An excerpt from the book 'The Pattern Ship'
by (c) Tobias Roote
(Please note: formatting has been altered to make the chapter easily readable on a website.
This will differ to the eBook which has no paragraph spaces.)
A cosmic disturbance occurred within the open vacuum existing between the watery planet and its cratered moon as an unseen ripple formed a distortion in local space. It spread outward, causing molecules floating in the vacuum to become agitated by whatever was causing the anomaly.
The effect created a swirling cloud of cosmic dust visible to the naked eye for thousands of miles.
From behind the planet’s moon, the incident was observed. The ominous dark shape hiding in the shadow of the orbiting satellite, not wanting to be detected by fluctuations generated by the encroaching ripple, activated its cloak. The shadow immediately vanished as the advanced technology bent space-time until it was undetectable by the anomaly’s wake.
The growing wormhole shimmered as a corona of gaseous substance appeared, pushed ahead by a small silver core that reflected the sun’s light. The object grew in size as more of its body exited the swirling maelstrom. As the object took on substance as well as form, the hidden observer recognised the shape of its enemy as the silver spaceship nosed its way into normal space.
As it completed its entrance, the misty bow wave created by its arrival was sucked in behind it as the small ship, now free of the distortion, increased velocity and distanced itself from the wormhole, which was already collapsing as the technology that had generated it passed through.
The ship had materialised close to an asteroid belt, but rather than alter course it switched its shields to deflect everything except the largest of rocks, which were easily avoided. Uninterrupted, it continued its flight between the nearby blue and white planet and its large, but distant moon. The ship’s AI, ironically named ‘Ship’ registered the proximity of planets and other real estate, noting as it did so, that the nearest held the possibility of life, but with little evidence to indicate it was of interest (there being no technology), continued its mapping of the solar system.
The T-Ship, so named because of its shape, which had engines braced at the rear spaced apart on two small wings, had begun its planned realignment for another leap into hyperspace when unexpectedly something occurred to delay its jump.
Proximity alarms on the ship’s shield relayed to the single occupant evidence of a cloaked object locked onto the mass of the small ship.
“Ship, identify threat.” The humanoid, quietly contemplating a study of the new system, lifted his head to await the AI’s analysis of the alarm. His taut silver skin lay flush with the neck of his dark grey one-piece overall. His eyes, silvery with specks of flint blue and green within the irises made for a striking countenance, not attractive, but not threatening either, narrowed as the micro-seconds ticked by.
“Zirkos, we’re under attack from a Nubl Class four missile. It’s preparing to drill through our shield,” Ship replied a moment later.
The small antimatter torpedo was set to match velocities with the T-ship until it made contact with the outer shield. Then an onboard computer would decelerate the small but powerful motor enabling it to push its way slowly through the shield’s defence.
As a result, there were mere seconds before it made contact with the hull and detonated. There would be nothing left within a range of two hundred miles.
Zirkos noted absently that only proximity to the asteroids had prompted the activation of the shield at all giving them those essential seconds to react. Unfortunately, very little could be done now, except escape.
Suspecting Nubl assassins were nearby, the AI automatically scanned local space but was unable to detect anything other than the immediate threat.
“Instructions?” asked Ship.
“Abandon ship, activate the transfer immediately and eject on completion,” Zirkos ordered calmly.
They had planned for this and the new Dematz technology they had patterned in a recent system was perfect for this event. Even so, it was the first time it had been used officially and Zirkos was inwardly nervous. There were no second chances here.
A fan-burst of light came into view above his head and travelled at high speed down the length of his body, scanning as it went.
When completed, Ship instantaneously uploaded the latest copy of Zirkos to the escape pod while simultaneously backing his own core and T-ship patterns into the tiny pod’s storage banks. With no more time to spare, the pod was synced to the main ship sensors. At the precise moment of the ship’s detonation, the pod cloaked itself and ejected at high velocity on an evasion trajectory that had been burned into its updated navigation array microseconds before.
The physical version of Zirkos and the AI, Ship, had only a millisecond to confirm successful ejection before they themselves were de-materialised, along with the T-ship, in a small, powerful antimatter explosion that left nothing but small chunks of debris behind.
So small that it could easily be mistaken for a piece of wreckage, its ejection from the T-ship was timed to coincide with the explosion, so that it would hide in the expanding debris field and follow a computed trajectory. By the time the enemy seekers arrived in the debris field, the pod would hopefully have vanished.
The escaping pod’s passive onboard sensors had already detected the Nubl fliers as they winked in and out of local hyperspace, coming closer to the expanding debris from the T-ship, sending out armed automated seekers to hunt for the anticipated escape pod. Unfortunately, they were looking for something large enough to contain a living humanoid form, so would miss the significance of the tiny pod that even now, was disappearing into the dark of space.
Each seeker, carried small antimatter mines which only needed to be in local proximity of the quarry to detonate; they would not assume that the debris field was all that was left. Every captured piece would be examined for useful data and not wanting any trace left of their kill, the Nubl would be very thorough. They did not know if there had been an escape pod launched, but worked on the assumption it had, and were exacting in their search, as was their way.
The pod itself was specially designed and deliberately constructed with no room to sustain a life-form. Its sole purpose was to evade detection at all costs and preserve the extensive library of patterns acquired from all over the known universe, including that of Zirkos, its maker.
Now several thousand miles away from the site of the explosion, the pod’s AI allowed itself to be put on standby as observer while Zirkos took over. Free of his physical body and capable of instantly converting thought to action, Zirkos continued to plot the trajectories that might allow him to complete his escape to the planet below.
Using the impressive speed of the onboard computer he had, within scant seconds of ejection from the T-ship, selected a new set of physical coordinates on the distant planet. He activated the ‘Dematz field’, a surprisingly versatile technology for de-materialisation patterned from another civilisation and incorporated for his own use. It was the same technology that had allowed for the uploading of his total consciousness minus his physical being. The physical pattern was memorised for later reconstruction.
Using the field as a means of thrust was a hazardous manoeuvre because it could only work while the ship was uncloaked, which was necessary only for the briefest of seconds it took to initiate. Once the field was engaged, Zirkos could secure his escape without likelihood of pursuit. The danger was in those first few seconds.
While they relocated and materialised closer to the planet’s atmosphere, Zirkos had a few moments to think. The discovery of Nubl in this system was bad news. It had been many long years since he had needed to evade them, and the T-ship’s battle defence array had become outdated. No contact with his brethren had occurred in the last eight thousand or so periods, giving no opportunity for a group melding, which would have shared knowledge amongst them all. It would have allowed for the knowledge of the Nubl’s latest weaponry to be assimilated and his defence systems would have been upgraded to meet the threat.
All that he could do now was evade capture and hope the Nubl had not anticipated the plotted destination. Zirkos intended to land on the planet and hide, reconstituting himself and the ship, using the saved patterns, from any source of exotic materials to hand.
A few minutes later, the pod re-materialised above the destination planet ready to insert itself into the planet’s atmosphere. Zirkos engaged the cloaking device and prepared the pod for entry.
Unfortunately, in the few seconds required before its cloak re-engaged, he came to the attention of a seeker that had already been parked in stationary orbit around the planet. At the very limit of its effective kill range, the seeker detonated its anti-matter mine destroying itself in the process.
Zirkos was surprised the seeker’s owners had anticipated the T-ship’s possible strategies. Worse still, he thought, they might already be established on the planet below. The seekers had been primed to take out anything that came within range, their sensitive robotic sensors keyed to react to anything unusual. It had detonated automatically in the milliseconds it took the pod to materialise.
With no time to expand the shield beyond the hull, the impact of the missile took out the subsidiary power arrays, leaving no means of initiating the Dematz again. Neither would the pod’s cloak engage. There was no time for anything other than evasive action.
The pod’s AI, with sophisticated landing algorithms built into its survival scenarios, took over, calculating in microseconds all possible options for achieving a safe landing on the planet below.
There was only one that had more than a 60% chance of success. The AI completed the relay and the pod’s tiny powerful motors forced it into a new trajectory and it headed for the planet below at an alarming speed.
The AI had correctly computed a greater success in aiming for a point on the nearest landmass which, as the planet contained a rich atmosphere, would mean a fast-burn entry. The risk was extremely high if the entry was not fully controlled. There was also more chance of evading pursuit amongst the mixed liquid and land terrain with its large continent covered in heavy vegetation.
It had no time to complete a survey other than to note there were no detrimental elements within the atmosphere to damage the hull.
With only a few seconds before the pod hit the atmosphere and relative safety from attack, timing was crucial. Nubl missiles, if fired, would be useless in anything but zero gravity; they were weapons designed for space.
Another seeker detonated near pod’s location. The resulting antimatter explosion caused it to rock from the pressure wave but it wasn’t close enough to cause any damage. Sensors also tracked a small clutch of incoming missiles from way off, but closing fast. There was clearly a Nubl ship nearby.
Out of time and risking everything, the pod’s AI increased the trajectory, causing it to heat up dangerously, also affecting the missiles trying to follow it down. The missiles were not designed to cope with planetary re-entry, and reacted to the intense heat build-up. They began to detonate.
The first of the batch blew, causing a chain reaction that created a massive anti-matter blast, throwing the pod right out of its already dangerous trajectory and sending it tumbling helplessly out of control towards the planet.
Now in danger of burning up, the pod switched its shields to maximum in an effort to reduce damage. It spiralled uncontrollably towards the land mass, managing to recover partial control of its angle of descent, enough to miss the worst of the high mountainous regions, before finally crashing into the ground, causing its shield to overload and partially fail.
The angle of impact forced the small pod to bounce through undergrowth, forging a shallow furrow that could be seen for miles, before coming to halt on a soft surface. The pod had come to rest at what the AI first thought was the edge of a deep mass of vegetation, but not long after it stopped rocking from its narrow escape, it began to sink into what was obviously a swamp.
With thrusters temporarily unavailable, the pod AI and Zirkos could only monitor their predicament as the tiny vessel submerged under the murky waters.
Above them, the solid-looking but waterlogged surface was already knitting back together, leaving no outward clue to any recent disturbance. The pod, meanwhile, unable to activate any of its servos, continued to descend through the quicksand into the depths. Fortuitously, the mud and water above also dampened the pod’s tell-tale signature beyond Nubl sensor range. so, when a Nubl seeker flew across the area some minutes later, following the pod’s trajectory, it detected no tell-tale wreckage, or signature, other than the massive furrow that had been gouged out of the land as it landed.
It incorrectly surmised the pod had somehow bounced then resumed its flight to another location on the planet. The seeker completed its search circuit, reporting a negative response to its central control and was designated a new search sector well away from the current location. The narrow furrow began to fill with surface water and in hours would be gone, with nothing to show it was ever disturbed.
The pod’s AI, now able to address its immediate concerns surveyed the damage, correctly assessing that the power requirement to make the repairs would leave insufficient reserves to lift it from the swamp. It nonetheless made its decision.
It reduced the remaining shield to minimum to conserve power and began to carry out essential nano-repair work on its thrusters and anti-gravity servos. It still had damaged power cells to repair, and no link to the stored patterns, including the occupant maker’s access links, which were also forced off-line in the crash landing. These were considered by the AI to be of secondary importance and it ignored them leaving them stored until recovery was the best option for them.
Once repairs were completed, the AI calculated it had sufficient power to make a single attempt to boost itself from the deep mire. It attempted to drag itself out of the clogging mud, which proved more viscous than it had anticipated. As a result, it only succeeded in negotiating itself to a shallow shelf near the surface before the power threatened to give out completely. Unfortunately, it was still too far below the surface to send up a remote beacon or power collector.
Checking through its data banks it calculated that there was no sentient life on this planet, at least nothing on land. The AI had detected the beginnings of simple life forms in the liquid part of the planet, though these were of no use to the pod. There was no technology to communicate with, or seek assistance from. It was unable to communicate with its makers, and unable to source energy this deep underground. It had no means of furthering its objectives at this time. Its computations left it with a startling choice of actions.
The pod was stranded. It calculated a 0.005% chance of recovery. Having no emotional involvement in the outcome, it logically accepted the facts as presented and shut down all but essential processes.
It left a trickle feed to the outer shield, to protect from the worst of unknown environmental erosion, and set an auto-sensor link to its Awake Sequence. Should the situation change, the system would send alerts to the AI’s core.
Its final act was to shut itself off to await a change in circumstances.
Now inert and lifeless except for the occasional electronic beat that pulsated across its shell, the pod would remain that way for millennia.
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