials and supplies to take with them for their journey.

Once the interstellar ship had later been emptied of cargo and personnel, the vessel would remain in permanent geosynchronous orbit over the colony site and the shuttle planes could then be used for aerial exploration of the new world. 

*** 

The personnel space plane maneuvered toward an unoccupied docking arm, and it was only a few moments before the passengers felt the soft bump of contact.  They had arrived.

Dr. Kate and Mr. Edwards remained in their seats, but a few of the other passengers unbuckled their harnesses and floated up from the acceleration couches in the gravity-free environment in preparation to disembark.

While they waited, Kate spoke momentarily with the SI on her tablet before she locked the screen and secured it inside her bag.  Edwards stretched and arched his back, barely stifling a yawn generated by his nap.  He glanced over the seat back at Kate and gave her a quiet thumbs-up gesture.

The air pressure in the compartment equalized with the station when the airlock was finally opened and the commuters were allowed to depart the shuttle plane.  Edwards joined the others, but Kate waited for everyone else in front of her to file out into the station before she floated her way to the front. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone else sitting all the way to the back of the compartment just in front of stowed supplies to be offloaded, but she thought nothing of it.

Awaiting her at the other end of the short docking tunnel was a tall black man in slacks and a gray woolly-pully commando sweater that was adorned by nothing more than his first initial and last name embroidered on the right shoulder patch, with the ship’s logo on the left. The bill of his matching cap possessed the same scrambled egg motif that graced Kate’s. The man stood with his hands behind him, lightly holding onto a wall stability handrail.

Captain Kenneth J. Robeson looked at the project director with a look of amusement and held out a hand. “Welcome back, Dr. Kate. I see you survived the interview.”

She floated into his handshake and let him pull her to the handrail. Although they were of a similar age, the man was so much larger than she was that she often felt as if she was a child next to him; she was not necessarily diminutive, but he was nearly two heads taller than she was.

“Such as it was, Captain.  The interview could have easily been done online without me having to waste the expense and travel time to shuttle down to LaGuardia and back again.”

“Don’t tell me that you didn’t take any personal time while you were in the Big Apple?”

Kate raised a hairless eyebrow at him. “Who said I didn’t? There’s always something to see on Broadway.”

“That’s better. I’m glad to hear you aren’t all business.”

“We only have fourteen days left and then Broadway will be out of reach forever.  I will have to drop back to Earth twice more before we get underway, but there won’t be time for frivolities then. I won’t even get a hotel room on either of those trips, just drop to the surface, attend meetings, and then boost back up here the same day.”

Robeson frowned. “Can’t you just call in to those meetings?”

“Unlike how I could have done the televised interview, my physical form has to be present in a seat for these.  Final briefings before we launch, no doubt some last minute mission details to impart.”

“Sounds boring. They could give you those via secure channel too.”

“That’s what I told them, but I was unceremoniously ordered to attend in person.”

Robeson heave a quiet sigh. “They told me the same thing,” he admitted.

Kate tilted her head up at him. “You’re going with me?”

“I got the orders about an hour ago.

“Captain, Dr. Kate, I am glad to have the both of you together,” said another voice. Dr. Kazama floated over to them, pulling himself along the handrail.

“Yes, Doctor, what is it?” the captain asked the Japanese surgeon.

“I just wanted to report that while down in Manhattan, I was able to arrange the supply of the final drugs and medical instruments we will need.  They will be boosted up next Thursday.”

“That’s good news,” Robeson responded. “Were you able to get everything?”

Kazama took off his glasses and began cleaning the round lenses with a pocket handkerchief. “Yes, and in ample quantities. Although there will only be one hundred of us on the first flight, we’ll be transporting the equivalent of all pharmaceuticals we would need for the entire colony.  When Arion-2 follows in five years, she will be transporting the same manifest in the same quantities, as well as the materials needed to manufacture more as needed once we’ve established our place on Belle. That last arrangement almost didn’t happen. Holden Pharmaceutical was hesitant until I signed over official permission for them to use the project name and logo in their promotionals in exchange for the markdowns they’re giving us. I hope I didn’t overstep my authority doing so, but we will need those materials.”

“Not at all. Use of the project to promote their company is well within compensation for the discounts, but I will make sure an official record is on file in case anything about this comes back on Captain Hatteras after we’ve departed.”

“I am glad to hear it. I was second-guessing myself after the conversation, but Holden did confirm the deal with a message to your account.”

“Good work, Doctor,” Kate said with a nod. “You were more productive on the surface than I was.”

“Thank you, ma’am.  If you will now excuse me, I want to report in and begin making preparations for the arrival of that delivery.”

“Of course. Carry on.”

Kate looked at Robeson. “I suppose I should check in too.”

The man looked down at her. “Is that really necessary? I would imagine you’d have been in constant discussion with Arion since you left. He already knows you’re here.”

“Yes, but I must follow procedure so there’s an official record of my arrival.”

“Very well.”

Robeson followed the woman along the handrail to a short line of passengers from the ship, each stopping briefly at a bank of terminals just beyond the end of the docking tunnel. As they waited, Kate rubbed her arms through the long sleeves of her business suit. The place was well-heated, but she had always felt a slight chill while on board the station. She would be glad to get back into her wool mission sweater.

When it was her turn, she faced the terminal and splayed her right hand against a scanning glass. On the screen above it, nothing but the disembodied head of the SI looked back at her.

“Welcome back, Dr. Kate,” he said in a genial manner. “I hope you had a productive trip.”

Robeson cleared his throat and smiled down at her. She pointedly ignored him and said to the screen, “Arion, you already have all the details of my trip – most of them in real time.”

“True, Doctor, but I am merely following pleasantries just as you are following procedure.”  Robeson laughed aloud. “You will find that the steward has laid out fresh clothing in your station quarters, as well as made you a fresh cup of raspberry tea.”

“Thank you for the warm welcome.”  She turned to look up at the captain and nodded. “I will meet you on the bridge in an hour, and then you can bring me up to speed on preparations that have taken place during my absence.”

Although Ken Robeson was not technically a military captain, he gave her a crisp salute that was done more out of friendly courtesy than anything else. “I will see you then, ma’am.” 

*** 

Dr. Kathleen Ruston floated into the command center of Arion-1 exactly one hour later, right on schedule.  Since gravity would never be an issue here, nor would seats or magnetic footwear be a necessity, the compartment was spherical with nearly every bit of its curved interior wall space occupied by instrumentation, touch screens, and a few structural support rails. Only near the aft bulkhead were two acceleration slings to be used in the case of emergency acceleration; what was considered an emergency was a broad overture left up to the SI in the course of the flight.

The compartment was not overly large, and it would have been crowded with more than five individuals, but at the moment there were only three others on the bridge, one of which was Captain Robeson. The other two were Rod Vincent, the captain’s first officer, and Will Andresen, the chief engineer, both of whom were huddled together in front of a large screen of technical data.

Kate pushed off from the wall at the entrance toward the captain, slid through the air with an ankle hooked behind her other leg until she stopped herself near him with a hand on a support rail.

“Hello, Kate,” said the man. “Did you get enough rest after your trip?”

“Well enough, I’m ready to get back to work.” She glanced over at the other men. “What are those two on about?”

Keeping his voice low, the captain answered, “Something about the shielding. Rod went out to take a look at the remaining exterior shielding that’s being installed over the hull and doesn’t think it’s good enough.”

The red-haired engineer that Rod was talking with stabbed a finger at some of the tech data on the screen in front of them. “Vincent, that’s a load of carp! It’s right there!  It meets all of the design specs and then some.”

“What’s the problem, gentlemen?”

Will Andresen glanced over his shoulder at the project director.  “Our ship is nearing completion and Mr. Vincent here thinks we’ve been using substandard material for shielding.”

“It’s inferior, all of it. We need to replace every panel,” Rod recommended. “I’ve checked that we still have time before launch, and it will be better for us in the long run.”

“How will we have time for a refit?” Andresen countered. “Each panel is custom-fitted for its spot on the hull. There’s no time to have them remanufactured. We’re about to leave!”

Dr. Kate pursed her lips and glanced at the data on the screen. Before she could say anything, Andresen circled a table of numbers with a thick finger. “The specs on the material sheeting specify plenty of protection against cosmic rays while we’re passing through interstellar space.  We have over a hundred years of space flight around the solar system to prove just how much shielding we need, and this material exceeds what we would ever need.”

Kate looked at the blond first officer. “Why do you think it’s insufficient?”

Rod shook his head of short blond hair. “Just a gut feeling when I looked at the panels that have been installed.”

“What does Arion think?”

A picture-in-picture of the face of the SI solidified into a corner of the data screen. “As Mr. Andresen has stated, the material used in the ship’s shielding is thick enough and should be more than efficient keeping the crew and cargo safe during the journey. In addition to the outer hull shielding, the configuration of the inner rotating decks provides extra layers of protection.”

“What do you mean?” Rod asked.

“The internal decks are arranged in concentric rings for a reason.  Material, equipment and supplies are stored on the outermost deck. Food stock in metal containers, freezers for seeds and spores, cryogenic chambers for embryos of fish, birds and animals, plus cryo pods for the mature animals take up the next two inside decks, and then the cryo pods for the human personnel arranged around the internal-most deck.  The outer decks and everything on them will act as additional shielding for the crew, beyond what the outer shielding provides. Everyone should be quite safe.”

Rod shook his head and pushed himself back from the screen. “When it’s described like that, it all sounds like it should be enough,” he admitted, settling against a structural support. “Maybe I am being paranoid.”

“This is the first time anyone has gone interstellar,” Andresen remarked. “It’s natural to be concerned for our safety, but the numbers are sound. We’ll be fine.”

“I suppose so. I just don’t want us to wake up mutated or sterile. I still have plans to be fruitful and multiply according to our charter.”

“And which of the young ladies are you wanting to multiply with? Ms. Barbicane, I’d wager.” Andresen poked the young officer in the ribs before turning back toward the screen.

“Well, Victoria Barbicane is rather cute, shapely and single,” he said, counting out her attributes on corresponding fingers.

Kate looked up at Robeson and gave him just the bare hint of a smile. “Any other issues while I was away?” she asked.

“Something needs to be done about Piale Bonavita,” Robeson told her, pushing off and leading her back to the other side of the small chamber so Vincent and Andresen could get back to work.

“Piale – again?” Kate replied with a sigh.  “That girl won’t sit still for a moment. What’s she done this time?”

“Dave Gordon found her deep within the infrastructure over the engineering section.”

“What was she doing there?”

Robeson glanced up toward a panel of grating in the ‘ceiling’ of the spherical room. “She said she’d seen movies where a character escaped danger by crawling through the air ducts. She wanted to familiarize herself with the air handling ductwork in case someone on the crew got space madness and tried to capture her. Unfortunately, she discovered the ducts on the ship aren’t as large as the ones in the movies she’s seen and she barely fit into them; they’re made for moving air, not people, y’know? Gordon had to open a service panel into one to get her out when she ran into some air filters and couldn’t get past them or even turn around; she started yelling and banging on the ducts to get someone’s attention. She would have to be a small animal to fit through them.”

Kate looked incredulous. “She’s nineteen years old. Why is this young woman still acting like a child?”  Robeson responded with a shrug and splayed out his hands without a word.  Kate sighed aloud. “Her parents are the embryonic specialists.  Has Piale had any training in that arena?

“I would assume she has some experience working with them.”

“She has too much time on her hands. I’ll corner them over on the station and see if I can’t convince her folks to increase her education so she doesn’t have so much free time to spend getting into things.”

There was a slight ping from the other side of the room and they looked up to see Andresen pull up a sleeve to peer at the near screen of his techwatch phone. The device was watch-sized, but there were two screens, one on opposite sides of the watch band from the other. Each display could mimic the other, but also featured functions with a camera and various sensors. It had taken the place of earlier smart phones and similar watches, and it was a staple for all project members.

A smile crossed Andresen’s features and then he looked toward the wall screen where Arion’s face still peered out at them from his picture-in-picture window.

“Hey Arion,” the engineer said in a conversational tone that sounded suppressed.  The SI raised a virtual eyebrow at him.

“Yes, Mr. Andresen?”

“Do you read all incoming and outgoing messages?”

“The project mail server is part of my system, so I am sure you already know the answer to your question is Yes.”

“No privacy at all.  Do you understand the message I just received?”

“I understand that someone named Waldo arrived on Dr. Kate’s shuttle plane and is ready to see you, but I do not recognize anyone associated with the project by this name.  Is Waldo a new contractor that neglected to check in?”

Andresen glanced over at Kate and the captain with a wide smile. “Actually, Waldo is not necessarily a person’s name, my friend Arion. In this instance, it’s the term for a gadget used for manipulating objects by remote control.”

Arion’s face lit up in what looked like genuine surprise. “You did it?” he asked.

“Aye, that I did.”

“What did you did?” Rod quipped with smirk at his own word choice at their exchange. “What is this waldo?”

Instead of answering the first officer, Andresen asked the SI, “Would you like to take control now?  It’s right outside in the corridor.”

“Indeed, I would. I am not sure how you transported it through the ship without my knowledge. Did you hide it from me on purpose?”

“Yes, hidden in plain sight merely for the surprise of it,” Andresen replied with a self-satisfied smile. “It didn’t even need your nosey hand print to get on board since it was registered as equipment, even though it disembarked on its own with automatic instruction.”  He tapped out a transfer of command on his tablet and a moment later the door panel to the bridge opened.  Moving forward with tiny jets of air thrusters, a figure that resembled Arion’s screen form floated into the room, fully dressed in the project woolly-pully, slacks and hat. It wasn’t an exact duplicate, as the digital presentation of Arion looked more lifelike than the figure that had just arrived, but it was clear to all present who it was meant to represent.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” the Arion waldo spoke with the SI’s familiar voice coming from its articulated mouth.  The movements were a little stiff and the facial expressions were abbreviated, and although Japanese robotics had come a long way, there was still something about the way its servos and musculature worked that prevented it from looking too realistic. It would never be mistaken for human, but a representation of the SI was recognizable.

“You built him an android?” Kate asked in amazement.

“Two, actually. One for each ship, though like Arion-2, the second waldo is still under construction.”

“If you are referring to fictional androids from popular movies, it is nothing so sophisticated,” Arion responded through the figure. “This waldo is nothing more than a tool that Mr. Andresen thought having the ability to use hands and fingers might be useful to me when making needed repairs to the ship during our long journey through interstellar space.”

“We discussed it over a year ago,” Andresen explained, “and I put the request through the proper channels with Artificial Personalities right away.  It’s taken this long for our friend here to make it to completion and it came up on Dr. Kate’s flight.”

“That’s cutting it close,” said Rod. “We’re leaving in two weeks!”

Proper channels usually includes me,” Dr. Kate said dryly. “This is the first I’ve heard of this.”

“You were included in the traffic, even when it was approved through budgeting, though I wondered why you never responded,” Andresen replied with a frown. “Would you have approved?”

“Probably, but that’s moot now, isn’t it?”

Andresen looked at the waldo. “I suppose so. Even in this day and age, messages can still get lost in the shuffle.”

“Do not blame me,” Arion deflected. “That particular mail traffic was processed through the servers in Nassau while you were dirtside attending a two-week conference at the resort on Paradise Island.”

“You got to conference in the Bahamas?” Rod asked with a grin. “Why don’t I get sweet assignments like that?”

“You’re not an engineer,” Andresen replied smugly. “Artificial Personalities had a representative and several tech samples with her at the conference. I was impressed by what I saw, so I put the request in to have their waldo added to our project budget.”

The subject of their discussion moved through the weightless environment via tiny puffs of pressurized air from miniscule apertures throughout its limbs and torso. It turned toward the chief engineer and held out a hand.

“May I borrow your tablet for a moment, Mr. Andresen?”

“Certainly.”

He handed it over and the waldo gently tapped the touch screen in rapid movements for a moment before handing it back. Arion turned toward Kate and gave her a subtle wink with a stiff, fabricated eyelid.

Andresen looked at what was written in a notepad app and he chuckled.

“What is it?” the captain asked curiously.

“Arion has already suggested a few upgrades to his waldo and is asking for authorization to requisition the parts with their implementation.”

“Could this waldo present any danger to the mission?” Captain Robeson asked cautiously.

“Not at all,” Andresen replied quickly.

“Do you trust me, Captain?” Arion asked.

“I’ve never had a reason to distrust you.”

“What about now?  With my waldo, do you suspect I would use it to harm anyone?”

The captain shook his head with a wry smile. “No, Arion, I suppose I’ve just seen too many movies where technology like this goes wrong and comes back to bite its creators.”

“You know that there are redundant safety measures in place to keep me from doing such a thing. Despite all of my abilities and clearance levels, I cannot change those even if I had a reason, real or delusional.  Mr. Andresen uses many tools in his work; this waldo is nothing more than a tool of my own that he had built for me.”

“I’m fine with it, and if you already have budget approval, make your upgrades if there is sufficient time for them before we launch,” Kate said with a casual wave of her hand, “although it might take a while for me to get used to seeing him – you this way.”

Arion’s waldo turned to her. “Performing the upgrades to this unit can wait until we are en route to Bellerophon. I can order the parts now as a priority to come up on one of the next shuttles and then stow them until a convenient time to put them to use during the journey. I only plan to bring him out as needed, so I can put him into storage right away to keep from disturbing the crew.”

Kate pursed her lips a moment. “Actually, between now and time to launch, perhaps it might be better if you get out and about with your alter-ego, at least to make everyone familiar with you in that form. We’ll all be sleeping for over seventy-five years, and you will have all that time to use him around the ship, but once we awaken on the other side, if you’ve only shown him to a few of us, it could be really disconcerting to everyone else if you use him right after we’ve decanted from cryo.”

“That is a good point, Dr. Kate.”

Rod gestured toward the wall screen where Arion’s face window still showed. “Can we still interact with you in the usual way while you’re out mugging with the crew in your new chassis?”

“As always, Mr. Vincent. My attention can be fully divided without distracting me from each interaction required of me. I have been told that I am a master at multitasking.”

“Well then,” Rod said with a shrug of his slender shoulders, “I’m good with it.”

“If nothing else is required of my waldo, I will do as Dr. Kate suggests to make him a familiar sight to the technicians and crew.”

“Go ahead,” Kate said with a wave at the door. “Try not to scare anyone in the process. Dr. Kazama doesn’t need any heart-attack patients just prior to our departure.”

“Understood, Dr. Kate. We will save up all heart attacks for our arrival at Bellerophon.”

With that, the unit turned in mid-air with its tiny thrusters and soon disappeared out through the door.  On the screen beside Andresen, however, Arion’s face remained ready for the engineer’s continued opinions on the ship’s systems.

 

NEXT


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