Alone in his quarters, Carter went over the past 2 hours in his mind. The blob, “Subject X” had steadfastly refused to give up its secrets. It was alive, that much was certain, but other then that the lab staff was drawing blanks. It seemed to have no other purpose then making its “children,” gloriously outlandish biological mash-ups that lasted a matter of minutes before dying.
It was oddly fascinating. One of the lab assistants, stared at the thing for a good 10 minutes before Dr. West snapped him out of it. It was impossible to get a sample of the blobs substance, since any piece taken from the mass decayed instantly. Finally they had decided to sleep on it.
For Randolph Carter, sleep wasn’t coming anytime soon. He sat in his chair, gazing out the port at the stars beyond, a book in his lap. The crew, who remained awake while the passengers slept, were allowed personal possessions. Randolph’s were mostly practical, except for this book, a sentimental thing.
It was a children’s book, a facsimile of a centuries old original, given to him on his 9th birthday. It was a standard magical adventure sort of tale, the kind that were in vogue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, illustrated with color plates of talking animals in fine dress. It was a silly thing, but over the years Randolph could never bring himself to get rid of it.
He had managed to acquire a sizable collection of such works. Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter and others had their own self in this room.
There was a beeping alert, and a flicker in the air, which resolved itself into an official in a green robe with red dragons. This was Sun Hai, another of the AI Ministers.
“Put the book down Dr. Carter.” He said sternly. “You are needed to repair a Novum node.”
Randolph replaced the book on the shelf. “Which one?”
Randolph paled. “The Cryo deck!”
Sun nodded. “Mr. Deckard asked for you specifically.”
“I’m on my way.”
Deckard was waiting as soon as Randolph stepped out of the elevator. The technician got right to the point.
“If we don’t patch this up, a whole block of stasis cells is going offline.”
He wasted no other words as he led Randolph to the work site. A damaged node was one of the worst things that could happen aboard ship. As they walked, Randolph instinctively checked his tool kit. Both the tools and the medicines were accounted for.
The paneling at the spot marked Omega-A had been removed, revealing the pulsing node beneath. Pink and organic, it meshed seamlessly with the wire and steel around it. The outer skin had been torn open, and was visibly bleeding a fluid almost but not quite like blood. Randolph bent down and got to work. It was his job to stanch the flow, while Deckard repaired the cut. It was a simple procedure, but one mistake could damage the whole system irrevocably.
All the med/sci staff were trained to maintain and repair the Novum system, but only the Emperor truly knew what it was and how it worked. In the loosest sense, it was a computer, organic and inorganic, limitless in power and complexity. The core of the system was deep within the Utnapishtim, and in a sense the Novum was interchangeable from the ship itself. The node Deckard and Randolph were repairing was one of twelve, each housing an AI based on one of Sun Chen’s own Ministers.
Tense moments later Randolph finished the final suture, and was rewarded with scintillating lights playing across the synapses, the sign of a healthy connection.
“Another disaster averted by the fine staff of the ‘Napishtim, Eh Randy?”
“Yeah.” Randolph replied, wiping his brow.
“You are quite correct.” Sun Hai’s voice echoed through the corridor. “All systems are in working order.”
“I’m going to take a rest.” Randolph said. “Have Abby call me if anything happens.”
Deckard saluted. “Will do.”
The lab was dark when Dr. West arrived for his shift. He knew he had left the lights on when he had left before.
“Lights” he commanded. Instantly the room was illuminated. Everything seemed to be in its proper place, and yet… He couldn’t put his figure on what was wrong, until he saw Subject X’s chamber. There, carefully arranged, in a circle, were candles and incense. The candles were burned down almost to nothing, and the incense was recent enough that he could still smell it.
“Where would you get such things in a place like this?” Herbert wondered aloud. “Replication perhaps? For that matter, who would do this, and why?”
He gathered up the incense and candles and tossed them into the waste bin, resolving to write a memo.