Monday, October 22, 2018

Chapter 15


I am ashamed to admit that I completely forgot about my unfortunate companion in light of my discovery. I turned my attention to the chasm that was left behind from the ruptured asteroid that had just vomited its innards out into empty space. Eagerly, but carefully, I slipped free of the asteroid shards, wary of the jagged edges, any one of which could slit open my vac suit and make me another permanent resident of the rocky tomb.

I slid down the ramp of rocky rubble and into the borehole. The orange light of the gas giant Odin quickly blinked out. Darkness enveloped me. The fingers of my gloves continued to slide over the rough rock walls for hundreds of feet. Farther and farther into the tunnel; until they hit empty space.

I reached across my shoulder and switched on my vac-suit lamp.

I gasped.

We had breached the side of a vast open cylinder, so vast that what the lamp could illuminate of the far side was hardly distinguishable from looking into a pool of cloudy, gritty water. I maneuvered myself so that I was “standing” on the inner surface of the cylinder.

On either side of me, spokes of metal and composite extended from the inner surface to a central axle, forming a series of parallel wagon wheels equally spaced down the length of the cylinder. Those wheels were in turn linked at each spoke with lengths of ancient and now dormant solar lights. When they were functional, they would have illuminated every inch of the inner surface, the ground that the ancient passengers walked.

Now, the lights were little more than lengths of crystalline costume jewelry.

Debris bounced around the inner surface, still drawing energy from the rapid decompression that stole the soul this ancient ark when its hull was penetrated. Dry and twisted trees, an entire forest of grayish driftwood had been ripped from their roots. The forest would have died slowly of thirst, grasping blindly in the weightlessness for any drop of moisture. The deadwood filled the hollow space, churning about as collected in a polluted eddy.

Scattered among the debris were various ancient personal effects, some I could identify and some I could not. Some were pieces of structures long destroyed, glass and plastic and lightweight metal, all amazingly well preserved. Some of it were the the rotting remains of the denizens of the ark, not so well preserved.

I had found it. The legendary ship that brought Humanity to the heavens – the lost genesis of our civilization. Leviathan.

I was awestruck, and horrified. An entire civilization, annihilated. So many of those people, completely forgotten, to be lost in conjecture and debates among anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians, based on whatever artifacts we could piece together from their lives, whatever language we could decipher from their communications.

I became very aware of my own mortality at that moment.

But that awareness left me undeterred. On the contrary, I was more motivated to action than ever before. I navigated through the churning grit to where I could pull myself along the length of the ark using the superstructure that held its darkened solar lamps.

I am not sure exactly what I was looking for at the time, but I pulled my way, hand-over-hand, until something caught my attention. I was drawn by pure instinct, some inconsistency, something that did not fit in with the tomb ship.

Something from my gut told me to turn off the vac-suit light. I obliged. Floated there in place, I took in the pure sensory vacuum.

I almost missed it. A dull and distant red glow, fading as quickly as it appeared. Like a firefly in search of love. I waited, focusing, making sure it was real.

The glow flashed again, and the cyan spot that followed my vision told me I hadn’t imagined it. Keeping my suit lamp switched off, I pulled myself toward the slow blinking light, jostling through the floating rubble in my way.

The flashing light came from a large structure, a gray half-sphere at the far end of the of the open chamber, about the size of a one-home atmo-bubble on Grid. If the whole of the hollow moon were a canister, the dome structure protruded inward from its end cap.

That structure I found was the ancient power core, and a primitive vacuum storage container. The lights were still flashing. There was still power in this craft, somehow, even after all these years.

I assumed the energy came from some yet unseen or unrecognized solar collector. But when I finally reached what I discovered was a pair flashing lights, I felt a tinge of excitement. I scraped the centuries of space-dust away from between the pair of red-glowing lights. Wiping away the dusty film revealed ancient foreign script in bold red lettering. I continued clearing the dust from that point in a spiral pattern outward.

The ominous symbols and illustrations of stick-figure-consuming fireballs told me all I needed to know.

Fear tempered my exuberance. It was only a hope at the time, but I had made the most dangerous and monumentally profitable discovery in the history of the Asgard system.

I’ll readily admit it: I spent a fair amount of time thinking on how not to include BrainStream in the discovery. But I ultimately concluded there was no way out of it.

I didn’t even own the vac-suit holding my skin together. Yes, the media and the historical societies would shower more than enough credits my way if I played my cards right. But that would mean being under the spotlight, as well as the microscope. That was the last thing I wanted, given what I planned to do next.

I recorded my find extensively, including time stamps and orbital navigation coordinates. Then I jetted back to my ship anchored to the surface. I held a moment of silence for Cassandra. Then I had the ship take me in range of the nearest net relay to transmit the recording to every real estate and salvage attorney I could find on the net.

I guessed that any claim I had to that moon was on appropriately shaky ground. But this kind of discovery had to be completely unforeseeable by the BrainStream lawyers. If there was enough gray area in my contract, I could tie their claim up in litigation for a sufficiently long time to get a settlement.

Then I contacted my immediate supervisor, and worked up the ladder. It took a pretty great deal of negotiation, but we came to terms. I gained a small lump sum, a promotion, and finally a lifetime contract to do all neurocoding and oversee installation of all interface software and equipment on the moon.

BrainStream, in turn, received full ownership of the Leviathan and its contents.

I think it was a fair trade. The generation ship had been harvesting antimatter in Odin’s orbit for who knows how long, and its very existence drove the price of anti to a fraction of its former value. My discovery drove countless energy companies out of business.

I had made BrainStream an antimatter monopoly overnight.

So BrainStream hired the consultants and contractors and kept the books. They brought in the archaeologists and appraisers to recover and catalogue the wealth of artifacts and ancient architecture.

I crafted and installed the software and equipment that would interface with the ancient Leviathan technology.

I’ll freely admit I was using the site and its fuel for my own purposes. No one alive knew anything about the ancient software, so I was given a great deal of leeway in my funding requests.

With that leeway, I turned to my true love, exploring the boundaries of nuer0 transmission, connecting man and machine. With nearly unlimited resource and energy access, I made unprecedented strides.

Until one day, without warning, a couple of Vegacorp security officers floated into my workshop.

“Sir.”

“Yes?” I responded with slight annoyance. Despite my great degree of autonomy, I would consistently receive some tedious request from corporate. I started when I saw a shadow cast over my interface equipment. Surprised to see the voice’s owner physically present, I swiveled around from my workbench.

The Vegacorp officers were clad in the sort of zero-g adaptive armor I had only seen in entertainment streams. Pure matte black durasteel suits of armor, faceless and visorless. Their movement and posture were unsettlingly fluid and natural. It was as if they had been born in orbit. Energy weapons were conspicuously fixed to the forearms of their armor. It would have been intimidating were I not so incensed.

“Mr. D’Arcangelo,” another voice said, and I realized that the SecCorp officer had not been addressing me. It was BrainStream HR.

Never a good sign.

“I’m afraid we will no longer be needing your services.” HR said.

“Excuse me?”

“You will be provided a generous severance package, on par with our senior management.”

“I don’t think so.” I laughed. “We have a contract.”

“Which you have breached. Or did you think no one would realize that you’ve been skimming from the reserves?”

“Skimming?”

“You got greedy, Mr. D’Arcangelo. Your recorded powere usage is, to be frank, absurd to the point of comedy. You had to know someone would discover you.”

The idiots thought I was defrauding them, selling their anti on the side. How they thought I could have ever extracted it under their noses, much less ship it, I have no idea.

“Please gather your things, Mr. D’Arcangelo. BrainStream will not press charges if you cooperate.”

My face grew hot. I had accomplished too much to abandon my research now. To leave it to these corporate morons. My immediate spiteful desire was to detonate the moon right there. But with my fists clenched, I took a deep breath and relented.

“Very well,” I said, with as much pleasantry as I could muster. “Shall we?”

The Zero-G guards visibly relaxed. They glided over, one on each side, and grabbed me firmly from under the arms. And so BrainStream, Limited Liability Corporation escorted me off-world and out of their hair.

Or so they thought.

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