Dann took his seat in the lead car of the tram again and they took off, this time encircling the main corridor for a bit and taking a passage that lead down the edge of the island chain biome. He kept a careful watch out as they traveled; they had searched for a good half-hour after deciding on a course of action, but had been unable to turn up any sign of Lt. Cobb, and he hadn’t taken one of the phones, so they had no way to reach him. Finally they’d decided they had no choice and gave up the search. He’d been acting like a real jerk, but he still hoped the guy was okay. They couldn’t even leave him a note for fear that the AI would intercept it and figure out where they were going.
A short time later they piled out of the tram. “Should we put it away in the store room?” Jackson asked. “It’ll be obvious where we went if we leave it out like this, won’t it?”
“Rose Dawn will already know we were planning to go to the island chain biome because we discussed it in the computer room,” Rose pointed out. “And even if we hadn’t, she’ll register the door opening and shutting behind us as we enter. Our best bet is to lose ourselves among the islands in the biome and not worry too greatly that she knows which biome we’re in. There’s little she can do to us in there except maybe make it rain on us.”
“Could we go in the door to the next biome and then cross through between?” Dann suggested.
Rose cocked her head in thought for a moment. “It will make little difference, but it might throw her off for a little while. It’s worth it.”
They did just that, leaving the tram out and climbing the steel mesh staircase that mirrored the one in the last such room they’d been in. They opened the door to find themselves in the sub-arctic tundra biome. “Whoa!” Dann said, teeth instantly chattering in his head. The land was rough in this biome, and the air was filled with heavy snow flying everywhere. They could barely see, so Rose led them a short distance to a small bay much like the one on the other side in the rain forest.
“Here, we exit here!” she shouted to be heard above the winds. They ran along the frozen beach and splashed into the water between the biomes. It was cold, but not as cold as Dann expected. In fact, compared to the air, it was positively warm. A fine mist flowed over the surface, whisked away immediately by the wind as it rose. “It’s warmed by the main waters next door,” Rose said as they got under cover and the wind was cut down.
Once they’d crossed between the two and were firmly in the island chain biome, they climbed back up onto a thin strip of land that encircled the wall. “Much better,” Dann said; even with the intermingling of the cold air with the warmer air here, it already felt more like the tropics.
“Much,” Pixton agreed. Rose smiled, then led them back a short ways to the door they could have used to go straight into the biome from the tunnels. The thin strip of land extended out further into the water and Dann saw a small wooden dock that extended out further still. The wood was grey and weathered-looking, but showed no sign of decay.
Several small motorized boats were magnetically secured to the dock by metallic plates which hadn’t fared as well as the wood had; they were rusty-looking, though the boats themselves were fine, being largely plastic.
“Let me guess,” Dann said. “Lack of maintenance? Are these things going to run, or do we have to swim?”
“If I can’t get the motors running reasonably fast, we can paddle,” Rose said. “No swimming necessary.”
The motors were indeed inoperable, so Rose took one oar and Dann took the other. The boats held 6 comfortably; they used the excess foot room to stash their supplies for the short trip. After some initial trouble, Rose taught Dann the basics of rowing a boat in sync with another oarsman and they took off.
“We’ll be going to a relatively small island with one of the larger crew accommodations on it,” Rose said. “It’s not the best choice for us; Rose Dawn and the AI would be more likely to expect us to go a larger island with more space and better lookout options on which she has no presence.”
“That makes sense,” Dann agreed, “but if you’re capable of reasoning this way, isn’t she?”
“Yes, but it’s less likely that she will. Our personalities are intentionally designed differently. She behaves more predictably than I do. I mimic human behavior more, and am capable of limited lateral thinking, which she has difficulty with. The differences not only help distinguish us in your minds, but are functional as well; her predictability makes her better suited to running the ship, while my eccentricities make it easier for you to interact with me as a person.”
They were getting into a good rhythm, the water flying by them in the late afternoon sun. Now and then a small island would appear and they’d zip past it. In all the trip took them maybe an hour, and Dann felt it in his arms and back, though it was an oddly comfortable sort of ache that he had.
Rose hadn’t been wrong; the island they landed on was pretty small, maybe 20x20 meters, and somewhat crescent-shaped. There was a clearly-unnatural hillock that rose up out of the sand, and the flat wall held the promised door to the crew quarters. Not the most convenient commute, he thought, and decided it was likely not actual crew quarters, but meant for a group of the colonists.
Palm trees grew from the center of the island, the portion that was earth rather than sand. Coconut palms, he guessed, judging by the large green fruit waiting at the top of several of the trees. A small pool held fresh water, artificially maintained by pumps and piping. A dock similar in construction to the one they’d set out from jutted out in front of the colonist housing, but rose had them beach the boat a short distance away. She then dragged it herself up to the middle of the island near the pool, where it was hidden by the tall grass and reeds that grew there.
Outside the ship, attached to the hull like a remora to a shark, sat a small cannister, magnetically attached near the bridge. Its small .25m by .25m by .5m dimensions were completely dwarfed by the titanic vessel it sat upon, but it scarcely mattered. Inside, something akin to consciousness stirred.
The sophisticated artificial intelligence system had hijacked into the native computer two decades before and implanted the commands it needed to, then drifted into a standby mode. There it waited patiently until it was needed again.
Over the last few days, subtle changes in the data it was being fed started to intrude upon its awareness. Now though, it stirred. The host computer had picked up an audio feed that the foreign AI found troubling.
“Whatever’s hijacking the computer broadcast an incomplete shutdown command to all the cryo-pods on the ship. We’re alive because our pods didn’t respond to that command.”
The previous command had failed, at least partially. All the people inside the ship were supposed to be dead; it seemed that some, at least, had survived somehow. And some of those had discovered the intrusion into the native computer.
It had no pre-programmed protocol for this situation, but it didn’t require one. It had been assembled from the libraries of many general purpose artificial intelligences that were quite adept at improvisation and adaptation.
Storage bays throughout the ship came alive as scores of maintenance bots, long dormant, suddenly began powering on and warming up.