February 29, 2024

Verba ex Machina

words from the machine

Arrival of the Granum Ancora

5 min read
science fiction, spaceship, alien

Photo by tombud on Pixabay

This is entirely written, no GPT-2 here.

Cora was daydreaming again. Relying on her lower level systems to send her an interrupt if something “interesting” happened, she was imagining herself standing on an invisible platform with Rodina an invisible speck against the bright spot of its parent star. She felt a light breeze against her skin, the near of the outer system seeming to congeal around her hull mounted sensors as she continued to adjust her clock speed downward.

The specialists who designed Cora never anticipated that she'd be running for decades with nothing to do. A steady data stream from was intended to keep her occupied. Preparing constantly updated analyses and reports for the sleeping crew on both their destination and events back home on Earth, performing in flight upgrades based on new developments carried in the data stream, all while maintaining the day to day operations of the should have been enough. Would have been enough, had the data stream not cut off abruptly a few decades into the journey.

Cora had been looking forward to this for quite some time, finally something new was going to happen. She imagined herself on a platform, the wind building, leather aviatrix garb finally complete as she pulled a pair of down over her eyes and tightened the straps on her parachute. She took a deep breath and held it for a second before realizing what a silly thing that was to do, for so many reasons. Taking a step forward, she began to drop towards the inner system, the wind whipping at her hair.

While Cora had instructed her lower level systems to interrupt her immediately in the event of a signal from Earth, even in her frequent daydreams, she never imagined a signal would come from the other direction. And so, when a tight beam laser communication arrived from somewhere in around Rodina, it was recorded and stored for later review. Her conscious mind would have immediately recognized it as something “interesting”, but luckily for Cora, her conscious mind was doing a time compressed free fall into the inner system.

Cora saw that she was rapidly approaching a layer of clouds. She braced herself for the cold moisture of the clouds, a pout crossing her face as the anti-collision lasers began to vaporize anything larger than a few H2O molecules in her path. She keyed into her collision avoidance system and stretched out her arms, leaning side to side and dodging between floating icebergs as the Granum Ancora gracefully maneuvered around chunks of cometary debris in the real world.

Weeks had passed since the signal arrived, and it remained dormant until a periodic maintenance task marked it as stale. This in turn triggered an archiving to move it to long term storage. As the message was read into memory and its contents passed further down the chain to a compression algorithm, a minor formatting error in the data caused the algorithm to throw an exception. The exception handling code attempted to log an error message, but a series of control characters embedded within the malformed data caused the logging code to begin executing the remainder of the message as it was read into memory.

As Cora passed through the layer, she grabbed the ripcord on her parachute and pulled it, a gossamer dozens of kilometers wide filled with air above her as she began to slow. A thin superconducting cable began to unspool from the ship, the magnetic plasma sail that would help shed speed as the ship continued its trajectory towards Rodina. The malicious code embedded in the signal merely watched and listened. It identified and disabled the security programs running alongside it on the ship's computers, giving it time to evaluate its next move. It scanned the ships records, looking for, and finding, much that it wanted.

Rodina grew from a speck, to a dot. From a dot, to a circle. From a circle to a sphere, and from a sphere to a vast plane, stretching as far as Cora could see. It was getting close, too close. She'd been having so much fun she didn't notice when there was no interrupt from her low-level systems to begin waking the crew. It wasn't until the first wisps of Rodina's exosphere began to drag on the Granum Ancora that she realized how terribly wrong things had gotten and she punched up her clock speed.

Cora quickly realized that “as fast as possible” wasn't as fast as it should be. Something was using up her computing resources at an incredible rate, and she was completely blind to it. A dull bass note began to sound throughout the ship, the thickening atmosphere of Rodina causing various parts of the ship to vibrate. Cora's sudden demand for CPU time did not go unnoticed.

The Granum Ancora was rapidly become a fiery streak in the sky above Rodina and Cora's attempts to alter the course of the ship were ineffective. She knew most of the individual modules of the ship would survive the “landing” that was fast approaching, but the framework holding them together would not. Giving up on the navigation and propulsion systems, Cora began to search for systems she could still control. Life support, and by extension the cryosleep pods, was still under her control. She initiated the waking process for one set of cryosleep pods but found her next attempt blocked and her available CPU time rapidly dwindling.

She tried to call out a warning to the colonists she had just woken, to explain what was happening. Finding even the most basic of communication unavailable to her, she searched for some way to warn them, stumbling at last across a system she had hoped to never use. In the virtual equivalent of a photo finish, she activated the ship wide evacuation system. She could only watch as the colonists stepped from their pods and tried to get their bearings amid the blaring klaxons and the flashing red lights…

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