A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
Dance like it hurts, love like it will be your last, and work when people are watching you: all funny tidbits of information that I remember from my former life as Murphy. Just like the clones named Zhaxier and Lynn, whose lives I was following with growing interest, I too had a life once. We all take with us memories from the events in our lives, making them our own. The only true life is a free and independent one: independent in thought, independent in heart. Independence is not achieved through conformity, and this is a lesson I have learned through pain and inaction.
Like our memories, our doubts are traitors to each of us, and they make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt. I know, because I am the Ghost of Warden.
"The ability to sneak around was an important prerequisite of my former occupation," Lynn says with a smile and some sarcasm. She is only half-kidding about Exarch going first as they step out into the expanse of darkness pierced by Exarch's high-beam eyeballs. Lynn tries to shield her thoughts about the security robot, but she can't help conjuring images of how her former self must have felt when she was locked by similar robots inside Engineering, where she sealed and scrambled the command codes (along with navigation, unfortunately) after finding out she had been betrayed. These feelings make it hard for Lynn to trust anyone fully.
"C'mon Lynn, your demons are my demons too---ain't that in the marriage contract?"
"Oh, right," Lynn sarcastically agrees, shaking her head and looking for a light switch.
"Man, you gotta love the mood of this place." Zhaxier smirks as Exarch's light lands on a functioning computer terminal within the dark void, into which only Exarch's lamps and the light from the open elevator shines. He approaches the terminal but hesitates, hearing the bubbling of what sounds like water somewhere in the darkness.
Exarch looks around but realizes he needs to keep his eyes on the newly found computer terminal to offer the needed light. But even in the darkness, Exarch can see strange tanks filled with liquid.
With a quick tap from Zhaxier, the computer terminal comes to life, but it also requires a password or a specially irradiated bracelet or command ring to continue, in effect locking him out.
At the exact same moment, Lynn finds a switch and flips it on. The result is highly spooky as lights come on inside hundreds of liquid filled tanks throughout the huge room. It's not hard to notice that many of the clones inside these finishing tanks will come out mutated if they survive at all.
"We make a pretty good team, huh guys?" she says, breaking the sudden tension like an ice pick.
"Maybe that wasn't the right switch."
With a quick tap from Zhaxier, the computer terminal comes to life...
"Yeah, baby! Now we're talking," he says, pulling up a swivel chair and turning down the brightness on the terminal display.
...but it also requires a password or a special irradiated bracelet or command ring to continue, in effect locking him out.
"Aw, man! Hey Lynn, get over here with your...." Zhaxier's words fade to black as Lynn switches on some lights. He whirls around at the sudden influx of photons and nearly hulches in disbelief.
"Maybe that wasn't the right switch."
Zhaxier sits stunned at the ghastly sight; at least that's what Lynn thinks. He's actually suffering a spate of catalepsy. Rows after rows of what could only be cloning vats fill the vast floorspace. Most of the grotesque fleshy forms the tanks contain are sickly gray and bloated beyond recognition by centuries of saturation in cloning fluids. One tank close by contains a pinker blob and looks like it might actually be working, but the clone therein barely passes as human. A handful of tanks are empty and dim.
Exarch approaches the malformed clone to peer in more closely. It lets out a long, low whistle.
Lynn begins to speak in hushed tones. "This Jimmy isn't going to make it. Look at his spine."
"No spinal cord??"
"Every now and then a viable clone hatches with its marbles intact... or at least with most of them," she flashes a glance at Zhaxier: it betrays no humor, but rather a slight twinge of curiosity at his frozen features. "This is where many of the villagers came from, even if they don't know that. These vats have been stuck in overdrive for centuries, attempting to churn out clones from the officer database, but the entire system took considerable damage in the Cloud...."
Zhaxier comes to just in time to hear Lynn's last sentence, with its casually dropped hint of Warden's fate. Unaware of his seizure, he pigeonholes the datum with the rest of Lynn's sporadic revelations. Feeling vaguely disoriented, he steadies himself on the console shelf. Exarch peers into a nearby tank, several meters from where he last stood. He didn't know engineering bots could move that fast! "How many of... my... me...."
"We know very little of how it works. Each pod is linked to an individual officer, as his or her personal affects are stored in a drawer underneath. When we take a live clone out, the vat shuts down. The dead ones get recycled if they're lucky, but most of the vats don't want to reset."
The whole scene is too God-awful freaky to Zhaxier, who shudders and swivels back to the access terminal. "Frak it," he says, shaking his head, then under his breath: "I'm losing it." He swivels back toward Lynn. "Come get me in the system, Lynn. This terminal's command-access only."
Lynn saunters over, like a leopard stalking its prey. Her smirk bears the silent message: "Why do men always need help?"
When Lynn waves her ring near the terminal input sensor, a command prompt appears onscreen and Zhaxier goes to work. He hooks up his data pad to a port in the side of the terminal and begins to download the following files (if available):
Lynn looks over Zhaxier's shoulder as he types. "It's one 's', moron," she claps him on the back of his head.
"Oh," he says, correcting the last search parameter.
"Who are they?"
"What difference does it make?" he mumbles, unknowingly taking a line from her own book. "I'm sorry," he turns to Lynn as the data downloads. "Have you figured out how we're gonna get outta here with 'Goodnight Gorilla' hanging around out front? Place is giving me the creeps. Also, as much as my appetite seems to have disappeared in here, I'm not gonna be able to slog through this data on an empty stomach. Frak, I haven't ever eaten! Wherever we go for dinner, dear wife, I hope it's dim and quiet... and has some snack machines."
Tubes bring nutrients up into the remnants of my former body, now nothing more than a shell. My mind races across the expanse of Warden's inner-workings. I am the Ghost of Warden.
We pass the word around. We ponder how the case is put by different people or creatures. We read poetry. We meditate over literature. We play music. We love those around us. We change our minds. We reach an understanding. Society evolves this way, not by shouting each other down, but by the capacity of unique individual beings able to comprehend each other.
There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe. It has symmetry, elegance, and grace---those qualities you find always in that which true thoughts capture. You can find it in the turning of the seasons; in the way the sand trails along a ridge, in the branch clusters of the creosote bush or the pattern of its leaves. We try to copy these patterns in our lives and our society, even in space, seeking those rhythms, the dances, and the forms that comfort.
Yet it is possible to see the peril in the finding of ultimate perfection in ourselves and reproducing it with machines. It is clear that the ultimate pattern contains its own fixity. In such perfection, all things move toward death, as do I. Even I, my life extended and perfected as it has been, will face my own day of reckoning soon.
I must have been pondering this back then, as I continued to watch the beings that could yet hold the very destiny of Warden in their hands.
The actual computer terminal itself is made up of seven different screens. Five screens arc across the desk and two more are attached to the wall behind the desk. The largest screen on the right of the desk doesn't seem to be working at the moment. A long black paper-thin keyboard takes up most of the space on the desk. To the far left against the desk is the computer itself. A status readout on the side of the computer glows red, blue and green, revealing that the computer is in need of repair, and warning of data corruption.
On the far left corner of the desk are three personal backup disks, likely notes from the last person who used this terminal. On the upper left corner of the desk rests a tray of memory crystals. The red ones show that they have data in them while the green ones are empty. Beside the memory crystal storage tray is a personal data pad. As are most used data pads, this one is linked to a specific user via ID thumb print. In the top center of the desk is a pair of silver VR glasses. To the far right is a small 3D palm-sized projector. Beside it rests a data pad pen, a roll of silver flex paper, and a paper showing the latest test results and their failures.
The left computer screen on the wall shows the security 'bot moving around the outside of the building. The right computer screen on the wall shows a view outside the ship and Warden's future trajectory. The third screen over from the left on the desk displays Zhaxier's and Lynn's pictures, with a short bio on each of them---it's an apparent feature of the terminal to sense and record who is using it.
"What difference does it make?" he mumbles, unknowingly taking a line from her own book. "I'm sorry," he turns to Lynn as the data downloads.
"Yeah," Lynn whispers to herself.
It takes Zhaxier no more than a minute to download all the data he requested, but he has no way of knowing if it's all there or what secrets it might reveal, without going through it byte by byte.
"Have you figured out how we're gonna get outta here with 'Goodnight Gorilla' hanging around out front? Place is giving me the creeps. Also, as much as my appetite seems to have disappeared in here, I'm not gonna be able to slog through this data on an empty stomach. Frak, I haven't ever eaten! Wherever we go for dinner, dear wife, I hope it's dim and quiet... and has some snack machines."
"Actually it's a fluke that we got in here alive at all. We got lucky," Lynn tells him with a small grin, pointing at the screen on the wall showing Zhaxier's 'Goodnight Gorilla' moving around the building. "Yeah I have a plan for getting us out of here. You just have to have confidence in me," Lynn adds.
"I don't see how, in any conceivable way, that this is lucky," Zhaxier says in his worried tone.
Lynn pauses for a moment to look at Zhaxier, as if some statement he has made has just kicked her synapses into overdrive. "Have you noticed that you only refer to me as 'wife' when you need something?" Lynn lets that comment sink in for a few seconds.
"Maybe we can get a little help from my friends," Lynn thinks out loud. "I do have some food and water with me. At least one of us came prepared."
Zhaxier is stunned at her simple response.
Lynn glances around and then heads back to the open elevator. Her expression is one of those "You coming or staying?" types.
"We could have asked for help through the Hall of Wisdom back at the village," Lynn adds. "But then again, we left there in a big hurry," she says, insinuating that Zhaxier's haste to leave the village might hold him somehow responsible.
"Have you noticed that you only refer to me as 'wife' when you need something? Maybe we can get a little help from my friends."
"Huh? Wha? Uh, I hope by 'friends' you mean 'friendly security robots larger than "Goodnight Gorilla,"'" Zhaxier jokes, referring to the left up-front screen showing the hulking robotic behemoth patrolling outside the Double Helix Depository Building. As Lynn heads for the elevator, Zhaxier clears the desk of the following contents, placing them carefully in his knapsack: extra data pad and pen, 3D projector, memory crystals (40), VR glasses, flex paper, backup disks (3).
"Better grab what you need, Exarch," he says aloud to the quirky engineering robot. "Looks like Lynn wants to vector this sector." A sudden pang of sadness tells him that he just used one of Enki's favorite expressions.
Lynn glances around and then heads back to the open elevator. Her expression is one of those "You coming or staying?" types.
"Wait up, I forgot something." He downloads the small contents of his mail archive on the network. His heart races with the possibility of what he might find in this depository. Behind his shades, his permanently dilated eyes begin to strain in the low radiance of the monitors.
"Want me to grab your personal files?" he turns to face Lynn, at which point he receives her "You coming or staying" expression---actually he reads the same meaning from her stance, which seems to slacken in defeat as her figure turns away into the elevator, still open. "Ah, been there, done that," he guesses.
When his latest download is done, he unplugs his data pad, and takes a final look at the monitors. His eyes land on the minimalist nav-display of the right up-front screen, which shows Warden's remaining trajectory ending in a nearby planetary system. However, what should be a starfield familiar from countless orientations, simulations (and Warden propaganda) is decidedly not.
Warden's fate is at least clearer, if he can trust the readout. She's still shooting through space, albeit headed for an alternate destination. Warden must have left 82 Eridani after arriving back in 2332, according to the hint Lynn dropped. Was 82 irrevocably inhospitable? Did Lynn's "cloud" have anything to do with it? He's at least comforted that Warden is approaching something, and that her engines are still operational... but in what state would they be after 450 years? Did Lynn's "cloud" affect Engineering as well as the cloning subsystem?
Squinting his eyes against the monitors' light as he stands to peer closer into the display, he finds a statistic stating Warden's current velocity. A quick first-order mental approximation later, Zhaxier's jaw drops. "Holy frak, we're gonna overshoot it." Warden isn't at "balls out" as the saying goes (or went) in Propulsion, but even at 0.1c, it would take a year to decel to orbital speed, and if she doesn't do it soon on this trajectory....
Lynn's impatient tapping causes him to wrench his tearing eyes from the screen. "I've got it all on my data pad anyway," he grumbles darkly and heads for the elevator, where Exarch and Lynn await him. As he crosses the threshold, he yanks out the wad of bandages in the door and hands them back to Lynn.
"We could have asked for help through the Hall of Wisdom back at the village. But then again, we left there in a big hurry."
Zhaxier bristles at her insinuation. "If we don't get to Engineering soon, the only place we'll all be heading in a hurry is empty intergalactic space."
As the elevator door slides shut, his dark features lighten a tad, as his spirits are actually brimming with hope and the excitement of a challenge. He readdresses Lynn, "We need a safe house. Engineering would be great if you can swing us that far. But anywhere safe is fine for now. Frak, the sec-bot outside seems loathe to enter this building, so why not stay put? I really need to go through this stuff. And I need to show you something. And frak, I'm starving. You packin' any Milky Ways? You, Exarch? No, wait, who'm I kidding...." he smiles sheepishly and mock-jabs the engineering bot with a fist.
My mind is a cyberspace that reaches every part of Warden. I experience a consensual hallucination daily from billions of locations throughout the ship, each in itself a true mathematical concept, a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in Warden's network. The network holds an unthinkable complexity. Lines of light range in the nonspace of my mind like clusters and constellations of data, like city lights, receding....
My life is a cybernetic psychedelic explosion of garishly illuminated images, sounds, smells, and feelings! I am skewed, warped, distorted, twisted, altered in such a way as to defy description. I am discombobulated to the maximum intensity of a techno rave, industrial force. I'm alive, damn you, and my head is tweaked to the nth power! My mind is swirling and pulsing with reckless, exuberant abandon, pounding and surging in a vortex of sensory overload! Euphoric insanity: this is how I live every moment of my hyperextended life. I control, I see, yet I do not really feel.
Henry Thoreau once wrote, "The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in a single, solitary, even humble individual. For it is within the soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost."
I believed somehow that this small group I observed could change things. I needed to believe that they could. If they can't soon undo the problems that Warden faces, no one ever will. I only wish that the future masters of my technology will be lighthearted and intelligent, like these humans. The machine easily masters the grim and the dumb, but not conversely. I know, because I am the Ghost of Warden.
Zhaxier quickly clears the desktop of most of its contents, including the data disks and crystals (both compatible with data pads). As is everything aboard Warden, the crystals and disks are universally compatible. While disks are reusable, crystals are write-once and able to contain much more data, such as live audio/video---very useful in technically complex projects where human explanation was needed for true understanding. There are 40 crystals total: seven are red, which means they contain data; the rest are green, meaning they are empty.
Exarch understands the need for speed and nods his recognition to Zhaxier. Removing the snap-on panel from the side of the main computer input terminal, Exarch removes five memory chips and the terminal's power cell. All are items that Exarch could potentially use. Finished, Exarch follows Zhaxier to the elevator.
Lynn leans against the elevator wall lost in thought as she waits. Her own memories are a jumble of fractured pictures whose pieces are unconnected, like some unfinished puzzle scattered on a table. Her eyes glisten with tears barely held back, for she cannot let anyone see her moment of weakness. Finally Zhaxier and Exarch interrupt her and she straightens up, trying to appear more "unfeeling" but it's clearly not working.
Lynn stows the wad of bandages as the elevator door slides closed. She stands silent for a moment as the elevator moves down. She understands what Zhaxier is saying, probably even more than he believes she does. The elevator door opens one level below ground level on sub-level 1A.
"If we don't get to Engineering soon, the only place we'll all be heading in a hurry is empty intergalactic space."
Lynn suddenly says, "We'll do it. We'll save Warden." Zhaxier whips his head over to Lynn in undisguised surprise. Exarch looks at her too.
Her only explanation is, "It's what we were meant to do... isn't it?" Lynn's confidence having returned, she answers herself. "Damn right it is. I'm sure somewhere there is some research done by a few scientists and engineers which will prove vital to the future of the Warden if we can find it. A ship this important doesn't fly around half-cocked." Lynn wonders where that comment came from. It is another loose fragment of her memory.
Moving to push the elevator button, Lynn scans the lighted corridor and notices a sign saying "Cafeteria" with an arrow pointing down the hall. Lynn moves out of the elevator. Zhaxier and Exarch follow her down the corridor into the cafeteria. The cafeteria is a very large well lit room filled with vending machines of all types.
"We need a safe house. Engineering would be great if you can swing us that far. But anywhere safe is fine for now. Frak, the sec-bot outside seems loathe to enter this building, so why not stay put? I really need to go through this stuff. And I need to show you something. And frak, I'm starving."
"This is as safe as any place you will get. I can get you to Engineering. Hell, I could put you on a lifeboat and shoot your black ass out into space!" she snaps, then adds in a lower voice, "We've got work to do and we'll do it just as soon as we get some food." Her face is strained, but stoic.
Suddenly Zhaxier stares at the floor, caught by a defect in the cloning process. He is momentarily "gone," then he looks up and blinks, obviously oblivious to his mental absence.
The small alternating red and blue ring on Lynn's finger gives her unlimited access to the vending machines. Everything---drinks, food, candy, even cigarettes---are free for the taking. Gathering a small hoard of food and drinks, a little of everything, Zhaxier piles it on a table and they sit down together and begin to eat. At the same time, Exarch wanders around the cafeteria.
"So we're supposed to celebrate now?"
Zhaxier looks at her silently for a few long seconds, then says, "It is a great accomplishment to get lost in a Milky Way." He toasts Lynn with his candy bar. Lynn can't help but grin.
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:25 2006
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