Echo-1: Part 11
The Zero-G commandos were three thousand strong, mostly with the standard military personality programming. They follow orders and fight to the death. They were physically similar to myself with some variations. The battalion was broken into two units.
The grunts, designed for physical combat, were the larger in size. They were double wide refrigerators of muscle that could walk through walls and tear things apart with their bare hands. They stood nearly three meters tall with shoulders a meter across. They could wrestle one of Veronica’s monster polar bears and win. They were hulking beings, more like giant gorillas than men. Their programming was that of assault troopers and police officers, true keepers of the status quo. They only activated when needed for combat. They were placed strategically around the ship in storage lockers. They were always waiting, fully armed, fully powered, and ready for anything.
Sergeant Death, aka Dr. Death, was the grunt unit commanding officer. When he was a human in Echo-1, he was Nathaniel Det, a US Marine special forces soldier with a decade of black ops experience. He once cut a man in half with a machete. Det never failed to complete a mission and had a list of kills a mile long. From any normal human perspective, this man was a serial killer. He was also utterly devoted to the Corps. He lived to follow orders. He was pulled out of the system in his sleep one night and never looked back. He truly found his home in space and his loyalty to the command structure of the Banga was equal to that of his pre-programmed counterparts.
Det was placed into a grunt soldier body type but wasn’t satisfied with basic unit body features. He had several mechanical enhancements applied to his new form. He had all his internal structures replaced with the same alloy as the ship’s hull. He had backup hydraulic systems in his arms and legs and a retractable blade that expands out of his left forearm, like some kind of comic book super monster. His skull was a built in helmet. His only weakness, he didn’t like swimming. He sinks.
The second Zero-G unit type were the pilots. They had the same body type as myself and were mixed gender, unlike the all-male grunt forces. They specialized in machinery and weapons, had equipment for all situations, and were intelligent as well as deadly. With heightened reflexes, the pilots were capable of sublime real-time interface with computer-controlled devices. They tended to keep a constant link to the ship’s supercomputer whenever possible to draw on the sensor array and obtain complete situational awareness.
Lieutenant X, aka Cindy X, or just plain X was the point commander of the all the pilots. In Echo-1 she was Cindy Pelton a motocross champion, stunt driver, X Games initiator, and all-around thrill seeker. She came from a small American town in Texas and is generally considered to be a kind hearted rabble-rouser with a mean streak a mile long. Jonas was experimenting with personality types to insert into the Zero-Gs and she turned out to be a big success. X took to space fighter piloting like a duck to water. Her tendency to push the limits of machinery gave her an edge over even the best pre-programmed artificial or droid pilots. Of the three human profile Zero-G commanders she was the most accessible, but you might have to take a ride with her before she trusts you.
Major Uzi Anger (no one called him Anger to his face), aka Major Uzi, or just Uzi had a military dossier that spanned a lifetime. Uzi was the head of all the onboard commandos and the ship’s defense systems. He was considered the fourth highest ranking individual on the ship and he reported directly to Jonas on most matters. He was primarily a military action man, though his love for covert operations allowed him to take pleasure in being part of Jonas’ more off the books philanthropic adventures. In Echo-1 he was General Uziel Unger, a decorated tank commander in the Israel/Arab 6-day war, he became a spy for the Mossad, and went on to become director of international espionage. After his tenure in the Israeli army, he trained American Special Forces and C.I.A. task groups. He was known to be personal friends with US and Russian presidents through old contacts in both the C.I.A. and the KGB. He wrote 4 books on cold war covert operations. He’d been shot six times. He even took part in one of the first covert operations in space when he posed as a Russian scientist aboard the International Space Station. Uzi was cool-headed and shrewd, a brilliant strategist, and decision maker. He was eventually killed by a Saudi backed suicide hit squad. It took them three tries. The last being a group of five simultaneous suicide bombers converging on his position. He knew every trick in the book. He finally left the simulation upon his death at age 67.
Uzi has been with Jonas for two decades and had sworn a life oath to him. He stationed himself at the battle bridge on the top of the Banga. He often stood with the blast shields all open staring ahead into space. He wanted to see what was coming.
We left the water ring and had been crossing the sea of Tranquility for some time when I saw the bubble fields.
“I’m going to detach the cannon and arm now, stay here for a few.”
The equipment pulsed and separated from Vronsky and he left me hovering there in the middle of the giant sea. I watched him approach the pod. There were five full grown females and two young whales. They were considerably smaller than Vronsky. They all started to swim close, rolling and rubbing up against each other, whale cuddling if you will. The sounds of their clicking and clacking language filled the sea. I never imagined whales interacting that way. So physically intimate. It was a sight to see. They all seemed so happy and connected.
I sat there breathing through a tube watching them. They danced and played together in a humongous harmonious mass. One of the females came out of the group and swam over to me. They were all outfitted with transmitters, but only she talked to me.
“Hello, Hands. Dixon told me you had been by, that you were a good guy and that my polar bears frightened you.”
She clicked and I was aware that she was laughing. Whales laugh. I laughed.
“I guess you’re Veronica. Those are some serious monsters you’ve created. You do realize they’re almost twice as big as Earth polar bears and their oversized jaws make them particularly horrifying.”
She seemed to disregard my criticism. Vronsky came back. He reattached his armament and I took my seat next to the cannon and the three of us were off. As we swam through the Mediterranean sized blue waters Veronica told me her story.
“I, as you probably know, am the primary science officer on the Banga. This can be a challenging duty for a whale as we obviously need a great deal of help. For the most part, I crunch data and make observations based on input from the ship’s computer. I do a great deal of work in virtual environments and then rely heavily on my staff for the follow through. I have a fully functioning lab that I have never technically physically been in. I have an avatar that I use for activities where opposable thumbs are a must. My control over her is solid, but it can get confusing being in more than one body. Something I bet you understand.”
She winked her giant eye at me.
“I was initially being groomed as a navigator. My skill with technology was extremely advanced when I was young. I started working early on with virtual environments. I often took the form of a humanoid and worked in a simulated lab. I soon realized that scenario had many disadvantages. I got together with Jonas sometime back and was trying to make a lab simulation that would allow for real-world discoveries and explorations. As you know, Jonas is the true master of creating natural virtual environments that obey the laws of physics. As our work became more and more complicated, I stumbled upon my passion; cloning.
“I began by making animals. I had a real knack for it. Jonas at the time was compiling animal protocols for his Earth simulation. I sampled many of them. It wasn’t long until I started using a synthetic humanoid avatar and began working on real clones in a real lab. I made insects and birds and all kinds of small rodents. My masterpiece was a woolly mammoth. A fascinating creature, intelligent and self-aware, but with only the most primitive of technological skills. I’ve started work on making an entire parade of genetically unique mammoths that will have the ability to mate successfully.
“Now, the trouble with cloning is that they generally won’t successfully reproduce through many, if any, generations without having uniques DNA strands for all the initial group. As you have seen with my polar bears, I had to use available DNA codes from similar galactic species. It doesn’t always work out, but with my mammoth, I was able to secure actual baby mammoth DNA from a frozen specimen that had been passed through museum curatorial hands for millennia. This gave me the edge I needed to really make one of these large Earth mammals. It was thrilling.”
I had to interject here as, at least on paper, I had been an Earth mammal. I mean maybe not really, but it seemed real enough for me to feel a kindred spirit with these whales as well as with the thought of extinct animals from the planet’s history.
“How? Wait, I mean, are there still people on Earth? How far are we from the planet? Have you ever been? Can I go there?” I had a million more questions.
“Hands, you can talk Earth with Jonas all day. He loves ancient history. It’s a mostly destroyed lost planet far from everything. Though it did serve its purpose as a perfect galactic breeding ground and nursery for cetacean life, for a time anyway. Seeing it in Jonas’s program is amazing. The time period you were from was something like the end of the golden age of the whale on Earth and not long before all our ancestors left the planet for good. It must have been a beautiful planet then.
“Echo-1 is an approximation of course, but it does fit with the DNA model I’ve reconstructed in the lab. Jonas has a vast network of contacts and one particularly precocious reptile called Mox is known for obtaining hard to find items from all over the galaxy. On my first meeting with Mox, I traded for the mastodon DNA by outfitting him with a neural transmitter that would allow him to interface mentally with his ship’s computer. You will meet him soon. We’re going to rendezvous with his ship and he will be traveling with us to the edge of the wormhole.
“You can ask Mox all about Earth, he’s been there. He is very reliable. He’s bringing me 400 unique strands of elephant DNA. I will use that to seed both of the landmasses on Jonas’ ice world with woolly mammoths. Large mammals will walk the planet and swim in the oceans. It’s going to be an amazing place out of time. Much like Earth once was.”
We continued on across the blue sea. The two whales communicated in their click language, I tried my best to learn and understand it. I listened for hours as we crossed the great expanse of the water. The clicks stopped. We moved on in silence. Veronica’s blue eye rolled and looked at me.
I looked ahead in the water but saw nothing. Above us, there were the occasional air pockets and spaces, but no signs of a ‘them.’ I strained my new eyes looking in all directions and then as if appearing out of nowhere I beheld yet another marvel of nature. Part of the second pod of sperm whales, some distance below us, floating vertically in the water, motionless. Their great mass forming a series of tall columns, silently lumbering in sleep. We cruised above these peaceful creatures and I looked down at them in their pillar formation. It was as otherworldly as anything I had experienced, including looking into the vastness of outer space. These giant creatures of the sea suspended in perfect stillness like they had always been there and always would be. I craned my neck around to watch them fade away into the distance below us.
We moved on and eventually rose toward the top and surfaced. Both whales trumpeted their blowholes in unison. There was a boat waiting, well, I suppose I would call it a boat. I stowed the test breather and pushed off Vronsky. My orders were to go to the airlock and then report to the battle bridge for debriefing and training. Veronica swam right up to me, ever so slightly touching me with the side of her body.
“This is where we leave you, Hands, when you meet my avatar, remember it is me and be nice to her.” She dove back down into the water, her dorsal fin hanging in the air for a moment like the wings of an aircraft and then she was gone.
Vronsky followed suit, his parting gift to me was a huge upload of piloting information on the Banga’s galaxy class fighters, along with technical specs and general handling procedures for the Robo-a-gogo. My mind exploded and it became a part of who I was.
I was a star pilot.