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Chapter 3: A tangled Web

 Scuttling across an asteroid, the large spider sank its fangs into the icy rock. Feeding on the minerals within, it soon became satisfied. Releasing it grip, it floated away into the ether before taking a more controlled course towards the mother ship that lingered, observing her brood. Across the entire belt, hundreds of these metallic spiders were doing the same, feeding and retrieving minerals for the Queen.

 A method such as this for mining was a fine art indeed. The farming and nurturing of spiders was simple. Convincing them of their duty was somewhat more complex. Once started however, the process was extremely efficient. At each feed the spider retained a minimal amount of the extracted substance, used for replication. Over time the spider would assimilate the materials gathered and begin to produce more of itself, creating 3 or 4 much smaller robots that would begin to feed also, grow to a substantial size through assimilation of harvester materials and the process started again, snowballing exponentially. These complex procedural coding sequences allowed for efficient if complex mining. It did allow for large scale ease, however. A set of Queens could be dropped off in a number of belts, each beginning with a few spiders. Over time, they would begin to replicate until eventually the process was so largely scaled that it may take a matter of hours for entire asteroid belts to be consumed.

 The Artificial Intelligence within the spiders was set so that they would see themselves as natural beings, purely with the aim of growing. They had no real idea of their true purpose. Of course, it is rare that the sole aim is total and utter devastation of rescources. The Queen has a limited cargo capacity, and as such the spiders need to be controlled so as not to consume everything. On board the Queen are various sensors allowing for scans and data of the belt quantities, quality and materials so that numbers of spiders can be redirected and allocated to certain tasks, increasing the optimum yield from each mission. Once a belt depleted, spiders assimilate themselves into a new Queen, meaning there is very little waste and the scale increased further.

While the traditional mining method used by much larger corporations was indeed effective, but required far too high set up costs for them to be available to a small groups of miners. The process was slow and waste high. Should the spider technology be known to large corporations, efficiency and profit would sky rocket. In the interest of recourse balance, they thankfully did not.

The Hub received new transmissions from the Queen. Data reports and updates, nothing too exciting. They weren’t ready yet, but the extraction was going well. The Hub itself was currently in orbit behind one of the moons on a bordering planet Cardum. Rich with untouched asteroid belts, it was a perfect place for these elusive miners to find refuge. The moon was a much better hiding spot than orbiting the planet. Scientists tend to be annoyingly attentive and may notice a large blue station floating across the sky.

A prototype Queen entered the docking hub, fresh with data from a test flight. Rather than needing collecting, Yanis had been experimenting with sub light engines allowing remote collection.

As he accepted docking procedures, Yanis observed through the bay window a new day dawning. Encroaching from the edge of the Moon, a large, green expanse rotated effortlessly into view. No matter how many days went by, the view never grew old or any less spectacular. However, something felt distinctively different today. Not being able to pinpoint it, Yanis ignored the gut feeling and went back to work.

It was then the room was drenched in red, flashing light. Having only ever seen this in training scenarios, Yanis darted his eyes around the various data feeds to try and work out. As soon as he located one that might help him, the alarm stopped and everything went back to normal.

“What the?….”

Ignoring his previous work, he went to work out what had happened. Within a few seconds he had displayed on the panel in front of him all the data logs within the last few minutes. Ruling out most of the usual issues that would have caused visual clues, he was left with all sensors having read normal except for one: Gravimetric. A huge, unusual, out of the ordinary, well into the extraordinary spike was displayed on the graph.

The technology used for these scanners was rare and only used really for mining vessels. Designed to initially work out density and size of celestial bodies, usually asteroids, it scanned the space time surrounding an object and analysed the imprints and distortions that objects had upon it. Thus, they could work out how dense one asteroid was compared to another, irrespective of size. Computers and algorithms then displayed this information in a visible and understandable format, visualising it for humans to act upon as necessary.

With the spiders this had become somewhat redundant, a more hands on approach used, but none the less this technology served useful for random day to day tasks such as identifying objects as ships or debris.

In solving the mystery of what had caused this spike, several possibilities passed through Yanis’ mind. It could not have been natural, while the scanners detect black holes, they tend to be more sustained than what appears to be no more than a minute. Such a localised effect in a short space of time suggests that it was controlled. The Hubs sensors didn’t alert them to a new object in the area, meaning whatever it was it was either stealth, small, or both. Human? Likely, other races hadn’t ventured very far into this sector yet. Plus, any ship too large but cloaked would have still caused a gentle increase in the gravimetric data, where there was none. So whatever it was, it was small. The ability to cause such a spike? Experimental weaponry or technology of some sort. Something people wanted to keep quiet either way as they’d come to this quiet system to test it.

Gragd entered, confused by the alarms.

“What happened dad? Anything dangerous or?”

“I’m not sure. Quite possible, we shall see”

“Uhh…okay then. Whatever”. Gragd left the room in equal befuddlement, but reassured in the knowledge that whatever it was, his dad hadn’t the foggiest what it was and any further questioning would lead to nowhere.

Yanis decided to look at the planet below. The ship had activated the technology between the moon and the planet, so whatever it was it was designed to be aimed or used on Planets rather than in the empty voids of space. It was then that he saw what was wrong. Smoke was spreading from a single point: Cardum. Horrified and confused why he hadn’t seen this earlier, he began to locate the image files that the Hub took every few hours. The Hub did this for any detected point of interest automatically, meaning any life form, movement, ship, moon or otherwise ignored by humans wouldn’t go unnoticed and could be recorded at a later date if necessary. Updating for changes every few hours, the computer had noticed a change in the state of the city settlement, and documented accordingly.

Zooming in for a closer look, the devastation was clear. In the minutes that had passed since the alarm, the city had already began to be consumed by lava. The smoke hadn’t spread very far yet but was growing in volume at an alarming rate as the city began to smoulder.

Clearly it was a weapon. A few hours before, the city was whole, the landscape peaceful. On such a large planet to choose a target, choosing the only settlement clearly meant the attack was directed. As far as he knew, all that the planet was home to were scientists, nothing threatening enough to require continent scale destruction such as this.

A priority flashed to the forefront of his mind. Overtaking the questions, confusion and worry came a much more urgent task: save lives. His mind had already taken care of the practicalities, no immediate threat was known and as such the trip was safe despite giving away their location. It seemed though, that even if survivors had the will to report their location, they did not have the means.

In the hanger stood a compact cargo ship. Equipped with the basics, he fired up the engines and set out. It was already carrying emergency supplies, anything else could be dealt with later or back on the Hub. Opening a video link to the Hub, Yanis’ face appeared on the living room wall where he explained everything he could fathom.

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A splutter emanated from the device as data was received.

 “Elizabeth! We’re getting high density yields 300m down from here.”

 “That’s what I like to here. Keep scanning. I’m going to head to the surface and let HQ know. We can have teams down here tomorrow to do deeper sweeps.”

 As Elizabeth moved towards the surface various readouts on her visor began to grow back to life as signal was re-gained. They’d had only been 30 minutes or so into the cave system, but the density of the rock around them clearly so thick in mass that any signal was denied access. Parallel to the tunnels was the city, a new and growing complex that had only existed for a matter of years. The tunnels had only just been discovered in the recent exploration phase once all the critical systems were up and running within the colony.

(more…)

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I’m currently in the process of re-writing and editing the book I wrote for NaNoWrimo last year. As such, I thought I’d upload it as I went along for you all to comment, enjoy or critique. All feedback/comment is welcomed, and please feel free to share/pass it on!

Shadow

Loitering in orbit over the planet was a single, small ship. All was still. Silence whispered with the galactic winds. The planet below was ignorant to the vessels existence. To Veo, battle cruisers had always seemed cumbersome, and as such an ignorance to his proximity was both vital and amiable. When on contracted missions such as these, his own vessel was much more preferred. Sleek, compact and deadly, many years had been spent by Veo creating his beauty and only true love in the universe. An almost infinite flow of money had allowed him to create the most feared, respected, but most importantly, advanced, vessels within The Company.

(more…)

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