Death has no shadow, p.1
Death Has No Shadow
Avar-Tek Event 2
by Justin Tyme
Story copyright © 2012 Justin Tyme
Cover art copyright © 2012 Kirk DouPonce
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For all the poets and authors at the Wayne Writer’s Guild.
May your muse never sleep.
Table of Contents
More from Justin Tyme
Vantu Gravimetric Research Facility
Mt. Karthala, Grande Comore Island
June 4, 2143
The stark light from a small flashlight that Kutisha held in her mouth was at just the wrong angle. Everything else was dark in the cramped access tube above the deep space graviton detector. Pinned between two pipes and on her back, her arms straining with the fatigue of their own weight, she gathered her thoughts. If I were a socket, where would I be hiding? All she saw was the bright array of gray cables, white pipes, and multicolored wires mere centimeters from her nose. There was no empty socket. She brushed a lock of ebony hair from her forehead, smudging her dark skin with grease. Her black hair had been neatly pulled back but all this crawling around had fretted it lose. She held her chin up, looked down the bridge of her nose, and shifted her jaw. There. The beam fell on the empty socket behind a cable back to the right. Her hand, small and dexterous, grease-covered and holding the errant cable, should be able to slide through and plug it in. If she could just...
The flashlight flickered off. Reflexively she opened her mouth to curse. The flashlight slid into her mouth; she gagged and spit it out. In the total darkness, she heard it roll down the access tube and hit the corridor floor. Then it turned back on. She closed her eyes, imagining the electrical panel before her, slid her hand in, and felt the pleasant connection of plug and socket. It clicked.
Kutisha slid down the access tube and into the lighted corridor. Although she felt inconvenienced by these menial tasks, she at least had the ability to handle them. She was gifted with a petite, athletic physique that required little maintenance, perfectly formed. The only part out of proportion was her mind. She could see patterns in numbers and hear -- really hear, not pretend to hear -- the music of the cosmos. But this perfect body-mind combination made her the unspoken envy of women and the constant lure of unwanted men. She had been told by the most repugnant of men that her chestnut-colored skin was so smooth and flawless that it needed to be kissed -- by them. Needed? Really?
She looked up at the ceiling where the computer’s speakers were, an odd habit everyone in the lab had when addressing the central computer. “Prometheus, access the nexus and do a search for M7 maintenance droids.”
The computer answered her in a rich baritone voice that reminded Kutisha of a newscaster on one of the nexus sites. “This will be your sixty-third request this month alone.”
“I’m sure it’s been over a hundred requests.” She retrieved the flashlight and tossed it into her toolbox. From her beige overalls she withdrew a rag made of an electrically-charged nanowire mesh that selectively absorbed the heavy oils from her skin. Wiping her hands she added, “See if you can find a cheap model this time. Used is OK if it’s under ten thousand hours.”
“Cost is not the limiting factor. According to department regulations, an autonomous mech with enough intelligence to handle routine maintenance tasks poses too many security concerns for this lab.”
“That’s ridiculous. One mech droid in a research facility wielding a wrench poses absolutely no national security threat. Stupid Vantu bureaucracy. It’s such a waste of resources. My place is in the lab analyzing gravimetric anomalies, not pulling cables through rabbit holes.” At least I’m not at home drowning my sorrows in alcohol. She had watched her mother give up on life after she lost her husband in the AI War. “I checked the regs,” she said. “Do you know that you can get a technical android in here, but you can’t get a simple maintenance mech?”
“What do you want me to do?” he whined. “I can no more change the rules of this department than I can change the laws of physics.”
Why do they insist on giving machines personality? He sounds like he was programmed by a thirteen-year-old savant with bad acne. She placed her hands together in supplication. “Did I forget to say pretty please?” I feel like a babysitter.
“Your efforts of emotional persuasion will have less effect on the bureaucracy than they do on me. Besides, the Chindi Incident shows that their concerns are well founded.”
“You been watching the news, have you?”
Kutisha didn’t answer. She pocketed the rag and pulled out her nexus pad. A few quick taps brought her to a news headline that read, “Chindi Incident – Nanite Swarm Released into Public.” The only thing that ever made the news on this island , she thought, is the status of the non-existent tourist industry. Now we’ve made international news -- notoriety: a major military accident. As she skimmed the article, visions of Armageddon filled her head, people drowning in the gray dust of red-blood-cell sized robots converting flesh to a broth of enzymes. Kutisha shuttered and pocketed her pad.
“So how does this justify me not getting a maintenance droid?” she asked.
“These nanites are special. They’re called forgers and there is a possibility they can commandeer the memory and processors of an AI unit.”
“That sounds like an urban legend,” she said. “I didn’t see that in the article.”
“I’m not a nano-robotics engineer,” Prometheus said, “but there is a remote possibility that the individual machines could act as a neural net with distributed intelligence.”
Oh no. Not another one of his conspiracy theories. Am I going to have to cut him off the nexus? She looked toward the speaker, smiling. “I do believe you’re nervous, Prometheus. Shame on you. A big, strong mainframe like you should be more worried about us little people.” Add artificial psychology to my resume.
“You’re the only one here.”
“Exactly, you’re my protector. But seriously, don’t worry about these forger nanites. They’re mostly harmless. When a repair technician pours some slurry on a damaged component, he’s the only one who can activate it and it has to be with an encoded transmission. Relax, sweetie, they’re not coming after you.”
She picked up her toolbox and headed for the control room above ground. The four kilometer long circular corridor housed the plasma container pipe, support equipment, and a barely negotiable walkway. Even with her small frame, she had to walk tilted to the right to avoid bumping her head on a conduit. The tunnel encircled Mt. Karthala’s volcanic summit, the only striking feature on this island off the Northwest coast of Madagascar. The island’s remote nature, shape of the volcanic caldera, and the metallic deposits in its soil made it a natural resonator of gravity waves.
She chewed on Prometheus’ words: The only one here. He told her last week that it was because of her eyes that people avoided her. Her eyes were so dark brown that they appeared to be all pupil, and so intensely penetrating that it made people feel naked. Maybe he had a point, but she didn’t judge people; she wanted to understand them. She didn’t, couldn’t understand people without him -- not Prometheus --
She wished she had taken the opportunity to conceive when she had the chance. Her husband wanted children, and so did she, but not until after her career was established. Established. What does that mean? Her career never seemed to gain enough momentum. “Established” was never defined, and therefore, never came. And then, he died.
Lately, she didn’t have to make the effort to avoid people. They avoided her with their discrete sidelong glances, with their hushed gossip, and with their lack of invitations to lunch. It was as if her husband’s funeral had never ended. So she chose to work alone on the night shift -- there really was no night shift -- and sleep on a cot in graviton corridor during the day, away from people and lulled to sleep by the deep hum of the detectors.
And Prometheus was her only friend.
The corridor opened up to a short flight of stairs and the Prometheus Control Room, a cramped space lined with racks of lab equipment, a door to the lab hallway, and the control bench that overlooked the sensor tunnel. The Prometheus computer mainframe could be accessed by voice throughout the facility. In addition to recording gravimetric data and maintaining the more mundane laboratory tasks, it served as a companion for Kutisha.
“Prometheus, verify that the DMI cable on number three is
Death Has No Shadow by Justin Tyme / Science Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes