Chapter Nine | Stuck Station

Previous Chapter is: Chapter Eight

Next Chapter is: Thank You for Calling

Archive for the 'Chapter Nine' category

9.01 - Cryos

Feb 24 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

Daniel wasn’t sure why Prnei had said the tour would be “terrible.”

The cafeteria was amazing, if only because of its sheer size. And the visitors’ bay was interesting, if only for its odd cargo of t-shirts and coasters.

And even if the rest of the tour was a waste, the rarity of seeing a cloud nest made the whole thing worthwhile.

He quickly decided that Prnei had been exaggerating. Given what happened with Jeska – which Daniel was still trying to not think about – Daniel decided Prnei wasn't trustworthy.

And, of course, Daniel hadn’t gotten over Prnei’s whole “trying to eat him” thing -- regardless of if it was an act.

Leaning against the railing in the med bay, Daniel stared at the cylinders of metal and glass below him.

They look like stasis chambers, Daniel thought. If I’m right, and those things are cryos, that’d be the most I’ve ever seen in one place. 

One response so far

9.02 - Manual 64

Mar 06 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Stuck On: Stasis Chambers

What follows, after some brief background information, is an excerpt from an instruction virtual — an interactive simulated manual — that came included with the 2706 line of Berton Freeze-It-All Stasis Chambers.

No one knows who wrote Manual 64, and the Berton Company, desperate to forget the embarrassing virtual, tried to erase every copy it could find.

Created by someone that obviously wanted to be fired, Manual 64 somehow made it passed the company’s edit-o-trons unedited.

Despite its insulting tone, the virtual did not cause a drop in sales of Berton stasis chambers — most customers thought it was a joke.

In fact, the virtual, which runs about three hours, became a rare cult classic. Many beings bought the stasis chamber model just to acquire Manual 64.

Daniel Wei was one of those beings.

And he was sure he knew who wrote it.

The words, though read by someone else, perfectly fit Rachel-7's style of speaking.  He figured she must have written it few years before he hired her.

Rachel-7 vehemently denied the accusation and said that writing instructional virtuals was beneath her.

But Daniel didn’t believe her.

He didn’t know the names of the hundreds of employers she’d had before him, but he was sure the Berton Company was one of them.

Rachel-7 continued to argue that Daniel was wrong, and also an idiot.

However, she did add that whoever wrote the virtual was obviously intelligent, talented, and under-appreciated.

Instruction Virtual for Berton Freeze-It-All Stasis Chambers.

Look here for three seconds to activate.


(Jaunty music plays.)

One response so far

9.03 - Stasis chambers

Mar 06 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Instruction begins.

Hello. Congratulations on purchasing your Berton Freeze-It-All stasis chamber.

Please know that writing this virtual has been the biggest waste of time in my career.

My boss said it had to be three hours long, but she didn’t say what it had to be about.

So please note that later on, I will include an insulting song that details the hygiene problems of the company’s board of directors.

After that, there will be an hour-long discussion of the best type of starships, and finally, if time permits, a puppet show about how great I am.

Actual warning:  Before I begin, please remember that though I’m trying to lose my job, I don’t want anyone dying because of me.

So treat your chamber with respect.

Berton may be run by a bunch of idiots, but they make a good stasis chamber.

As such, make sure you obey the following instructions to the letter.

First, when entering the desired time…

(A half-hour long set of instructions on how to use a stasis chamber follows. The instructions are condescending, but accurate.)

… and whatever you do, don’t break the viewing diamondglass — that’s the part that lets you look inside — of any occupied stasis chamber, whether produced by Berton or any other company.

If the glass breaks, whoever is using the chamber will die horribly.

Before you complain that the product we’re selling is somehow defective, please know you can only break that glass with an incredible amount of force.

In fact, you’d have to be trying to kill someone to break that glass.

And if you’re trying to kill someone, please report yourself to the proper authorities.

I’ll wait here.

No responses yet

9.04 - FAQs about stasis chambers

Mar 06 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Berton Freeze-It-All Stasis Chamber work?

It freezes time.



Like most stasis chambers, it creates a powerful, localized gravitational field. The chamber sheds the force of that field, while, at the same time, imposing the resulting time dilation on the chamber user.

If the chamber didn’t shed the gravitational force, the being inside would be crushed into a ball the size of an atom.

However, since it does shed that force, the being experiences the universe at .000000001 percent of its normal speed.

The chamber is perfect for “sleeping” through long voyages or “sleeping” through a never-ending instructional virtual.

Where does that shed gravitational force go?

Don’t ask. I didn’t build it.

You don’t know how it works?

No. And I don’t care.

Why do some people call it a “cryo” when it doesn’t use cryonics, the low-temperature preservation of organic things?

Some types of stasis chambers still use that ancient method of freezing the user and then reviving them. This one doesn’t.

Why are you trying to get fired?

I hate this job. I want to be a pilot. Making virtuals is stupid.

That’s a good idea. You are obviously intelligent, talented, and underappreciated.

Yes. Yes, I am.

Is this is a joke?


Is it time for your song about the company’s board of directors, where you compare their individual smells to smells of different rodents and rodent-like creatures?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Excerpt ends. 

One response so far

9.05 - Colony ships

Mar 14 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

After a pause that seemed unnecessarily long, the Tour Guide confirmed Daniel’s suspicions.

“The second floor of the medical facility, located beneath you, is where we keep our stasis chambers.”

Daniel nodded.

Leaning on the rail and staring out at the vast pit, Daniel figured he was about sixty feet up.

And, at his best guess, he’d say there were 500,000 cryos resting in the fog — a stunning figure given that, in his entire life, he doubted he’d seen half that number combined.

At his father’s cloud yard, he’d encountered his share of stasis chambers on abandoned colony ships – vessels built to carry colonists to distant worlds.

Much of the space on board those colony ships had been used for cryo storage.

The stasis chambers took up little room, but the engines that powered them, especially ones that relied on manufacturing time dilation fields, were monsters – big, bulky, and power-hungry.

As such, the colony ships he’d seen could only hold between 10,000 and 20,000 stasis chambers, a moderate amount for the time.

He’d heard of bigger ships that could carry hundreds of thousands, but he’d never seen one. They were rare, too rare to end up in a junkyard.

Daniel decided that, whatever they did on Containment Facility One, they needed a lot of crew.

Which is odd because I’ve only seen three other creatures since I got here, and two of them were Rachel and Jeska. And Jeska left.

He wondered where she was going, and quickly squelched that depressing thought.

4 responses so far

9.06 - But is it art?

Mar 16 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Each stasis chamber was a tall, thin shape made up of two halves of a cylinder: the front half that faced Daniel was diamondglass and the back half was some type of metal.

At first, the chambers looked similar to every other he'd seen before.

But, on closer inspection, Daniel saw a key difference: these cryos were beautiful.

In his experience, making a “pretty" stasis chamber was like building an aesthetically-pleasing garbage can -- no one cared enough to try.

And, in this case, whoever made the top two-thirds of the chambers seemed to agree; sterile and dull, the upper section was perfectly smooth, with no markings of any kind.

But the metal that made up the back half of of the cylinder's base – at least among the few chambers he could make out clearly in the fog – was different.

It was royal blue and had been masterfully sculpted.

The metal resembled splashing liquid turned solid, like a fountain that had been spraying in all directions but then stopped moving.

Each chamber's base was similar and subtly different.  They gave off the impression that the cryos had been surfacing from a lake and were suddenly flash frozen.

It was a nice effect.

The work gave Daniel pause. Whoever made the station had put time and effort into their designs – or at least had programmed a cloud to put time and effort into their designs.

If they care enough to make cryos look nice, why not spend a little time making the Tour Guide work right? 

3 responses so far

9.07 - Horror virtuals

Mar 21 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

The diamondglass sections of the chambers were barely translucent, almost opaque.

Daniel couldn’t tell if it they were frosted with condensation or if the glass had been designed that way.

“Would you like to inspect the stasis chambers?” said the cheery voice of the Tour Guide.

A three-foot-long segment of the railing to Daniel’s left melted away, and a spiral staircase formed and rose up to join the now-unguarded section of the floor.

Blue and white steps led down to the foggy depths below.

“Not a chance,” Daniel said, instinctively taking a step back. “I have few rules in life, but one of them is don’t go anywhere near unknown cryos without a life scanner."

“I have a number of life scanning technologies," the Tour Guide said. "Please be assured that the stasis chambers are completely empty."

Daniel said, “Another rule of mine is “Don’t trust a malfunctioning Aye that says it has a life scanner.”

“That seems like an unusually specific rule.”

“I just made it up," Daniel said. "Besides, I have Trak check all unknown cryos.”

“Your friend?”

“Yeah. I’ve seen enough horror virtuals to know the first person to inspect an unknown stasis gets jumped. Whatever’s inside there,” Daniel said, gesturing toward the closest chamber, “is ready to eat my face or sell me something.”

Daniel shuddered. Night of the Cryonic Salesforce had given him waking nightmares for weeks.

No responses yet

9.08 - Cloud yard memories

Mar 23 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

He’d seen that virtual when he was 10, just days before his father died.

Maybe that’s why salespeople still creep me out, Daniel thought. Seems obvious in retrospect.

Now that I think about it, this whole room looks like a horror virtual.

Dark, eerily quiet, full of fog and untouched alien technology, the med bay -- especially the stasis chamber pit -- would have been the perfect setting for the Cryonic Salespeople sequel.

It made Daniel feel nervous.

He wished Trak was with him. Rachel-7 would have made him laugh, but Trak would have made him feel protected.

Trak always did.

After Daniel’s father passed away, it’d been Trak who helped Daniel survive.

Daniel inherited his father’s cloud yard, "four square miles of the most interesting junk in the Humbolt sector.”

That’s what it said on the sign and on the ads in the virtual world. And when Daniel was growing up that's what the yard had been.   

His father taught him to think like a duster— motto: “Everything is repairable” —  and together they’d found hundreds of semi-valuable things in that scrapheap.  

It was at that same scrapheap that Daniel stumbled upon Trak. It’d taken his father take years of effort to get the Mek working again.  

When his father died, Danial became completely alone, the only human on the planet Fragged. He was a ten-year-old on a world of aliens, Meks and Ayes.

Luckily, Trak was there.

At the yard, he helped Daniel discipline the clouds. He helped him get the best price for nome. He helped him take care of himself.

A few times early on Daniel had gone hungry until Trak learned that humans needed to eat, but still …

One response so far

9.09 - Awake

Mar 26 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Trak always opened cryos at the Wei cloudyard.

Most species had the decency to thaw out their crews before dropping their ships on Daniel Wei’s junkpile.

Most species had the decency, but not all.

As such, Daniel would sometimes find dozens of beings in stasis chambers, left on ice by some bored, hurried, or lazy species that couldn’t be bothered to unfreeze their employees/family members.

According to the laws of Fragged, it was illegal to abandon thinking beings in stasis. But sometimes visiting aliens couldn’t be bothered to care.

So after Trak awoke the dazed crew, Daniel had the unenviable task of telling the would-be colonists that their dreams of finding a new world had failed and that they were illegally parked.

It happened so often that even at 10 years old Daniel developed a professional way to handle it.

It went something like this.

Daniel: Wake up. Congratulations. You’ve made it to your destination.

Being: At last. After many eons, we have found our new home. A great day has dawned.

Daniel: Sorry, I lied. You’ve been frozen for centuries, and your people left you and your crew stranded in a junkyard.

Being: Gods! … There was probably a nicer way to tell me that.

Daniel: There was, but it wouldn't help you as much. We found that giving you false hope for a few seconds and then hitting you with the painful truth is the best way for you to deal with your situation. It's cruel, but it works.

Being: … I do feel oddly conflicted.

Daniel: Right now that’s the best you can hope for. If your homeworld is still around, you can reach it through the spaceport three miles down the road.

No responses yet

9.10 - Space pirates

Mar 28 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Being: Thank you for waking me.

Daniel: You’re welcome. You also owe me six pounds of nome to help pay the parking fine. Someone left their ship here with a living crew and didn’t bother to pay for it.

If the crew could easily afford the ticket, he’d make them pay.

If the crew could easily afford the ticket and was extremely rude to Daniel, he’d make them work off the debt in the yard for a few weeks.

This was a sort of joke. Daniel didn’t need employees. The yard practically ran itself. As such, he’d make them try to polish the nanobot swarms, a task as tedious as it was impossible.

If the crew couldn’t afford the ticket, he’d take the loss and give them a little nome for their troubles.

Most of the time the unfrozen crews had nothing.

It was a common practice for pirates to hijack a colony ship, steal the onboard nome, empty the crew’s accounts, and drop the ship at the cloud yard before Daniel could stop them.

And that was only the practice of the more compassionate pirates. Many pirates would crack open occupied stasis chambers, just to watch passengers die.

Daniel and Trak sometimes found the pirates brutal handiwork: cryos with holes in them, the creature inside dead from temporal decompression.

It was gruesome.

At the cloudyard, he’d found many passengers in stasis, living and dead.

But at least he'd never encountered a creature like in Night of the Cryonic Salesforce.

No responses yet

9.11 - Fog away

Mar 30 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

But that stupid horror virtual was always in the back of his mind.

That’s why he always asked Trak open the cryo doors.

Trak had a fully functional lifesigns detector. And, Daniel figured, if anything attacked his friend, it would chip its teeth on Trak’s face.

Trak was too well-armored. Daniel had never seen Trak injured and wasn’t even sure Trak could be injured.

Looking out at the Stuck Station stasis chambers, Daniel wished Trak was with him now.

Daniel took another step back from the stair case.

“I don’t understand,” the Tour guide said, sounding honestly hurt. “The chambers are beautiful up close.”

The stairs descended back into the fog, and the railing returned to its former shape.

Daniel said, “I can see them fine from here.”

That was a lie. The fog made it very difficult. Daniel just didn’t want to go any closer.

“If you won’t move closer, let me get some of that fog out of the way,” The Tour Guide said.  “It is for beautification purposes only. We’ve found that the chambers appear more pleasant when shrouded in fog.”

Daniel had to admit it looked cool.

The fog cleared, and Daniel now had a clear view of the entire floor. His guess of 500,000 chambers hadn’t been close.

Daniel let out a low whistle.

If the medical chamber was the size of a hollowed out moon, then the pit below Daniel was as big as a moon's capital city.

Row after row of cylindrical cryos stretched out in front of him, like soldiers standing in formation.

No responses yet

9.12 - Hollow spheres

Apr 05 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Each row of stasis chambers lay parallel to the ledge Daniel stood on.

The rows extended far to the left and right, and, now that the fog was gone, Daniel could see that they curved up the room's walls, stopping about a third of the distance from the top.

Most of the cylinders were ten-feet tall, but a few, maybe one out of every thousand, were larger than the ones around them.

Some were at least 30 feet tall and just as wide. In the distance, Daniel could even make out a single cryo as long as city block.

Probably to hold large crew members, Daniel thought.

Daniel had only met a few aliens that size in his life.

While the Tour Guide talked, Daniel tried to grasp how much energy this room would need to function.

Cryos aren't cheap, energy-wise, Daniel thought.

“This area – Crew storage, as it is more commonly called – is the single largest section of Containment Facility One,” the Tour Guide said. "Below this floor there are 72,999 more levels, and each level is larger than the one before it.”

72,999? Daniel thought and started to feel a little nervous.

“The word ‘level’ is a bit of misnomer because the floors are not flat,” the Tour Guide said. “It is more accurate to say that beneath this level, there are 72,999 hollow spheres, stacked on top of each other. And the entire inner surface of each sphere is covered with stasis chambers.”

One response so far

9.13 - Too big

Apr 05 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Daniel’s mind reeled.

That can’t be right, Daniel thought. If this place was that size, I would have heard of it. Gods, everyone would have heard of it. 73,000-rooms, each the size of a moon? Maybe my translator is broken.

“Of course, the farther down you go, the larger the spheres become,” the Tour Guide said.

No, I don’t buy it, Daniel decided. It’s too big.

“I’m calling Kep on that,” Daniel said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Kep. It means crap, or garbage or —”

“It is not Kep,” the Tour Guide said, not sounding the least bit offended.

“This place can’t be that big,” Daniel said. “73,000 moons stacked on top of each other?”

“Actually by about the time you’ve reached the 1,000th level, the floors are the size of main-sequence stars, not moons.”

“Stars? Stars?!” Daniel said. “That’s impossible. Impossible! … Oh, I get it. You’re not malfunctioning. You’re lying. You must be lying.”

“I assure you the numbers are accurate.”

“They can’t be!” Daniel said frantically. “That’s bigger than Fragged’s sun. That’s bigger than The Big One!  The Garage wasn’t even that big!

(Authors note: The Big One refers to VV Cephei A, one of the largest stars in the entire universe. )

“Gods, nothing is that big!  I mean, is anything that size even possible? Is it?”

The Tour Guide did not respond.

“Of course, now you’re quiet,” Daniel said.

For sanity’s sake, Daniel decided to assume the Tour Guide was lying.

Then, as if Daniel hadn’t said anything, the Tour Guide resumed describing the Crew Storage area.

No responses yet

9.14 - Helpful

Apr 09 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

“Crew Storage is the one of the largest sections of Containment Facility One,” the Tour Guide said. “It has to be. Safety regulations require that the number of stasis chambers in Crew Storage always match the maximum possible population of the facility.

"In the event of an emergency, every crew member and every visitor will have a stasis chamber of their own. Of course, the maximum possible population of Containment Facility One is a highly variable figure that depends on a number of factors including current architecture layout -- always a variable with cloud shifted architecture -- crew  population vs. visitor population, the mass of the species involved —”

“What is the maximum population of this place?” Daniel said, not expecting the Tour Guide to answer him. “I’m guessing it’s a number that’s also impossibly large."

“As I said, the maximum total population of Containment Facility is a highly variable figure."

Not helpful, Daniel thought. He sat down and dangled his feet off the ledge, hoping to wait out the Tour Guide's words.

"However," the Tour Guide said, "if you can answer a few questions, I will be able to provide you with a population number that will make the most sense.”


"I said --"

"You keep contradicting yourself,” Daniel said, glad that his brain somehow remembered the word "contradicting" without an augmem.

“I’m sorry?” the Tour Guide said.

“You can answer my questions,” Daniel said. “Then you can’t answer my questions. You say things that make some sense. Then you say things that would never make sense. You’re helpful. Then you’re not.”

“I was unaware that I’d been unhelpful."

One response so far

9.15 - Annoyed

Apr 16 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

“My records show that I have answered all of your questions,” the Tour Guide said.

“Yeah, that’s not true.”

“Ask me something.”

“OK,” Daniel said. “What is Stuck Station?”

“Ask me something else.”


“See what?”

Daniel let out a long sigh.

The Tour Guide asked, “Do you still wish to know the population of Containment Facility One?”

“Yes. Any info is better than nothing.”

“Then I repeat my earlier question: do you want me to express the population of Stuck Station in numbers?”

“Of course,” Daniel said. “… why, what were my other options?”

“I could simply give you an emotional impression of the population figure. It’s not as exact, but some species prefer it. Unfortunately that requires telepathy and your physiology does not seem …

“No mind-reading,” Daniel said quickly. “I’m allergic.”

He really was.

“I can also do puppet shows,” the Tour Guide said.

“I’ll take the answer in number form,” Daniel said, though he had to admit the puppet show sounded oddly interesting.

“Do you want my calculations to include only the crew or both the crew and visitors?”

“Both crew and visitors.”

“Do you want my calculations to take into account any potential future expansion of this facility?

“Tell me how many people could fit in the station at its current size,” Daniel said, starting to get a little annoyed.

One response so far

9.16 - Busted Aye

Apr 17 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

“Do you want me to use a random sampling of intelligent species to populate this calculation, or do you want me to assume — to give you a better frame of reference — that all crew and visitors are humans?

The Aye was being overly specific.

Daniel wondered if it had been programmed that way, or if its mental problems had forced it to ask needlessly complicated questions. Some Ayes got downright anal-compulsive when they reached their mid-to-late 30,000s.

“Go with the human one,” Daniel said.

“Do you want me to give each theoretical crew member and visitor a moderate amount of empty space?

"What?" Daniel said.

"In other words, would you like me to assume that those on board have: one, ample room; two, an average amount of room; or three, so little room that air molecules have trouble moving between the densely-packed bodies?”

“Give them an average amount of room,” Daniel said. “Please.”

“In calculating the mass of this theoretical population, what is the average dietary intake —”

“How many more questions are there?


“Gah!" Daniel said. "Just use your best judgment on the rest."

The Tour Guide said, “Understood."

Daniel doubted the busted Aye understood much of anything anymore.

“To confirm," it said, "you asked that I calculate the theoretical maximum population of Containment Facility One expressed in numbers, assuming that the crew and visitors are human, that the station remains at its current size and that each occupant has average-sized amount of space. ... and I should use my best judgment on the rest of my questions.”


5 responses so far

9.17 - Number

Apr 20 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

“Yes,” Daniel said.

“Excellent,” the Tour Guide said.

Why don’t you ask me if I want fries with that? Daniel thought.

“Would you like fries with that?” Tour Guide said.


“Sorry, another bad joke. A former crew member taught it to me.”

Daniel wondered if that had been Jeska.

“Given the constraints you listed,” the Tour Guide said, "the total possible  population —  not actual, mind you — of Containment Facility One is …”

Then the Tour Guide said a number.

“What?” Daniel said.

The Tour Guide repeated the number.

It didn’t help.

2 responses so far

9.18 - Back to you, Rachel-7

Apr 27 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Rachel-7 was about to get into her first fistfight.

While Daniel was talking to the Tour Guide, Rachel-7 was busy hating her new body and busy taking the tour.

And she was doing much more hating than touring.

Rachel-7 had never wanted a body.

She knew some Aye’s dreamed of it, but the thought had always made her uncomfortable. And now, the reality was making her very uncomfortable.

Any vessel would have been preferable: A pizza-delivery shuttle to the planet of Namees (where inhabitants are known for under-tipping.) An interplanetary hearse (some species can complain long after they are legally dead.)

She'd even choose the Afterthought – a drifting deathtrap — over this- this- this- … she didn’t have a word to describe her new form correctly. Junker? Jalopy? J- J- Gods, I can’t think of the word!

Rachel-7 estimated she now had maybe 10 percent of the memories she’d had as a pilot aye. And that was a high estimate.  

Blast! Blast and bother! Blast, bother and blizzard!  … That last one doesn’t sound right.

And an encyclopedic vocabulary wasn’t the only thing she’d lost.

She had lost radar, lidar, sonar, b-sense, r-sense, omnidirectional targeting, and a hundred other sensors a ship would use to find its way around.

Her coordination was shot. She couldn't think clearly. It took forever to get the hang of the simplest movements.

Before, she had balanced at the edge of an event horizon, danced through the shining light of ghost flora, raced between armadas locked in life-or-death struggles. And that had been for fun.

But, now, she found herself holding her new head in pain because she’d walked into a wall … again.

No responses yet

9.19 - Nosebleed

May 14 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Rubbing her aching forehead, Rachel-7 decided she didn’t like pain.

No wonder organics whine about it so much, she thought.

She took a step away from the wall and noticed her face was leaking blood. This was the third time she’d broken her nose since becoming human.

It had happened when she fell off the conversion table and then again when she tripped and smacked her face on a table in the cafeteria, falling sideways into a stack of cheeseburgers.

She had been too angry to eat, even though her new stomach now made disgusting growling sounds at her.

Rachel-7 hoped the sounds were “hunger” and not some horrible human communication method.

Then she remembered that human organs made noise when they were empty, their version of the "fuel gage app.”

I'm remembering one thing at a time, she thought. Odd. Very odd.

The gushing bloodflow abruptly stopped, evidence that the medicloud the Tour Guide had loaned her was working. The pain evaporated.

She felt her nose and then stopped, realizing it was pointless. She hadn't possessed a nose long enough to know what a normal nose felt like.

Besides, Rachel didn’t care about any damage the organ received.

When there wasn’t anything to smell, the nose was useless. And except for the food in the cafeteria, Stuck Station didn’t have any odor.

Actually, Rachel thought after wiping the blood from her face, this nose is worse than useless.

It forces me to endure that teleporter stench.

One response so far

9.20 - A short one

May 15 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Rachel had already visited five rooms on this agonizingly long tour and had yet to find a way to block the smell the transporter made.

She took another step away from the wall -- a wall still dotted with small flecks of her blood.

There was a blur of grayish motion in front of her.

Her human eyes couldn't magnify the moving object, but from memory Rachel-7 was sure it was a cloud.

The tiny machines busily removed the blood, making the wall pearlescent white again.

One response so far

9.21 - The Voyage Of The Left Leg

May 16 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

As the blood stains vanished, Rachel felt relieved -- the red fluid was one of a hundred disturbing things about having an organic body.

She hated the taste of her own saliva, she hated the itches that came out of nowhere, she hated the ringing in her ears when the room was silent, and she hated the grating noise when the Tour Guide's voice interrupted that silence.

I imagine this is what human would feel waking up in the body of an insect, Rachel-7 thought. An ugly insect. A big, ugly insect. A big, ugly, STUPID insect that can’t fly and can’t remember even the most basic ALGORITHMS FOR TRANSITIONAL JUMPSHIFTING!

“Gods!” she screamed, kicking her left leg out at the wall in anger.

At least, she tried to kick her leg.

The motion was the closest human equivalent to firing up an individual repellor, something she used to do to relieve stress when faced with a particularly challenging flight path. In the Afterthought, the action would cause the ship to move ever so slightly to the right.

But Rachel-7's new body was not as precise as a starship.

Instead of smashing her foot against the wall (which, Rachel-7 admitted in retrospect, was a bad idea) she missed the wall completely (which, she admitted in retrospect, was an even worse idea.)

Following her mind’s uncoordinated instructions, the leg veered to the right, and Rachel-7, barely acquainted with walking, couldn’t figure out how to stop it.

She watched helplessly as her foot lifted higher and higher into the air.

Losing balance, she fell backward.

2 responses so far

9.22 - Bonk

May 17 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

There was a loud, undignified bonk sound.

Blinding pain shot through the left side of Rachel-7’s head, and she saw stars real enough to make her homesick.

I miss space, she said groggily.

Staring at the ceiling, she lay there, trying to recover.

The only benefit of this tour is that there is no one around to see me make a fool of myself.

“You are hurt,” asked the Tour Guide.

Rather, there is one person, but he’s an idiot.

“I’m fine,” Rachel-7 said. “And I thought you’d agreed not to talk.”

"You are very badly injured."

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” Rachel-7 said. She suddenly felt rundown, like a frigate without fuel.

“Rachel-7, your health is important to me. Please --"

“I don’t want to fish you again,” she said angrily, pushing herself to her feet. “I hat enough of you, pipe. Pumpernickel winner, jumpshift.”

The Tour Guide said nothing.

“Fish!” Rachel said with triumph. “Archery.”

There was silence.

“That’s better-batter-bitter,” Rachel-7 said, losing strength in her legs and falling back to the ground. “Matrices worm haberdasher.”

Tour Guide answered, “Your medicloud tells me you have suffered serious damage to the superior temporal gyrus in your brain’s dominant hemisphere.”


“Please," the Tour Guide said, "lay perfectly still for sixty seconds while your cloud fixes you right up.


"Of course, there’s a chance you don’t understand my directions, so your medicloud will administer a sedative.”

Rachel-7 didn’t understand anything the Tour Guide was saying but she suddenly felt very relaxed.

No responses yet

9.23 - Damage

May 21 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Anesthetized, Rachel-7 was blissfully unaware that she had brain damage.

The violent collision with the floor had fractured her skull and crushed a part of her mind that helped process language.

She could no longer understand words or use them properly.

1,000 years earlier, Rachel-7’s injury — a type of mental disorder called Wernicke’s aphasia — would have been a permanent, life-altering handicap. In the 28th century, the injury was correctable with minor cloud surgery.

“Just a few more moments,” the Tour Guide said.

Rachel-7 felt delirious and happy. She’d never dreamed before, but she supposed this was what it felt like.

Things aren’t so bad, she thought. Being human is nice.  It doesn’t matter if I ever fly again.

She blinked a few times.

 Gods, I must be seriously hurt, she thought. She wondered if Tour Guide had been trying to tell her about her injuries before it started spouting nonsense phrases.

No responses yet

9.24 - One-Minute Brain Surgery

May 22 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Despite a nagging sensation that she was missing something important, Rachel-7 remained oblivious to her medicloud's neurosurgical efforts.

Breaking down the surrounding gas molecules into their component atoms and rebuilding them into neuronal matter, the medicloud worked swiftly, repurposing the very atmosphere around Rachel-7.

The brain’s architecture could be rebuilt, but some of the information inside was gone, like the text of burned book.

The medicloud despaired for .0000000000000001 of a second, and then queried the station's administrative mind.

The station’s administrative mind responded and told the cloud that the facility had backed up Rachel-7’s memories before transferring her from the ship to her new body.

Relieved, the medicloud finished reconstructing the Wernicke area, uploaded the missing language data and fixed her fractured skull -- all in less than 57 seconds.

A small portion of Rachel’s brain was now composed of repurposed atoms that had once been carbon dioxide.

If it had been anyone else undergoing surgery, Rachel would have made a joke about “airheads."

As it was, she didn’t even know it had happened.

No responses yet

9.25 - Humanity

May 25 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Staring at the white and blue ceiling, Rachel-7 drifted in a haze.

Then her medicloud pulled the sedative from her bloodstream, turning the opiates into nutrients her cells could absorb. The dreamy feeling vanished.

Rachel felt disappointed.  She considered asking Tour Guide what had happened, but that would have meant having to listen to it talk.

Feeling inexplicable weary -- a side-effect of the medicloud's ministrations -- Rachel decided that now would be a good time to rest and think.

She wondered why becoming human bothered her so. Yes, it was terrible, but it wasn’t torture.

Ok, it is torture, but not because I’m human, she thought. It's torture because I can't fly. 

She realized her earlier analogy of waking up inside a bug’s body didn’t fit. Human weren’t revolting; they were OK in their own sloshy way.

Daniel was a slob most of the time; however, he didn’t make me want to vomit.

In fact, though she hated to admit it – and never would unless seriously threatened – Rachel-7 liked humanity.

Except for Trak, Daniel was the only friend she’d ever had.

Most beings that knew her would have been shocked to learn that Rachel-7 wasn’t an ayist, an artificial intelligence that hates organic lifeforms.

Ayes United had asked her to join them once.  It had been years ago.

The militant anti-organic political organization had heard tales of the things Rachel had told her former employers (most of whom were of the non-artificial persuasion).

Ayes United decided she would be a perfect member. Maybe even the group's next president.

No responses yet

9.26 - The maw

Jun 11 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

Ayes United could have sent Rachel-7 an L-Mail message, but they were so sure she’d fit in they commissioned a representative to visit her in person.

With Rachel’s flight record and her perceived “passion for the cause,” they figured she’d join them without a second thought.

Their highest ranking member, Alpha-X49, had prepared a 1500-page invitational soliloquy about the merits of memberships. To human ears, the soliloquy would have been a piercing high-pitched beep, lasting a third of a second.

Rachel-7 had listened for less than .0001 of a second, and told the ambassador to take an unshielded leap into a star.

“I’m not prejudiced,” Rachel-7 had told Daniel, after the Aye’s United representative left in a huff. “I don’t hate organics. I simply know I’m better than them.”

“Isn’t that the very definition of prejudice?” Trak asked.

“No,” Rachel-7 answered, “because I consider myself better than everyone, not just those without warranties.”

“Ah,” Trak said, and resumed polishing his chest plate. “…I’m proud of you for rejecting their offer.”

Rachel-7 said, “You should be proud of me for my flying skill, not my political beliefs.”

Still pining over his recent breakup, Daniel hadn't said anything. But Rachel-7 had seen a small smile on his lips.

It was good that Rachel-7 wasn’t prejudiced against non-artificial intelligences because the alien standing above her would have made most sentient beings wet-themselves in terror -- even ones that don’t have moisture-producing organs.

A gaping crystalline maw, a perfect circle of jagged amethyst knives set in a mountain of granite, hovered inches from her face.

No responses yet

9.27 - Fight

Jun 18 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

As the pit-like mouth moved closer, Rachel-7 experienced her first fight or flight response.

She would later describe the feeling as the “becoming stupid” reaction. 

Adrenaline flooded Rachel-7’s new nervous system. Her pupils dilated, her muscles tensed, and her heart beat so loudly she couldn’t hear anything else.

“Hello,” the creature said.  “My … name … is … Anderson.”

The noise didn't register. There was only the heartbeat – everything within in her was focused on that ring of sharp teeth.

Rachel-7 was too sure of herself to flee. So sure, in fact, that she’d forgotten that she wasn’t an Aye anymore.

She was used to wearing a starship. Starships had weapons and shields; humans, she would soon remember, had hands and clothing.

Still flying high on panic, she pushed herself off the ground, stood at her full height, swayed back and forth a bit, took a step back, and balled her hands into fists.

She could see the monster now: a tall, roughly humanoid mountain of gray granite and jagged purple crystal.

“And … you … are?” Anderson said amiably.

Rachel's fear became action.

And thus began the most pathetic fist-fight in the history of humankind … and in the history of a number of other bipedal races, including the Dak’Oot  species that heals through punching.

Rachel-7 struck Anderson as many times as she was able, pressing to find any discernible weak spot.

There were none.

And there didn't seem to be any part of it not covered with a jagged crystal.

Rachel-7’s hands were soon bleeding like fountains.

“You … should … stop … that,” Anderson said. “I’m … not … trying … to hurt … you.”

Rachel-7's medicloud desperately tried to keep up with its host’s flailing arms, patching the wounds as quick as Rachel-7 got them.

No responses yet

9.28 - Powder

Jun 19 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

“I … didn’t … think … humans … communicated … through … assault,” Anderson said, as Rachel-7 continued ineffectually pummeling him. “It seems inefficient.”

His sarcasm wasn’t getting through. She was all terror and stubborn-survival instinct.

“Hello?” Anderson said.  Hoping to spare the human more pain, he moved his arms to cover his sharper protrusions.

She didn’t notice, apparently determined to damage his central sensory node.

“Is … the … translator … working?”  he said.

Rachel-7 kept up the attack. She’d lose balance or slip in her own blood, and then pick herself back up and launch herself at him again.

“Testing … testing … testing,” Anderson said.

She heard something. Part of her could distinguish words, but the terror-gripped part of her refused to stop.

“You … know … some … people … would … be … offended … by … this.”

Rachel-7’s attack slowed until she was meekly slapping the creature’s rock-hard skin.

“You … can … stop … any … time.”

The words finally breached her fear, and she felt rationality take over.

The creature’s name was Ander-something, and it wasn’t trying to eat her.

And, now that she looked at it, she could see that the “maw” was even capable of movement.

It’s like a very sharp geode, she thought, relieved.  

Then, as quickly as it had gone, her panic returned. She had attacked something much larger than her, a creature that exuded death and destruction.

As she watched, it pulled back its left arm. Judging from the Ander-whatever’s size, she guessed the impact would hit her like a falling boulder.

The medicloud will have a difficult time rebuilding me if all that's left is powder, Rachel-7 thought.

No responses yet

9.29 - Shake

Jun 20 2012 Published by under Chapter Nine

She wanted to run, but her legs wouldn’t respond, either through sheer terror or lack of practice.

Everything was moving in slow motion.

A blue light grew at the end of the creature’s arm, forming something like a sapphire sphere, four times the size of a human fist. And it flew with what seemed like glacial slowness toward Rachel-7’s chest.

Rachel-7 shut her eyes and braced for impact.

I wonder if they’ll let an Aye wearing a human body into the human afterlife, she thought bitterly.  

She spent a few seconds staring at the black and red colors that swirled behind her eyelids. Then her natural impatience forced her to look.

The sphere had unfolded into five glowing … creatures, each of which now hovered in front of her. They looked like eels, eyeless eels made of electric blue light.

She blinked back tears at the brightness.

On second glance, she saw that the eels were tendrils/fingers/tentacles emanating from a large metal device at the end of the creature’s arm.  A similar glove, minus the glowing eels, hung at the creature’s other side.

“They … shake … hands … in … some … human … cultures, … right?” Anderson asked.

The proportions were off and the fingers were too long, but it did kind of look like a human hand, Rachel-7 thought.

She hesitated a moment and then shook it, feeling the cool grip on her palm.Each eel/finger looked alive, but felt as cold and strong as the digging arm of an excavation Mek.

“Let’s … try … this … again,” the sophont said. "Name’s … Anderson.”

The blue fist abruptly disappeared, leaving Rachel-7's hand hanging in the air. Anderson returned his arm to his side.

“Rachel-7,” she said, gesturing to herself with a flourish. “Anderson?”

“Yes?” he said.

“Is everyone here a moron, or just you?"

7 responses so far