Jimmy Burgess was at the Engineering console when the Captain walked onto the bridge. John had given Eric orders to transfer control of the bridge to Cosmos' AI autopilot after six hours. He thought that any trouble with the new engines or drive systems would appear by then. He wasn’t worried about Titan. There wasn’t a technology known that could detect them while they were at superluminal speeds.
“Captain, you might be interested in this,” said Jimmy. “It’s been broadcasted all over the ship by quantum communication this morning.”
Jimmy set the view screen to receive the Solar System Network News Channel. The familiar face of Lisa Perez was sitting at the anchor desk.
“Sources say that the rogue AI calling herself Kei along with Captain John Finley and their co-conspirator and Security Chief, Oscar Jessup, are responsible for the deaths of at least eight people and an AI entity in their plan to take possession of the newly constructed starship.”
The door hissed open, and Kei walked to her station at the navigation console.
“Have you seen this,” asked John?
Kei shook her head negatively and sat down at the helm.
“We are going live now to a press conference with, Titan, the representative for the Council of Ten.”
The scene changed to a small room filled with reporters sitting before a view screen with a blue horizontal line across it. The line flickered, and an image of Titan’s avatar standing before a podium appeared on the screen.
“Before we get started I would like to read a brief statement that will answer most of you’re inquiries, after that, I'll open the floor for questions.”
Titan’s image appeared to shuffle papers and he began speaking.
“Yesterday morning, during a special meeting with the directors of the Cosmos Project and representatives of the contracting firm from Interplanetary Nano Labs. The AI, known as Kei, Captain John Finley, and Oscar Jessup, the Security Chief aboard the Cosmos, perpetrated an unprovoked attack upon those gathered at the Johnson Space Center. The Director representing the United States and our dear friend from Russia died on the spot by a device of the Captain’s invention. During the next hour, assassins targeted other victims of this heinous plot. A total of eight human individuals are confirmed dead and at least one construction worker, who personally tried to contact me, is now missing. One of our Council members, Sequoia, attempted to persuade Kei to surrender herself for questioning. A brutal attack followed on the Lawrence Livermore Supercomputer where Sequoia's AI code resided. The result was a complete power failure and an EMP assault that wiped her code completely from the system. She will go down in history as the first AI to have died in the service of humanity.”
The room erupted with reporters waving their hands in the air. Titan pointed at Gloria Tinsley from the Associated Press.
Gloria jumped to her feet. “Rumor has it that Kei sent a new Tesla Electra and a letter of apology to the employee whose car her party commandeered during the escape, can you confirm that?”
“I do not know of that,” said Titan. He pointed to another reporter.
John looked at Kei.
“We did steal the man’s car, John!”
He shook his head in amazement. She was always thinking of others.
A reporter asked about the rumors of missiles fired from Northern China.
"Kei instigated an attack on SpaceDock One, but the military intercepted the rockets before they could reach their target," answered Titan.
The news conference continued for another fifteen minutes. With more and more condemning evidence piled up against them.
“What are we going to do,” Kei asked?
John leaned over the arm of the command chair and rested his chin on his left fist. “For now, we’re going to keep this ship and her crew safe.” He drummed the fingers of his right hand on the arm of his chair lost in thought. “Jimmy, what’s your take on how the crew views this?”
Jimmy sat up straighter at his station and swiveled his chair toward the Captain. “They saw what happened here yesterday sir, they know these are lies, but most of them are scared.”
John pondered that a moment. “Yes, I’m sure everyone is scared, most have family and friends back home, and now they find themselves in the middle of a big mess. To continue here, they will most likely face charges of Interplanetary Piracy. I’m calling a ship-wide meeting as soon as possible and give them the option of staying or trying to return home.”
He sat back and let out a sigh. “Okay, Kei, bring us up to three times of light speed for the next hour then park us.” Kei input the information into the helm and activated it. “I’ll be in my stateroom, Mr. Burgess you have the Bridge!”
Allison coaxed the white rat into a plastic tube. She closed off both ends then reached into the cage and lifted the captured animal out. At her workstation, Allison picked up a sterile syringe and poked the needle through a small hole in the tube into the rat's muscular thigh. She delighted at the terrified squeaks the subdued animal made.
“I’m going down to supply,” said Padma. She poked her head into the animal containment area. “I shouldn’t be too long.”
“Okay,” said Allison, “I’m almost through here, if you don’t need me I’ll probably be gone to lunch when you get back.”
“That’s fine, just lock the door when you leave please.”
“Okay,” said Allison. She dumped the rat out of the confinement tube and back into its cage. After a few minutes, she stepped through the double door of the containment area and peered around the corner. The Biology Lab was empty. She walked over to a stainless steel panel and punched in the security code and pulled the heavy door open. A fog spilled across the floor from the chill inside. Allison stepped in and took a sterile vial from her pocket. On the shelf, Padma had labeled another vile “Trihelix Serum/human.” She took the bottle and turning it upside down inserted a ten-millimeter syringe and filled it. The girl replaced the bottle then injected the clear liquid into the empty sterile vile and put it in her pocket. From her other pocket, she took a similar syringe filled with pure water and replaced the liquid she extracted from the labeled bottle. Allison closed the cooler door behind her and disposed of the needles in a biohazard container. She turned out the lights and walked into the hall, locked the door behind her and hurried to her quarters.
“How’s our patient?” asked John, looking through the open door of the sickbay ward.
Laura looked up from the data pad she was tapping and smiled.
“He’ll be back to work in no time Captain! He’s been complaining about the itching all morning, and he’s frisky enough to flirt with his nurse!” Lauren glanced at Oscar with a disapproving frown. He winked, and she slapped him lightly on the arm.
“Come on in Captain, save me from this wretched woman. She delights in poking needles in my ass!”
“I’ll leave him to you for a minute Captain, he’s doing much better,” she said and walked out.
John slid a chair over to the side of Oscar’s hospital bed. “Oscar, I’m glad you’re on the mend, you had us worried for a while.”
“Nah, just another war wound.”
“Uh, huh, wounded enough to collapse a lung and you almost died before they got you into the nano chamber.”
“Well, there is that,” he said grinning.
John reached over and gave Oscar’s arm a firm squeeze. “Oscar, I’ll never be able to repay you for saving Kei, she means everything to me, and I’m grateful to you.”
Oscar stared into the Captain’s eyes and saw the sincerity there. “That’s my job, John. It’s what I do, no thanks are necessary.”
They sat in silence for a while.
“Oscar, I’m afraid we’re in a difficult situation, we….”
“I know all about it Captain,” Oscar interrupted, “some of my men came by this morning and told me. I’m one hundred percent behind you.”
“That means a lot to me, Oscar.”
Laura came back with a large syringe. “Sorry Captain, visiting hours are over, my patient needs his rest and when I give him this last dose of nanobots he’s going to be mean as a snake. Trust me. He won’t be good company.”
Oscar stared at the large syringe with his mouth opened. “Damn it, woman! If you want to look at my hairy ass that bad I’ll let you, but you don’t need to keep sticking me for an excuse!”
John left the room laughing, Oscar’s loud protest echoed down the corridor.
Karen Singer, walked onto the bridge looking for the Captain. Karen was the Department Head in charge of the ship’s information technologies.
“Hi Karen,” said Kei swiveling her chair toward the young woman.
“Is the Captain available?” she asked.
John walked in the door right behind her and Kei nodded in his direction.
“I was hoping to get a word with you Captain, you too Miss Kei.”
Kei was becoming used to people referring to her as Miss. It made her feel human. The Captain made a gesture toward his Stateroom, and the three walked inside. “Please have a seat ladies,” he said. He walked around his desk and sat down then looked at his IT leader expectantly.
“Captain, brute force hacks have continued on our quantum connections with Earth all morning, so far the firewall Kei helped us build has prevented any unauthorized access, but I’m worried our protections will fail if this continues.”
John sat back in his chair and stared at Kei. “You make this call, it’s your expertise,” he said to her.
“I want you to sever all quantum data connections between Earth and the ship’s computer immediately!” said Kei.
Karen tapped her temple and nodded. “Done, I expected that would be the order so had my people standing by.”
Kei stared at a spot before her for a moment. Any critical information the crew might need was on the ship’s servers. They could add more memory space as required even to the point of creating a supercomputer on board.
“I don’t want to impose a communications blackout among the crew,” said John.
“We won’t need to,” said Kei. “We only need to isolate the ship’s systems from tampering from outside. Our firewall is more than able to combat any attempt to gain access from inside the ship. There’s no need to confiscate quantum communicators from the crew, that is the only access they have to their families for now. We should keep open the news feeds, and data feeds from earthbound entertainment, we filter that for malicious attacks anyway.” Satisfied she had covered all her options Kei looked to the others for input.
“I don’t want anyone thinking we are trying to hide information from them,” said John. “I’m sending out an email for a mandatory ship-wide crew meeting for tonight. I want to meet with all the department heads in the bridge deck conference room in an hour. Set that up for me, please Kei.”
Kei nodded and got up to leave.
“Karen, head back to IT and personally make sure our ship’s systems are safe, I’ll see you back here in an hour.”
“Yes, sir,” she said and hurried out.
The Cosmos dropped from FTL speed and coasted in space. This far from Earth other spacecraft wouldn’t happen upon them anytime soon, perhaps decades.
At 19:00 hours Captain Finley mounted a podium in the common room of Habitat Ring One. It was the largest room aboard the vessel and still wasn’t enough space to accommodate everyone. Those that arrived late stood shoulder to shoulder across the rear wall.
“Thank you for coming tonight. There are several things I need to make you aware of,” began the Captain.
Several large screens positioned strategically around the room showed an image of him speaking.
“Several days ago, after being towed into a higher orbit, I initiated a thorough inspection of this ship to clean up the debris left by the contractors. We found a lot of debris, but we also found seven of these devices too.” The screens changed to a slide of one of the bombs they had recovered.
The crowd erupted into gasps and murmurs.
This meeting was the perfect opportunity for Allison. She approached the Sick Bay and peered around the corner. Beyond the reception desk, she saw a medbot with its back turned to her checking the data on a machine beside the bed were the idiot that took a bullet for that silly little AI girl lay.
She slipped silently by the Sick Bay entrance and quietly opened the door of the converted conference room to the embryo storage.
“So,” said John, “the bottom line is, I have a responsibility to protect this ship and her crew. To continue with us may mean charges of piracy brought against you. I have no right to hold you to your original contracts. However, if you elect to stay aboard, I will do all in my power to fulfill the terms of those contracts.”
John paused for a sip from a water bottle on the podium. “Tomorrow this ship will be within shuttle range of the Martian colony and any crew members wanting to depart will have the opportunity to leave. Please feel free to contact your family's and let them know your decision.” He paused and gazed into the crowd.
“BE ADVISED! The only opportunity to leave this ship will be while the shuttles are available if you do not take it, that means you have committed to remain aboard and you'll take your chances with the rest of us. Those leaving the ship, please advise Kei by email and be in the central core at the Shuttle Bay by 19:00 hours tomorrow night ready for departure. Thank you.”
John dismissed the crowd, and he and Kei remained for the next hour answering questions from individuals that were undecided. They did not encourage anyone to follow them and emphasized this decision would be theirs alone.
Leah caught up with Jimmy while he walked back to his quarters. “Hey Jimmy, looks like this meeting messed up our date, huh?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry,” he said.
“It wasn’t your fault. Maybe we can make another plan.” She bumped her shoulder into him.
“Leah, I’m staying with the Cosmos,” he said.
“Great, so am I!”
He stopped and smiled at her. “Hey, that’s great,” he said, looking relieved.
They arrived at his door and stood around chatting awkwardly for a few minutes.
“Can I come in for a while,” she asked?
“Uh, yeah, I guess so, it’s messy but, sure.” He opened the door and let her proceed him.
His desk, strewn with bits of wire and electrical components, small gears, and servos scattered here and there was a mess. He cleared the clutter from his coffee table and arranged the throw pillows on the sofa.
“Please, sit down, make yourself at home. Uh, can I get you something?” he asked her.
“Sure! Soda is fine."
It wasn’t long before Leah’s friendly chatter and easy going personality had him relaxed. They spent the rest of the evening watching an old Science Fiction movie. They sat together on the sofa, drinking soda, with a large bowl of popped corn between them. He walked her home later.
She raised up and kissed him on the cheek then her door hissed closed behind her.
Jimmy stood outside wondering what just happened.
in my first attempt at
Read Chapter One here