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Alignment

#1
“Jules. Get your fat feet off the console.” Phelps leaned over to prod his companion in the side.

“What?” Jules head turned slowly, squinting through cracked eyelids.

“Put your boots down on the deck, you scruffy toad.” The man pulled himself upright in his pilot's chair, lowering his legs. “I don't know how you can slouch in a chair that's been moulded for your exact upright posture.”

“Phelpsy lad. It's a gift. We there yet?”

“Well. Either we're there, or your snoring was doing my nut.”

“You know I don't snore. What's the crisis?” Phelps remained silent. Julian waited a few seconds for his head to clear and then began to pull up data screens. One by one they began to flicker into life around his head, shading his face with a dancing pattern of colour. He waved his hands through the projection without result. He paused for a moment before it reacted to his input. “Slow. We're not that close. You got a reading on the AI?”

“CPU's slowing about forty Ghz a minute now, the decrease is getting worse.”

Around Jules' head a holographic display appeared highlighting nearby objects in the system. Asteroids mainly but slowly drawing near were a series of Warp Stations strung out in a line perpendicular to their path. The display flickered off for a second and then reappeared in a red monochrome. Julian tutted, the AI was struggling.

“It looks like a Station is out of alignment, but the slowdown's a lot for this range, we're over a hundred clicks,” said Jules. “Has there been any contact with anyone using the Warp Lane? It's gonna be one bumpy ride at the minute.”

Phelps shook his head and then muttered under his breath. The AI had relinquished another system to manual. His day was getting busier and busier. “I'm going to slow down our approach. The Trans-Knowles field is going to turn this ship into clockwork by the time we get alongside.”

70,000 tons. Crystal Duralin hull, the latest Martel 43x system-wide sensor suite, twin Hydra poly-differential engines and a host of technology unimaginable before Contact. Governed by an AI that was rapidly approaching the point that it would need changing every few hours and feeding with a spoon.

That's why they still had flesh, blood and bone aboard.

“How fast is the field strength growing?” asked Julian.

“It's strong. We won't get there on main engines.”

“I'll start prepping for Newtonian flight. It's been a while.” Julian leaned forward and began to work on the console in front of him. The holographic systems projection had vanished with the AI's lost potential. As the ship moved closer to the Warp Station, system automation would progressively fail.

“I've got more hours on the simulator than actual flight. I'll take things slow. We are currently 10,000 metres away.” The banter was gone now. Phelps was all business.

“Primary engine failure in around forty seconds.” Julian sat watching the digital readout on the 2D screen. “No. 25 seconds. The Trans-Knowles distortion is getting worse. I've got to sort out that Warp Station's alignment, we need to get aboard.”

While Julian had been talking, Phelps had been removing a small panel his instrument panel and pulling out a small drawer with a pair of joysticks and an array of buttons. “I'm ready for Newtonian flight. Cut the primaries.”

“Chair restraints.” Julian didn't have to look to his right to see Phelps grimace, they had flown together long enough. There was no time for comment now but after the repairs, Julian was sure the topic would come up. He smiled.

“Ready, Jules.” Through clenched teeth.

The ship stopped in space. The interior lights turned red and gravity disappeared.

“The ship is ready for Newtonian thrust. We have fuel for a continuous burn of forty minutes. Let's take things slow.”

“Accelerating to 5 m/s. We should arrive on station in something like fifty minutes.” Phelps pushed forwards on the joysticks and gentle acceleration pushed the pair gently back into their seats.

“Sensors are little more than useless without AI processing. I can see the Warp Station and not much else. As far as I can tell, there is no traffic anywhere nearby. Hardly surprising given the Trans-Knowles strength.”

“5 m/s. Time to coast. You got any T-K readings?” said Phelps.

“Not up to date, but our proximity did not account for the rate of increase.”

“So whatever is out of whack on the Station is getting worse. You think we should squeeze a little more out of the old girl?”

“Why not, I it's looking like time is a factor, I won't make out the dock until we are much closer, nothing I can do but wait.”

Phelps burned some more fuel and the distance began to count down rapidly. The red light in the cabin flickered on and off.

“That shouldn't happen. Was that an T-K effect?”

“Can't be.” said Julian. “A distortion that large would mean catastrophic failure on the Warp Station. It just doesn't happen. They were built to last. Better than anything we have made.”

“If the lights are affected then we could be in serious trouble.”

“Don't worry, my panel readings still look okay. Must have been a glitch.”

Phelps shook his head. “That kind of thing we can do without. If the lights go on the blink then everything else is shot.”

“Stop worrying, Phelpsy. Think positive.” The cabin returned almost to silence, the slight whirr of the small fans pulling CO2 rich air into the scrubbers now noticeable. Both of them sat waiting for the fans to stop, hoping they wouldn't. Unspoken, tension rose. All the icons on the console in front of Julian flickered.

“There's something wrong with the display. I'm not reporting a clear return off the Warp Station. The return is blocky. The radar's on its way out.”

“What do you feel about the distance accuracy?” asked Phelps.

“It seems consistent. Just crowded. I make it less than 1000m now. Recommend visual to be sure.”

“This is like going back to pre-Contact.” Phelps pulled at a lever right at the back of his flight controls, which moved a control cable and released a spring. A small panel in front of him opened. Revealed behind was a small window, less than 300mm, circular with a scale and cross-hairs actually etched into the surface. “No school like the old school.”

“You get that out of a cracker?”

Phelps said nothing. He just stared out of the window at the their destination. The Warp Station was huge, its ancient plating still crisp in the blue light from the Warp Lane.

“Julian. The Warp Lane itself is fluctuating, the colour is not consistent.”

“If you can see that with the naked eye then it must be almost out of co-valency. We need to get to the secondary alignment modules. As soon as. Can you see the docking port yet?”

“No. I'm slowing our approach and then I'll rotate.” Phelps worked at the controls, the pair of them feeling the unusual faint prod and pull of Newtonian movement. “Should be coming into view now.”

With a final squirt on the thrusters Phelps stopped the rotation. “Julian.”

“Yes.”

“You still reading an blocky return on the radar?”

“Yes. Why?”

“There's a ship docked with the Warp Station.”
Post

Re: Alignment

#2
Right, I've always been fed up with super sci fi engines and ftl and human crew. AI should be king of everything. So with a little inspiration from Vernor Vinge I've come up with a rationalisation for meat aboard the ships of the future.

There will be more parts to this but don't hold your breath :)

All comments welcome in this thread. Whenever I post more I'll index them in this post.
Post

Re: Alignment

#6
Well I said it might take a little time..... :) G R R M schedule here.

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“A ship? What?” Julian looked across at Phelps. “Corporate reported no-one else in this sector?”

Phelps triggered the thrusters. “I'm coming to a dead stop so we can have a look at this thing.” He worked on the joysticks, grimacing when he slightly overstepped a burn. After a minute spent fiddling with the thrusters he said, almost under his breath, “now let's have a look at you.”

Julian kept silent as his partner pushed his face up tight against the porthole.

“It's a bag of bolts, not one of ours, not Federation. You want to take a look?”

Julian nodded. He unhitched his harness and pulled himself sideways and horizontal, stretched out floating above the console. At the base of the station was a black shape, easily distinguishable against the docking bay's bright exoferrite. No navigation lights or engine precursors – dead in the water. As the warp lane flickered its hull was bathed in reflected blue light from the warp station. It's hull was battered and bruised, repairs over repairs. A real clunker.

“Scavengers.”

“That's what I was thinking,” replied Phelps.

“Of the brain dead variety. There's no way that ship is equipped for high T-K running. Until the field distortion is stabilised, that thing's a derelict. They're going nowhere.”

Julian pulled himself over to his seat and struggled back into position. “What have they been doing on the Station to screw things up so badly?”

“More importantly, how long is it going to take for backup to arrive.” Phelps paused waiting for the AI and then remembered. He pulled out a pad and paper and started to run the numbers. “How long to get to a primary activation distance, let alone wait for a message and response,” he muttered as his filled the page with scrawl, crossing out whole sections and restarting.

“The destabilisation is increasing. The Warp Lanes are basically down now, in a few hours the Station itself is going to melt down.”

“I was hoping you weren't going to say that, I think we are on our own. The cavalry is too far.”. He held up the pad. “I guess we get to be heroes.”

“Phelpsy. We can't lose the station. Corporate will buy the scavengers off, you know that. We have to get aboard and stabilise. They're stuck here until then anyway. That hulk out there is going nowhere until the T-K drops. They are trapped here until I get control. They'll deal.”

Jules pulled himself back into his seat and strapped himself back in. It took time and effort. Despite their training, zero-g was out of their comfort zone. This was in no way a normal state of affairs. He tried the communications console, moving to ever more primitive controls with each failed attempt.

“Morse, via radiowaves.” He waited. “No reply. Hardly surprising, they'ed have to be cavemen to be listening for that.”

“Let's go and say 'ug' hello 'ug ug'' then.” Said Phelps.

Jules remained silent as Phelps began to manoeuvre the ship down beneath the scavenger's and slowly across the huge micro welded hull plates of the warp station, constantly adjusting the ship's orientation to retain a visual lock.

“I've never actually seen one of these things from the outside before. Not by eye. The plates are unmarked. They like a Corporate luxury liner the day it leaves the slips. A hundred thousand years old...”

“At least. Make for the secondary dock under the Heraphasic bulge.”

Phelps winced. “The what? Big lump with three sets of radiator fins and a little dish thingy?“

“Little dish thingy? Yes just past the little dish thingy there's a sticky outey square with a pair of lumps. Work your thrusty wusties to take us there and you'll see the docky wocky..”.

“Got it.” Phelps' tone was all business. Jules shut up.

The silence continued as Phelps lined the ship up with the docking port. His guidance of the ship was growing more precise, but it still took him almost twenty minutes and three attempts before he let out a deep sigh and pushed his head back to the cabin roof. The ship came to rest with a solid clunk that forced a grimace from the pair.

“Ouch”.

“Time to go to work, Julian. Your station awaits.”

The docking iris had not automatically deployed. The pair were another ten minutes working the mechanism and then more time getting into their suits.

Plenty of time for anyone on board the station to react to their clumsy docking.

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