“He must have his reasons. We all do,” Dann replied.
“For leaving home forever? I guess so. You have to be a little crazy to do that.” Jackson smirked. “So why’d you do it? The thrill of a new world? The adventure of a lifetime? The allure of the new final frontier?”
“Something like that,” Dann evaded. He had no real dark secrets in his past; he’d grown up fairly well-to-do. Better than well-to-do, actually. His parents had been pretty stinking rich, to be honest. And he’d been horribly bored for his whole life because of it. Anything he’d wanted, he’d gotten, with one exception—a challenge. So when he’d been eighteen he’d moved out and refused his parents’ money, enlisted right away, and worked hard to get the most menial posting he could on the Dawn Rose. He simply could not imagine a life more different than what he’d known than literally pioneering the birth of a new human home world.
He wasn’t eager to advertise his past. There was no real reason to avoid it now, save for habit, but he’d always feared being called out as having used his family’s influence to secure a spot on the ship, when the fact was he’d to fight them many times to stop them from getting him pulled. It had taken a long time for them to come to terms with his decision. It hadn’t been entirely easy for him either, but he’d known it was the right decision. “Definitely the challenge of the unknown. Guess I got my wish, didn’t I? Be careful what you wish for.”
“You got that right.” Her eyes flicked ahead of them. They were still quite some ways away. “I hate this place. It feels like …”
“Ghosts,” Dann finished at her silence. “It feels like it’s full of ghosts.”
“Yeah,” she said. “The biomes may have wolves and bears and bugs and snakes and piranhas and who knows what else, but I think I’d take that any day over this.”
The emptiness of the central hall was wearing on them all. Cobb was scowling at his own thoughts in the back, while just behind them Rose and Pvt. Pixton were engrossed in their own conversation; the techie and the android, naturally.
“Don’t these things move any faster?” Jackson exclaimed, calling everyone’s attention to her. Dann could sympathize, he was getting impatient too.
“We’re getting there. I’d say we’re, what, fifteen minutes from it now?”
“What’s got you in such a hurry all of a sudden?” Cobb called up from the back. He sounded less pissed off than he had earlier. Moody, Dann thought.
Jackson glowered at him but didn’t reply.
At long last they pulled the tram to a stop outside the doors that led to the stern of the ship. This end looked much as the other hand, right down to the rail tracks leading back down the edge of the biome on this side, as well as the ring of track to access the o secured it in place and passed through. They used the numerous hand-holds in the relatively narrow corridors to help them navigate the zero-g work area and worked their way to the outer edge where the computer core was kept.
“Weird place to put this place,” Dann commented as they entered the large chamber where racks upon racks of hardware sat. The air had a chill to it he’d not felt anywhere else on the ship so far. “Wouldn’t it be easier to get power to it closer to the engines?”
“Too much heat’s a problem for computers, especially ones this powerful,” Pixton said, without a trace of a stammer. To her, this was home. “They built the server farms as close to the sub-artic biome as possible without actually being in it. They share one of the thinnest, most heat-conductive bulkheads in the whole ship.” Her eyes were wide with excitement as she looked around at the servers and data caches and terminals that filled the space. “Rose! Let’s get started.”
Pixton sat at the sysadmin’s main terminal and began punching in commands on the secure access screen. Within moments, Rose Dawn announced, “Access is restricted, Pvt. Jennifer Pixton. Command authorization required.”
“Of course it is,” she mumbled, then punched in another code on the secure terminal.
“Code accepted,” Rose Dawn responded. “Final authorization?”
Rose looked at Cobb. “You’re the highest ranking officer, Lt. Cobb.”
Dann could have sworn Cobb looked a little green at that, but he nodded soberly. “Authorization granted by order of Lt. Frederick Cobb, acting captain of the UTS Rose Dawn.”
Pixton grinned and her fingers flashed over the screen. Within seconds, secondary displays were lighting up across the room, giving the onlookers a view into what she was doing. Initially most of it went over Dann’s head; most of his experience with computers had been online games and the endless social games that were a daily part of early 21st century life. The very idea that a computer was something you had to travel to a specific room to find and access was weird and antiquated for him, though he understood that he’d only been exposed to the consumer end of things and that there was always the need for something bigger than you could fit in a pocket somewhere in the world.
“Well, the computer systems check out just fine,” Pixton announced. “I’ll be able to open parts of the network up to mobile access so we don’t have to come back here for everything. There are some command structures that are local only though.”
“Uh, sure,” Cobb said. “That sounds good. We’ll have phones again, like back on Earth?”
“Yeah, and even the shipboard version of the ‘net, though it won’t be as interesting with just us on it.”
Dann grinned. “There’ll be a whole lot less spam though. And if we catch a spammer, we can space ‘em. I like this place already.”
Jackson glared. “Can we have a little less joking around? We’re aboard a ship of the dead here. Can you find what we need or not? What happened to everyone else? Who survived?”
“S-sorry,” Pixton mumbled, fingers back on the screen, exploring the network of databases with ease that was mind-boggling to the uninitiated. “Here,” she said, dumping a series of maps to the displays around the room. Walls lit up with representations of the ships in various forms. 3D wireframes of the ship popped into being along the walls, with one particularly impressive one appearing right in the middle of the room, projected by laser light onto the ambient dust content of the air. Dann, Cobb and Jackson all stepped out of the floating projection.
The holo-ship was ghostly, the bulkheads picked out in dim grey-white at a reduced transparency so they could see the interior. The interiors were rendered in low detail, simple colored representations of terrain in the biomes, though Rose or Pixton could crank the detail level up any time they wished. The main point of interest on the virtual ship was the sea of red dots that filled the biomes, clustered in the various cryo-bays in the biomes, and the one cryo-bay just outside the bridge, off the ship’s core.
A few bright green points caught the eye; potential survivors. They looked to be randomly scattered throughout the biomes, though the distribution was far from even. There were some bays that contained several survivors, and many many more that contained none at all. Then he noticed something that grabbed his attention immediately; a large blob of green concentrated in what looked like the sub-arctic biome. “Hey, what’s this one? Look at that, there must be close to a dozen in there!”
“I’ll be damned,” Cobb said, some of the stress gone from his bearing.
“Pixton? What is that place?”
Pixton’s fingers were dancing madly. The projection zoomed in, focusing on the interior of the cryo-bay. She pulled up as much data as she could about it, which wasn’t much. Representations of the individual pods appeared with their red or green lights. Names began appearing on the pods. None of the names indicated rank. “Sorry, this is all I have right now … wait …” Pixton said, “That … t-that’s the children’s creche.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. A dozen green was wonderful, but there were still several dozen red.
Jackson was studying the names voraciously, consuming them with her eyes. Suddenly she dropped to her knees, gasping “Renata! Oh, Renata, you’re alive! You made it, my baby!”
The others, all save Rose, went wide-eyed. There were very few parents aboard the Rose Dawn, the expectation being that most people would be too busy working to establish the colony and make it habitable to have a lot of time to raise children immediately. That would have to wait a few years until they were more settled. To have both a mother and child survive …