Echo-1: Part 17
Dr. Death signaled. He wanted us to follow him down, attach our ships to the hull and spacewalk onto the old rust bucket ship that was hiding in the jet stream of the Banga. I was amazed for a moment that I understood all his hand signals so clearly. The tactical uploads really had their benefits. He signaled again to maintain radio silence and not to fire.
We flew in formation down the slope of the sphere and up over the rising bulkheads to the edge of the engines. Then we veered to the port side and out around the thrusters. We came up under the ship to what appeared to be a large entry hatch. I was about to clamp the landing gear onto the bottom of the ship when it started to open. No light came out, but it was big enough to easily take our ships in. Death signaled for local scans only, not to feed results to Banga computer, and to disengage connection with Banga array.
My scan of the rusty ship showed that it was an old Varan design, with a massively reinforced hull made of some unknown semi-organic type of metal. Which explained all the rust. It had three main decks and a good size cargo hold that took up half the interior. The front half had three decks, living quarters on the bottom, some kind of science lab, and the ship’s control room on top.
I activated the lights on my fighter, even though I had excellent night vision. I wanted to have a good idea what was waiting for us in there. We flew in and the doors closed behind us. We paused in a large airlock and after the outside doors closed the inner doors opened. We flew into the cargo section and landed our fighters. Readings indicated that the atmosphere was breathable with higher levels of nitrogen and oxygen. It was a cavernous space. A bit like being inside an amphitheater, but with all the lights off. I climbed out of the fighter and left the twin robots behind to mind the ship. Death was standing near a doorway with his oversized assault rifle in hand, doing his best impression of a human tank. I supposed I looked like a smaller more human looking blue tank.
“They weren’t supposed to arrive until tomorrow, I’m assuming this is the ship.” X opened her suit and jumped down to the ground in her more natural naked state.
“Don’t, we don’t know for sure.” Death was always cautious.
I was looking around in the darkness. The top of the space appeared to be lined with trees.
“I hear animals.” X was smiling and running about in the dark. “They’re monkeys in here, up in the trees!”
“Get back in your armor Lieutenant, that is an order.”
She only glared at him for a second before she straightened him out.
“You don’t give me orders, I give you orders.”
Just then the door behind Dr. Death opened shining a bright light beam into the cargo hold. Mind you, this was a big door, you could drive a truck through it. And standing in the doorway was a robot of such stature that it went toe to toe with the human tank. It was actually a little bigger than him. It had a single red orb electric lightning storm of an eye, huge square shoulders with bulky arms and thick four-fingered hands. It walked on short thick stubby legs, like tree trunks, and had no feet. It was entirely made of the same rusty material as the outside of the ship.
It stepped through the door giving commands in an unknown language. I wished I could have accessed the ship’s computer to find out more about it. Death spun around raised his weapon only to have it knocked out of his hand. He jumped forward and the two metal giants locked together. I had a momentary childhood flashback to Rock’em Sock’em Robots. I wondered if they would knock each other’s block off?
Both seemed indestructible, a ridiculous tumbling wrestling match ensued. I stepped back getting out of the way. They crashed around on the floor, wailing on each other with huge fists, though both were so armored they did no damage to each other. The sound was maddening. There were monkeys in the trees that lined the top of the cargo hold and they all started to howl. The sound was deafening. The two had nearly become one mass of camouflage and rust with an occasional flash of red pulsing light from the robot’s eye. I moved around them, made my way over to Dr. Death’s gun and picked it up. I took aim and waited for a clear shot.
“Hands, don’t shoot.”
X walked into the light with a small silver monkey standing next to her. The monkey screamed at the two fighting hulks and then ran off, back into the darkness.
“We are from the Banga, I am Lieutenant X, sent by Captain Jonas to retrieve Mox and bring him aboard. Please stop fighting with my bodyguard.”
The rusty hulk stood up and disengaged with Death. “Affirmative. Asta Dunstrill.”
Dr. Death climbed back to his feet. “What the fuck?”
“Sorry D, you can get the briefing when we get back on board. It was the right call for radio silence or I would have told you this is Mox’s ship. Let’s go find him.”
I actually knew about something for once. “Mox is the guy with the elephant DNA that Veronica needs, right?” I smiled at X.
She smiled back. “Yes, there’s that too.”
I disengaged my Robo-Com armor and stepped out of the suit. Dr. Death took back his weapon and remained fully armored. We all started off down the hall with the big rusty robot leading the way. We walked past several rooms following the lit corridor to a central elevator lift. Luckily it was big enough to hold us all. Death shoved his way in, shoulder to shoulder with the robot. X and I slid in behind the two of them. We went up to the third level.
The elevator door opened into a gear room. There were space suits and weapon racks. The walls were lined with storage units and in the corner, there was a rusty cube. A rust metal version of a Robo-a-gogo I wondered. The rust robot and Dr. Death walked down the corridor and into the main control room. X and I followed along. The door outside slid open automatically, fast and somewhat dangerously. I stepped into the control and it snapped closed behind me.
The control room was old school spacecraft. Which really means styled like something I had seen in a movie when I was on Earth, or I mean, in the simulation. It really does take time to truly come to terms with that. Earth lives on in my memory and seemed to be real. Anyway, the control room had two big chairs in the front that faced out a window. The whole field of vision in front of us was the blue blast of the Banga’s engines. For a moment I thought I was looking out into a blue sky. It was somewhat disorienting.
Sitting in the chair to the left was dull tin colored humanoid robot, maybe a synthetic life form. It was hard to know or tell, but I knew it was an older model made before bio-organic material came into play. It was piloting the ship. There was a second row of four seats spaced out behind the two pilot chairs. They were like big minimalist space age barcaloungers. The last of the four seats clicked and clacked, sliding back, it restored itself to the full upright position and swiveled around. In it sat what looked like a Komodo Dragon with human-ish arms and legs. It was wearing dark brown leather trousers and a matching vest. It was flattened out in the chair seemingly lifeless. A long thin forked tongue shot out of his mouth, took a long slithering taste of the air and then disappeared back inside. His body was covered with spotted scales that ranged from a bright green to black. One great black eye opened and closed again. Then both opened. His eyes were all black, lifeless and dead looking.
The rusty robot moved to the side of the control room and powered down next to the wall.
“Krazix. Tromulz Banga.”
The lizard man’s eye closed again. X walked up in front of him and he jumped out of the chair with brilliant speed. His tongue flicked in and out again. He stood about two meters tall and had no shoes on his clawed feet. His arms and chest were all muscle and his neck was very thick. He had two nostril slits on his short snouted face and when he finally spoke he revealed rows of small jagged teeth inside his very large mouth.
“I only got dressed for you, but now I see I am out of fashion.”
He took off his vest and threw it in the chair. He had a large necklace made of dark magnetic looking stones that formed links and hung low on his chest. His tail was very large and hung to the floor and moved with a mind of its own. He was a dinosaur man.
“You are synthetic beings? Manufactured, no?”
He faced the front of the ship and hissed in a breathy language I could not understand. From the second front seat next to the robot pilot came a response in the same hissing language. A slightly smaller, red and black striped lizard man stood up out of the seat. I hadn’t even seen him before, slouching in his chair. He was wearing similar leather pants and no shirt. His pinkish stripes were magnificent. He was Gila monster man.
The green one turned back to us. “Are you sentient or pre-programmed, I’ve seen some like you before. Advanced I suspect, such amazing craftsmanship. You’re truly a species.”
“I am X, my personality is my own, I was a human from Earth and then I was placed in this body as a young woman. I am not programmed, but I do like to learn.”
She reached forward and put her hand flat on the chest of the lizard man.
“You’re warm, I’ve never touched or rather been touched by your species before. I am Mox. Welcome aboard my ship, I think in your language you would call it, a Brick. This is my first mate and pilot, Zandar Vandar Blunt.”
The stripy Gila monster man yawned a voracious and infectious yawn, that at once reminded me of what it was to feel tired. At the same time, I realized I had not felt tired in this new body and only really slept for a few hours on the boat ride with the Save the Whalers. I yawned too, it felt very human to do so. Blunt shook off his sleepiness and grumbled back into his seat with a dismissing wave at us.
“He’s one of the best deep space pilots in this half of the galaxy. Do take note that we have been in your wake for two days and you only noticed us now.”
X went over to Blunt’s chair and put her hand on his head, he licked it with a flick of his tongue, which was thicker and pinker compared to Mox’s black one. He hissed in a low guttural tone.
“He says you taste good.” Mox went over and took X by the hand and walked with her. “Let’s go down to my lab and then we’ll go over to your ship.”
As they walked past the rust robot, he came to life again.
“How do you like my Sentinel droid? I traded for him on a rust world of steel and iron, just outside the great asteroid belt beyond the seventh system. He speaks this crazy language, which I only sort of understand, but he understands us just fine. The iron planet was extremely toxic, but a small group of miners, who were almost all mechanical themselves, set up a foundry there. They were headed up by this mad scientist type called Slag who was experimenting with the rusty metals of the planet. He builds vicious weapons and armor and heavy clunky vehicles. He had outfitted his team with rust suits. I left my ship with him for a year and he cast the entire shell out of the rust metal. The result is a nearly indestructible ship. It doesn’t look like much, so no one pays any attention to us. We often appear as an inordinate chunk of matter or a rogue asteroid on most ship’s sensors, a very excellent advantage. Even Jonas didn’t see us sneaking up on you. How is he?”
I walked behind them with Dr. Death, who nudged me with his elbow.
“I wonder if he has a rust armor suit? That robot is fucking tough. I get the feeling that he was just playing with me before. I was using all my strength and could hardly do anything to him. I thought I was indestructible.”
We went back to the elevator and rode down one floor. The lab was a similar setup with a storage room first and glass sealed doors at the entrance. The storage room was like a junkyard turned upside down. All kinds of things piled to the ceiling. Boxes and crates, droids, and what appeared to be a huge insect exoskeleton. It looked like a giant wasp. It was tilted sideways on top of a couple boxes.
“Would you mind not bringing your armor and weapon into my lab?”
Mox shot his tongue out at Death, whose armor was all scuffed and covered in rust from his fight with the Sentinel droid.
“I can wait out here.” He stood outside like a tank guarding a messy kid’s room.
The glass door slid open and we walked through a midway room. We were scanned and the Brick’s computer declared us contaminate free. We passed a second glass door and went into the lab. It was pristine and white. With several computer monitors and three small attendant droids working on various things. There was a large white table in the center of the room and a workbench at the back wall. Mox went over to a wall that had several handles on it. He turned a handle and slid out a long tube that released a burst of vapor. It was some kind of cryostorage unit. He set the cylinder on the table.
“You say you are from Earth. These are from Earth.”
Inside the cylinder were rows and rows of small red capsules. I walked up to them and looked closer.
I could see with my enhanced vision that inside the red capsules were actual tissue samples, I could even look further into them and make out genetic strands. It was fascinating. X introduced me as Hands. Jonas’ literal right-hand man if you will. Mox assured us that these were the last of the Earth pachyderms, perfect specimens.
“Did you go to Earth to get these? What is it like there? Are there still people?” I had questions.
Finally, I could find something out about my homeworld. Even if it wasn’t really my homeworld, seeing my homeworld was in the Banga’s computer banks.
“Where you an Earthman too?” Mox asked.
I could only answer, “sorta.” X interjected again that it was a long story and that she was sure Jonas could tell him all about it on the Banga.
“Well, I didn’t actually go to Earth for these, but we have been there before. My people had a small outpost on an ice moon around a gas giant in the Sol system. We, and this is just between me and you, were using Europa as a nursery for our ice lobsters. It’s good to keep your main resource stocked in a secure, out of the way place. And in answer to your Earth questions, it’s a mostly deserted planet. Trashed and used up completely by the great ape species that lived there. Endless empty cities span the globe. The seas are completely polluted. Victims of irresponsible population overload I’m afraid. Nature tends to correct these things in harsh ways.
“A sizable group of them left the world and moved out one planet. We traded with them. They only have the most primitive technology. They desperately needed oxygen converters and we supplied them with a nitrogen converter that could be modified. They are up to their old tricks of trashing the place, but this group on the orange planet seem to be more survival minded. We traded them for animal DNA that they thought they would never need again.
“Oh and we got a few pairs of lesser primates from them. I’ve been breeding them in my storage unit. They are funny little out of control creatures, low maintenance as they mostly eat leaves and fruit. Good for a snack in a pinch.”
Mox licked his lips with his long tongue.
X was not thrilled by this news. “You eat the monkeys!”
She folded her arms over her perfect chest. It was interesting to watch her go from hard-line Lieutenant to little Cindy, love child of the 70s.
“Well, my dear, I am a carnivore and they breed very quickly and I can only house so many on my ship. Trust me they do not suffer. I only have like three or four of them a year, and of course Blunt has a few as well. We have very slow metabolisms. Think of it as population control. The little Silvery Lutung are all just fine.”
“I don’t like it and I want one, maybe two. There was a real friendly one I connected with on the way in. We have a rainforest on board the Banga where they could live and thrive. It’s quite large.”
Mox saw his way in. He walked over to X and taking her hand again, he suggested that they could work something out. He walked back to the cryo unit and pulled out two more canisters.
“I have over a hundred different species of fish and birds, but this one is a real prize.” He tapped a clawed finger on the smaller second container. “The Polar Bear.”
I must have given off a tell, as he shot his tongue out in my direction.
“We’ll take all these to your science officer. But come over here I want to show you a discovery I made from Earth.”
We walked into a side room. It was hotter and brighter in there. There were three iguanas sunning themselves under sunlamps in the corner of the room. The whole room was full of plants and had a small Koi pond in the middle of it.
I smiled and looked at Mox. “Iguanas. You cloned iguanas.”
“No, though I did obtain various lizard DNA, we went to the planet to see if there were any left alive and found these. You call them iguana? So that’s their name. Iguana.” He seemed very pleased with this information. He walked over and pet one of them. “They’re fascinating creatures, herbivores. I wouldn’t have expected that.”
The big iguana croaked at Mox as he pet it. “It’s like they almost have language skills, but they are very, very primitive. After we wrap up all our business I’m going to go back to that planet and look for some more. Such regal looking creatures, such fantastic spines.”
Mox ushered us back into the lab. He passed me two of the DNA cases to carry and he took the smaller polar bear one. Dr. Death was still waiting motionless in the hall.
“Death, take my fighter and go back to the ship, once you’re inside, tell Uzi that Mox is here and we are going to bring his ship into the port bay.”
“Aye aye.” He looked over at Mox. “Tell me you have one of those rust armor suits?”
Mox smiled a cunning lizard smile. “I always come bringing presents for all.”
Death took the elevator down and we waited for it to come back.
“And what is it you want Hands?”
Now, I wasn’t really one for material possessions before, and in this new world, there was nothing I was left wanting.
“I’m sure Dixon, one of our scientists, would like to see what sea animals you have.”
Mox flicked his tongue at the canisters I was carrying. “A selfless man, no wonder you are Jonas’ right hand.”
After a moment of silence, I realized there was something I’d like. “Maybe you could take me to Earth one day?”
Mox gave me a devious look.
The elevator returned and we took it back up to the control room. There we all took seats. Blunt talked to Mox in their hissing lizard language. The tin robot started activating ship functions. There was a series of discussion between Blunt and the droid that resulted in the droid getting out of his seat and moving to a side station. Blunt growled and grumbled some more. Mox looked over at me.
“You have a standard download interface and neural transmitter?” His mouth wasn’t moving, he was speaking to me through his own implanted transmitter. I replied that he was correct, then he spoke out loud.
“Hands, I’ve given you access to the Brick’s computer. Would you mind terribly much downloading the specs and piloting us into the Banga?”
I found myself looking to X for permission. I had never interfaced with another ship’s computer and I had no idea if we could trust this guy, who was clearly trying to get into X’s pants, not that she had any pants. She gave me a look like it was fine and then turned her attention back to Mox. They were like two teenagers whispering in the back seat.
I took the tin robot’s seat, connected to the Brick’s computer system, downloaded the ships specs, flight controls, a language adapter, and a file on the Sentinel droid and the rusted metal. The Brick doesn’t have traditional engines, it uses manipulation of magnetic and gravitational forces to move around. It grabs onto even the slightest pull from a distant star and moves through space towards it. I attempted to examine the math behind it with my new brain, but felt my 21st-century mind getting very confused in the process. Was it beyond me?
Blunt hissed back to Mox, but I had learned his language and now understood him. Mox responded to him that he had every confidence. I quickly downloaded all the info I could about Mox’s trip to Earth. I spoke in the Varan language and told Blunt I would be able to handle his ship. Mox laughed a wild laugh, my words fail me when trying to describe the giggly infectiousness of a Varan laugh. We all started laughing. X even snorted, which Mox found delectable.
“Don’t pry every secret out of the Brick now, you’ll fry your brain. We’ve been traveling on this ship for over a thousand years.”
He was right, the Brick’s database was immense and even with the language adaptor, it was hard to navigate. I turned my attention to piloting. In my mind though, I knew there was a whole lot more to discover.
Earth, like the Varan system, was an outlier on the arm of the galaxy. It was a backwater system with nothing close around it. It was no wonder few ships ever visited the region. The Varan still kept a small base on Europa and they had been to Earth many times as well. The Varan were very interested in the reptile life forms on the planet. Earth was over 70 years away from our current position. It would take at least 100 years to get there realistically. Mox hadn’t been there, though his people had and through their deep space network, he was able to pass along the DNA material. He picked it up while he was waiting for his ship to get the rust armor. He was bringing the lizard, monkey, and reptile DNA back to his home world and he would be heading back in the direction of Earth after he left us at the wormhole space station.
I coalesced with the ship’s controls, they had been using a magnetic force generated by the armor to essentially let the Banga tow them along. By manipulating the magnetic force I was able to move along the edge of the Banga and headed in the direction of the main port docking bay.
The Brick for a rusty rectangle had superb handling capabilities. It had a tactile control interface that worked in conjunction with the neural interface. This dual control option allowed a pilot have a real hands-on, minds-on, driving experience. From my synth-human perspective, it was the best of both worlds. I wondered if this was what Jonas felt like when he piloted the Banga.
I glanced over to Blunt and hissed at him in a close approximation of his language, that I thought the Brick was impressive to drive. He made throaty sounds at me with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, then slumped down in his chair and closed his eyes. I asked him if that was slang, he shot his tongue out at me, which I also think was slang, and then he closed his eyes.
I was able to pilot the ship to within centimeters of the Banga’s hull. Nearly sliding along its surface. The view out the front window of the Brick was split down the middle, the vast star-studded blackness of space on one side and the epic white walls of the Banga on the other. I pivoted out a few meters to avoid the deck guns. The main port hangar door was open when we got there. I slid the Brick into the airlock, the doors closed, the lights went from red to green, the inner doors opened, and we flew in.
Mox leaned over the back of my seat. “Put a slight magnetic push on the bottom of the ship, one or two degrees. You see how, correct?”
I did, and I did. The Brick rust layer was highly conductive and could change its magnetic charge easily with minimal power. It had no landing gear, but could float a short distance off the metal decks of the hangar. I shut down the engine and we all got up and headed toward the elevator. Only the tin pilot droid stayed behind. Mox gave him orders to keep everything on standby and oddly, added to accept commands from me. Mox did this in his Varan language, which he knew I understood now. He gave me a look and a tongue flick that said, I’d know what to do.
Over the neural transmitter, he communicated to me. “Jonas’ right-hand man is my right-hand man. I trust you completely.”
I wasn’t sure how to react to that, so I went with it.
In the Bricks cargo hold the monkeys were all hiding in the trees and the lights were on.
“It shifts from day to night on a timer in here. The Lutung like it, but we can freak them out from time to time by turning on lights when we need them.”
Blunt was staying behind and getting together some of the trading supplies. Mox gave orders to the rust Sentinel that no one was to enter the ship, and this time he hissed an exception for both myself and X. Though she had no way of knowing this. We walked out through the main hangar.
My twin droids piloted my ship out of the Brick, parked in the hangar and brought up a four-seat vehicle for Mox, X, and myself. The faces of Wingus and Dingus changed into video monitors and Uzi gave us orders to drop Mox off at the sea internal external communication port and proceed to the central science lab.
We were off, racing through the ship. Again I was in the front seat, with Mox and X goofing around in the back. They gave off a real high school kind of vibe. It was actually kind of fun. It was something I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I was a 40-year-old loner when I left the simulation, with no real friends or relationships. I had to admit, hanging out with those two felt pretty good.
X leaned forward over my seat and whispered in my ear. “Uzi is going to brief you as we drive, I need to talk over some things with Mox.”
She flopped back into Mox.
Wingus spun his head around and Uzi appeared on it, there was no audio communication it went straight into my transmitter. I heard his voice in my mind…