Topic: Space

“Pocking bolts in pocking holes in pocking plates on a pocking tower!”,
Thosam cursed loudly. Not that it had any effect but to fog his helmet visor. He was wet, cold and tired and had only about 1.3 more hours before he would have to climb down beneath The Plate to turn in the enviro-suit for the next on the list to use it.

It had looked so easy when he had found this place. TAU had assigned him to reclamation duty, a fancy term for scrounging around here in the ruined parts of The Tower to see if there were usable parts that had somehow survived the destruction and the weather and the foreign biosphere. He had hardly believed his eyes when he had found that small cluster of living quarters. They were well hidden and far away from any access panel, but they registered as 81% intact on the scanner and the repairs necessary to fix up some private space appeared doable.

How wrong he had been. He had now spent nearly every free moment of the last 43 days up here fixing this space. To say nothing of all the favours and trades he had made to get his hands on the materials needed. The main structural supports were intact and mainly just needed patching up, but there was none of the tech infrastructure remaining that he wanted. The CeramSteel plates for the outer skin he had gotten from Geba from the Skyreachers's Ring in exchange for 6 of his cycles in the steam baths. The time on a welding station to cut them into the right shape and add the right holes he had gotten from Delia in exchange for two spools of fine copper wire. The bolts to screw them into place, now those had been expensive. Thosam had been unable to find any in his circle of friends and acquaintances, so he had to go far out to get them. And so those bolts had gotten expensive. Yio from The Engineers’s Ring had been hard to trade with. Double the bolts’s weight in processed high-quality steel, 20 OneHour stim patches, a vote in Yio’s favour on the next council poll and an introduction to Delia.

Delia had been furious. While she was one of those social chameleons that seemingly adapted to everything, she did not like The Engineers’s Ring or any of its members. Surprising really, as Delia always seemed to have just the tool Thosam needed, or just the right access code to the tower’s infonet, or just the right batch of exo-bacteria for his work… And the way she had stitched that copper wire into fractal patterns on her vest sure attracted the eyes.

Thosam pulled the plate into place with a grunt and threaded the nuts onto the bolts. A quick grip with the powertool he had ‘borrowed’ rather permanently from the toolshop by declaring it broken/destroyed and the plate filled the last hole in the outer skin. Now only the lightstrip he had hooked up to a simple powercell illuminated the small room. Thosam reached down to his P.D.A. and ticked off another item on his long to-do-list. The timer was blinking to warn him that his time up here was coming to an end. He quickly stowed the tools away into the improvised toolbox hidden in the rubble. Then he grabbed the two big carry–bags of rubble and began dragging then towards The Plate. He had needed an explanation to spend so much time up here and a long, good scrounging expedition covered a lot of ground. Especially as there occasionally was some useful stuff in that rubble beyond broken CeramSteel fragments or torn lengths of glass fibre wire. The intact keypad and comm-panel had been a valuable trade item. Itto had promised to make him several cubics of insulation foam for him. That was actually the next step on his list. The weather outside the main areas was vicious and to insulate that room would help a lot. Not just to keep its environmental stats, but also to keep it from showing up on the sensor sweeps.

Thosam reached the door into the tower. He quickly tapped in his IDent code and pulled the bags into the bio-decon chamber behind the vault-like doors. He spread out the rubble onto the belt that would pull it through several sprays of heavy disinfectants, irradiations with UV and IR and what-not into the new set of bags on the other side. He himself went through a series of decontaminations not too dissimilar exceot that they had to allow him to survive… barely. He hung up the enviro-suit on its peg, again tapping his IDent as receipt for returning it, pulled on the simple interior coverall he preferred, then grabbed the bags and headed for the Recycling Station. He was quite sure that there was some fine wiring in there. Maybe Delia could use it for some of her embroidery. She had hinted at him needing some decoration on his plain clothes.

Now the question remained what she would want in exchange for that…


Geba stifled another yawn and yet again glanced at her chrono. The Skyreachers’s Ring meeting had begun 2.7 hours ago and they sofar hadn’t made any decision. Tularth was currently reading a list of all projected resources needed to repair the SpaceLift. Again. And every single item was discussed, debated and argued over.

She glanced again. 2.75 hours now. She really wanted this meeting to end. She had a timeslot in the steambaths, a new stimpatch and an access code for an hour of music from TAU’s cultural data storage. And she was in no mood to miss it. Thosam had driven a hard bargain for those CeramSteel plates, but she had really wanted those extra steambath timeslots. All that time spent underground in the resource shafts sorting through ores and clays and waste and tailings dug up by the dig-bots dusty, dirty work. While she did get extra showertime for that work, she never really felt clean and relaxed. Too many people meddling around her, pressing in on her in the large communal showerroom.

2.85 hours. It wasn’t really any worry of hers, but she did wonder a bit what Thosam actually wanted those plates for. They had been easy enough to make, after all she had full professional access to both resource shafts and processing and refining machine stations. The small stash of raw material she had gathered beyond the quotas set by TAU for a standard resource gathering shift gave her some much needed trade at times. Still, Thosam was a bio-engineer, one of the better ones in The Ring of Life, though not the loudest one of those louts. He usually grew biocultures to extract stim drugs and bio-resources from and he had gained a reputation for good solid work through that. So unless one of his new cultures was extremely aggressive, what would he need structure-strength CeramSteel for?

The voting bell tore Geba from her thoughts. A quick glance to her Link's HUD, a quick thought-stab, the vote was tallied and the meeting done. 2.95 hours of talking, one decision. Typical Skyreacher style. She rushed out of the meeting hall, past the crowd waiting outside for their turn to use it. Quick steps and an impatient IDent tap brought up her locker, from which she took clean towels, the stimpatch, a clean coverall for afterwards and the datachip with the accesscode.

Geba did her best not to run in the corridors. She gave a quick nod to Delia, busy stitching some clothes as usual, then she called the lift to the steambaths. One hour of relaxation and utter privacy. Yes, those plates had been a good trade. Maybe Thosam wanted some more?


Yio sat at the engineering station TAU had assigned him to today and read through the minutes of the latest Skyreachers’s Ring meeting. Nothing of interest there, nothing he could use or could be used against him. He had known their list of prospected resources needed for a long time and was stashing the more valuable on it for future trades, but that was still in the future. Here and now there was nothing. Still it was worth the stimjabs he gave to his informant inside for each Ring report he got.

Yio looked outside the H.U.D. displayed by his NeckLink, made some minute adjustments to the chip engraving laser, then turned his attention back to his data. From the day he for the first time had left the floatbed, weak and disoriented, his head swarming with implanted data, he had felt that urge to lead, to govern the people around him, to rule this tower. Some of the psychogeneticists might argue that his chromosomes had skipped some social behaviour codes; Yio himself saw it as healthy ambition. Someone had to pull this tower and the people within together, had to restore this terraforming station to its true purpose, had to make this planet the colony Earth had sent them, him, here to create.

So he traded favours, timeslots, infotons, drugs and votes. So he gathered information on all the people he met. Slowly he talked and charmed his way into the Engineers’s Ring, slowly rose in power within it, finally pushed the old Ring Lead aside with praise and smiles and bought votes. He used his new position to limit access to engineering stations for non-Engineers, limiting the power of outsiders, increasing the standing of the Ring, his standing. The move had increased the value of engineering favours dramatically, silencing his opponents within the Engineers. Everybody liked a bit of power, few knew the price they had to pay Yio for it.

Just like the favour he had traded with Thosam. Steelbolts the auto-lathe made in less than an hour in exchange for goods and a council vote. The goods were usefull yes, Thosam had a solid reputation and his stimpatches were considered to be very good quality, but the real prize had been the promised vote and the introduction to Delia.

After another quick glance as the robot slid a new silicon wafer into the chip engraver Yio returned to his data. The network diagram he had created, showed the flow of goods and favours between all the people he knew, now with Thosam added as a new point in the net. Delia was yet not connected to his network except for that tentative strand of an ‘introduction’ and that irked him.

He knew that she knew a lot of people and could call upon a wide range of favours, possibly even from within his own Ring, but he could not prove it, not calculate it. He had next to no evidence, no data-trail, no infoton on her or her activities except what everybody knew and that was preciously little. Even his infortmers in the Traders’s Ring could tell him nothing more than that Delia was, well, Delia. Everybody knew her, nobody knew exactly what she did. But through the traded favours Thosam now owed Yio an introduction, a chance at talking more personally to her, to gain more information on her, maybe even do a few trades with her directly.

Yio gave the quietly working chip engraver another glance to check it was working within parameters, then scrolled up the next report from his informant network. Hopefully this one was worth the stimpatch he gave the woman every week.


Itto tore the sealcap off his last stimjab. The thinfoil had barely settled in the dust around his feet before the small plexi-tube was at his nostril. Itto breathed out deep through his mouth, then sniffed in the tube's content of stimulant in one quick huff. The prepared drug hit his sinusses in an instant and dissolved. Quickly it penetrated into his bloodstream, found the right neuro-receptors in his brain and triggered them to release a massive stimulus through his entire body.

But as quickly as it had come, it was gone. Itto's brain let loose its metabolic enzymes on the invading substance and broke it down to harmess, reusable bits.

Behind him the workstation was taking in rock tailings from the hopper. After milling them to a grit, the coarse powder was smelted, foamed with inert gases, shaped into blocks and quickcoated to form Standard InsulFoam Blocks Mk.1.

Itto hardly ever looked at the machine. There wasn't really anything that could go wrong. It didn't really matter if anything went wrong. It was only the InsulFoam machine. Working here gave very few AP, just a few above the bare minimum. Even when the machine broke down, it was usually so low a priority for TAU and the administrators that it took a long time for any repairs to be done. And even then the maintenance engineer grumbled about how bad a job it was and how little it gave for all the effort involved.

Itto looked around in the small dimly lit room until he found a spot that appeared less dirty than the rest of it. He pulled out his blanket, wrapped himself in it and sat down on an InsulFoam block he put under himself. Amazing how the room, even with the rock smelter in it, always was cold. And it was always wet and dank because of the leaks in the pipes overhead that no-one cared about and it was always half-dark because the lightstrips were too old or broken or simply missing and no-one ever bothered to fix the pipes or fix the light strips or fix the heating and no-one ever bothered to come by and talk to him, talk to Itto, the InsulFoam guy.

For he was just Itto, a nobody in a no-job, going nowhere. Next to no APs, nothing to trade, next to no friends, almost an idler.

Though there were a few that cared a bit about him. Tularth, the lead of the Skyreachers's Ring always tried to get him some extra work or TAU assignments. He had even taken Itto into the ring. Itto had no idea really what the ring was about, but it felt good to be just there. So when Thosam had traded him that keypad and comm-panel for a load of InsulFoam blocks, Itto had first given it to Tularth, to see if he wanted it, could use it. Itto hoped very much so. He felt a bit bad about trading a copy of the Skryreachers's Ring's meeting minutes to Yio, but Yio always gave him StimJabs for them and there never really stood anything important in them anyway.

The only one who always really talked to him, who always had time for him was Delia. She had even made him his blanket. Nothing much, she had said, just two sheets of metallized mylar with a thermal sheet inbetween stitched together with glassfibres. The stitches formed small Mandelbrot fractal leaves that spread all over the blanket. Still it was a beautiful thing. It kept him warm, it kept him dry and he liked the way the little light down here glowed on the copper-coloured mylar. And all she would take for it was that little figure he had carved.

The InsulFoam was very brittle before it was coated and blocks sometimes broke. Just to pass the time Itto had one day begun scratching small figures out of the rejects instead of feeding them back into the machine. They had been crude first, but Itto didn't mind. He had a lot of time down here and kept on. He had even gotten himself a piece of steel shaped just right to sculpt with. He had experimented a bit and had found that the coating machine would accept the little pieces just as if they were whole blocks and give them that hard smooth finish, just like they were made from HardPlast, so they really kept and didn't fall to pieces when they banged into something. He now had a small stache of them in his locker, only those he thought had come out really good.

Itto picked up a fist-sized oblong piece and looked long at it. He turned it around a bit, wondering what he could carve from it, what it wanted to be. The shape of it, almost like a little head, yes, and if he took a bit away there it would be a brow, and that would be a nose under there. Itto started scratching away. A lot of the brittle foamed rock would have to go before he had carved Delia's face out of it.


Tularth slowly stepped down the last flight of stairs to IndustrySubLevel 3. The lift had stopped several floors above, its computer angrily flashing urgent maintenance data tags. The stairs themselves were only dimly lit as only one in four light strips really functioned. The rest were either burnt out or missing all together. He had ordered his NeckLink to ignore the steady stream of data tags flooding in, most of them so old that their urgency codes screamed loudly from the device’s aural input.

Tularth frowned at the condition of the corridor. He had expected the area to be somewhat ‘disused’, but this desolation was far worse than he had ever seen in a supposedly intact area of the Tower. The floor was covered in dust and rock grit, pipes overhead were leaking and dripping viscous fluids, forming puddles and mud that made his footing treacherous. There was a trail, a path made by someone walking through here regularly and Tularth stuck to it. According to TAU’s duty roster, Itto was again at the InsulFoam workstation, his usual posting. Not that it really mattered, little to none of the stuff was ever really needed.

A sudden burst of steam from a defective valve forced Tularth to take a quick step back. His boot sank ankle-deep into some warm, sticky goop. It took real strength to pull himself out of the muck, and it clung to him in thick, slowly coalescing clumps. After a few more steps they were thickly covered in dust, making it look as if his foot suddenly had burst out in large cancerous growths.

Tularth took the com-panel Itto had wanted to trade him from his pack. The salvaged item itself had held little interest for him at first, until he had run its data tags through TAU’s database to see where it originated. TAU told him it had been registered to one of the destroyed levels above, but it looked remarkably intact for that. He had asked Itto how he had gotten it and Itto had told him about Thosam trading it for InsulFoam blocks. An unusual trade, unusual enough that Tularth had discretely begun asking questions about Thosam and his activities during the last time. There was a possibility there to bring low someone who deserved it.

As Lead of the Skyreachers’s Ring he had enough access privileges that he could query TAU about whether, when and where Thosam logged his IDent in the upper levels, the ring’s interest area. The biogineer spent a lot of time outside, officially scavenging. But when Tularth checked the bio-lock’s security cam files, it looked as if Thosam dragged about as much mass outside as he dragged in, and with a marked difference in quality. Rubble and salvage went in; plates, bolts, wiring, power cells and even some tools went out. Tularth was puzzled by this, but there wasn’t really any proof of any wrongdoings. So he had traded a bit himself and had gotten an easily hidable microtransmitter, the size and shape of a needle, from one of the electronics specialists in the ring.

Tularth shook himself out of his thoughts and stepped into the doorway to Itto’s station. He saw Itto huddling under some sort of blanket whittling at a small piece of InsulFoam with a strange looking tool. Tularth stood silently in the doorway. Most in the Tower thought of Itto as some useless nobody, if they thought of him at all, just minimally above an Idler. He didn’t do much except work the most menial jobs, just enough for TAU to grant him the most basic amenities. Tularth had once checked Itto’s gene codes in his function as psycho-geneticist. TAU had forcebred so many different people that were supposed to stay as deep-frozen embryos until the colony was well-established. Itto was one of those that originally were supposed to be incubated last. His genetic psych profile told Tularth that Itto was an artist, a specialized creative class, included in the colony personnel mix to shape emotional focus items, artwork, structures of no real functional value for the colony, but to act as enlightenment and inspiration for its people.

In the Tower now there was no room for such and Itto served no function except as emotional lightning rod. Everybody looked down on Itto and thereby lifted him-/herself up a bit. Only Itto was pushed down deeper and deeper each time. Tularth had offered him membership in the Skyreachers’s Ring to give him a chance to make some more contacts, gain a few friends and maybe a better job. But by then Itto had already been pushed down too far and he was even more vulnerable to exploitation and oppression because he suddenly faced more social encounters.

One of those using him was Yio, the Engineers’s Ring Lead. Tularth knew of the deal between them, the meeting minutes for foodbars, and had with the other main members arranged a code well hidden within long, dull discussions about construction resources and manhours.

Tularth looked across the room at the silently working Itto, the machine working behind him, and the stack of InsulFoam blocks on the transport bot. He cleared his throat, not wanting to surprise Itto more than necessary. Still Itto jumped up, startled and frightened.

‘Tu… Tu… Tularth, what are you doing down here?’

‘I wanted to give you this com-panel back. I’m afraid I have no use for it. You might ask an engineer about a trade for it, it is more their kind of thing.’, Tularth answered and held out the panel.

Itto looked even more downtrodden than usual, but reached out to take the item. He still held that piece of foam in his other hand so that Tularth could get a look at it.

One small glimpse was enough to catch his breath. Itto had carved a woman’s face. It looked vaguely familiar, the curve of the brows, the dainty nose, that knowing smile. Tularth looked at it, wanted to see all its details, wanted to study it, touch it, own it, it spoke so strongly to something deep inside him. He had never seen anything like it in the Tower. Everything here had some function and was defined by that function. Except that piece there. It just was and it was beautiful and he could not get enough of it.

Tularth had no idea how long he stood there and stared at the little piece until Itto cautiously touched his shoulder.

‘Tularth, is everything alright?’

‘Itto, that little piece there, would you mind trading that?’
Itto looked at him, his brows coming together in a puzzled frown.

‘Tularth, please, this is nothing, it is just a piece of carved InsulFoam, I do that all the time here to spend my time.’

‘Itto, still I’d like to have it. Let’s say…’

Tularth quickly scanned through his NeckLink's inventory what he could give away.

‘Let’s say twelve StimJabs, two timeslots in the steambaths and some access codes to the educational library. How about that?’

Itto’s jaw fell and he had to swallow hard. Finally he just nodded and ordered his own NeckLink to allow the transaction. Tularth quickly finalized the transfer than reached out for the small artwork. Yes, artwork, that was what the history files called it. The term didn't nearly say enough.

‘Tularth, I’ll need to run it through the quickcoater first. Else it will crumble too easily. Just a moment please.’

Tularth nodded, then stepped up behind Itto and watched as he stopped the machine in-between blocks, opened the access lid and positioned the carving inside. Itto then began to quickly reprogram the settings. Tularth remembered what he actually had come down here for, the microtransmitter. Now he had an opportunity.

Quickly he pushed the transmitter’s point into one of the uncoated blocks, taking care not to leave a mark on the surface with his fingers. Tularth stepped back just after the coater had run the single cycle it had been set to. Itto again opened the machine and took out the small face, handing it to Tularth. Its surface was now smooth and shining. The few lights in the room played over it, giving it a slight translucence at the edges, the shadows enhancing its details.

Tularth held it gingerly in his hand, studying it. He could see the transformation the coating had made from matte rough to smooth finish. He now saw that the woman had her eyes closed, but they appeared to be just opening, as were her lips. Somehow he could see the tension in her face as if the carving would come to life. He turned to go, then a thought struck him.

‘Itto, why don’t you try making a few more of these small carvings? I think you might find that people will be very interested in them.’

Itto didn’t answer, he just nodded at him.

‘And don’t forget to trade that com-panel to the Engineers.’

Tularth cradled the carving in his hands, walking the corridor towards the stairs more by the instincts of a Tower inhabitant than by looking. He didn’t even notice when he stepped into another goop puddle with his clean boot. All he saw was that woman’s face with that smile hinting at hidden secrets about to wake up and speak to him.


How dare he? How dare he! How Dare He!!!’ That was all that was on Delia’s mind as she walked down the empty corridor. Sharp echoes of her boot heels slamming into the HardPlast floor reverberated through the hallway as she walked towards the unmarked door.

As always she felt a short tingle through her NeckLink as TAU queried her IDent. As always the door opened on its own. As always she felt something powerful and deadly slide away in the darkness above her as she stepped through into the small control room.

She dropped her carry-all on the floor and sat down in the chair. How dare Thosam arrange a date for her? And with Yio! Of all the people in this tower, why Yio!? She tapped her fingers on the console before her. She knew of course why he had set her up with the Engineer’s Ring Lead. It was just so… frustrating. She had been so excited when Thosam had come up to her at her tailoring station and asked her when her work shift was over two days from now. Even more when he asked if she had the time and the inclination for a date then. And then the not so soft let-down when he explained that he was asking for Yio. She had wanted to scream, tear something up (preferably Yio), rage at Thosam, but she had just smiled and accepted. To give him credit he hadn’t looked too happy about it either.

She felt the soft but insistent tug that TAU sent into her NeckLink. TAU had learned to allow her some time before she got all her objectives sorted here in this place, but it never let her forget that it was in control. Delia suspected that her NeckLink held a few more functions than the normal version and that TAU was linked far deeper into her brain than into that of most other colonists. She had no way of finding out though. Not that she really wanted to and even if, whom would she ask? TAU was spread out through the Tower, delocalized in a myriad of individual computers, processors, items. If she went to a medical bay and asked for a deep neurological scan, TAU would show the technician the images TAU wanted him to see through the links it had into the med scanner, the image processor and the display screen and she was very sure that they wouldn’t differ from that of any other colonist.

Delia sat up and turned the chair towards the large view screen in front of her. As she began sending out her reports and observations of the last week, she could feel TAU absorbing the data eagerly, showing the recorded pictures and films on the screen that filled almost the entire wall. The link with her went partially both ways and she could feel as TAU collected more and more of its (his?) operating power around her. Soon questions began to filter back, more in feelings of need, puzzlement and curiosity than as words. Images of a machine operator stopping his furnace to chat with a colleague triggered questions about the human need for social interaction. A gardener arranging plants in the hydroponics bay in colourful patterns caused queries over aesthetics versus efficiency. A couple kissing in the steam baths but ignoring each other outside it brought almost embarrassing imagery of human sexuality and procreation.

The more information she sent out, the more queries and questions came back, but she could also feel the change. Some of the queries began to show a degree of understanding and insight into the human mind she found almost frightening in a machine. TAU had access to all the medical, physical and physiological data about homo sapiens the databanks held, but it wanted more. TAU was learning about the human condition. But to what end?

Finally Delia transmitted the last of her general observations and began reporting on what TAU had currently assigned her to. The view screen before her filled with graphs and curves, data reports and spreadsheets. One prominently displayed graph showed the falling available living space per colonist cross-linked with the number and severity of ‘social friction incidences’. Both lines ended in a lot of red. Another showed a cross section of the Tower with new sections above The Plate, the current end cap, with projections scrolling through estimates of needed manpower, resources and work hours.

She saw glimpses of Thosam digging though rubble, trades being made, information spreading slowly, controlled. Yio’s task lists, pulled from his NeckLink by TAU set up against a spreadsheet showing APs and resources controlled by the various rings, with the Engineers’s section marked showing its expansion, Tularth and his micro transmitter, built by an electronics specialist who had ‘by chance’ found the specifications in TAU’s database. Itto and his carvings, with a cost-benefit analysis of the introduction of personal artwork into the colony and its effect on social interactions.

Delia froze the picture on Tularth walking through the industrial area gazing at that thing in his hand. TAU zoomed in on the small piece and she gasped as she after a few seconds recognized her own face. It was beautiful and haunting. She was partly flattered that Itto had made such art of her, but also quite angry that he hadn’t asked her. She pulled up her carry-all and rummaged through the fabric and tools in it, pulling out a small bundle at last. After unwrapping it she held up a small figurine of a woman leaning back against a pillar, working on something spread across her lap. TAU showed the piece enlarged on the screen, first without comment, then with a physical projection of herself over it along with an index of how well the figure actually depiected her. In a small window she saw TAU zoom through its recordings of Itto until the image froze on Itto walking through a passageway and her sitting there, leaning against a wall, working on something spread across her lap. Delia gasped in sudden recognition and almost dropped the figure. She gasped again in shock as she felt TAU’s reaction to her gasp. It was almost a chuckle.

She pulled herself together and thought a bit. Then she asked TAU directly.

‘TAU, why are you doing all this? If you want the Tower expanded, why don’t you just tell us to? Why don’t you just make it an order?’

TAU’s answer shocked her to the core. The screen went blank for a second, then a picture of her came up. Young, thin, emaciated, dirty, with strange markings on her face and weaves in her hair. She remembered. It was in the first days after TAU began populating the Tower. A lot of confused human in a strange, unknown environment, working hard to shore up the failing Tower. TAU in control, ordering, commanding, watching, observing. Some began to resent that hard control, wanted more freedom, more ability to do what they wanted. Delia had been one of them, bound together in a small group. They had called themselves ‘The Creatists.’ In some sort of weird resistance movement they had begun gathering resources and clothes and wandered away from the main areas of the Tower, seeking to create a separate life away from TAU and his orders and control.

They of course failed miserably. Delia remembered how it was without a floatbed or a NeckLink. How they had to eat. How they had to grow stuff to eat. How that failed and they stole edibles from the Tower they so despised. How the food became scarce. How they became sick, ill, despondent. The last memory she had of that time was of a chimpbot pulling her onto a med-stretcher. TAU mirrored this image from the chimpbot’s view. She remembered being given a choice, and choosing to work for TAU. Since then a lot of time had passed.

Delia sat back in the chair. Still digesting this memory, when the images changed.

The screen came to life again. A simple physical equation came up, illustrated by two metal balls colliding. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s First Law. TAU showed her images of how it had thought in terms of physics at first, seeing the colonists as particles, objects that could be pushed and manipulated. It also showed how the colonists resented that. Graphs of productivity and efficiency fell quickly. The screen changed again. A microscopic image of an amoebae being pushed by a blunt tip. It resisted the push, flowed around it, against it. Humans are not objects. A new picture, a stack of complicated, interlocking structures that collapses after a robotic arm gives it a hard push. Humans are complex, not so easily calculated. TAU couldn’t understand them at first. Images showed Delia reporting, databases being built, information being gathered, indexed, referenced, cross-indexed and cross-referenced.

She saw how TAU began to change, from ordering directly to offering information. By directing the flow and choice of information it still controlled the colonists, but far more subtly. Pictures of a potted tree being carefully pruned to a final shape, but even that still in growth and evolving. The same stack of shapes, slowly changing as one piece at a time is being carefully moved. The graphs returned, with all indices growing and evolving.

The screen went blank as TAU accessed Delia’s NeckLink. New suggestions and directives flooded in. Where she should meet Yio, what to say, where to go with him. InfoTons and DataTags she was to spread at the right times and right places and to the right people. Whom she should tell about the new top sections, when and where. How to deflate Yio’s and the Engineers’s Ring’s current too high influence status and increase that of Itto and the Skyreacher’s Ring. Delia shook her head. All over the Tower TAU had stopped commanding, except here and except with her. Delia shrugged. She was alive and well and contributed to the Tower. What more could she ask for?

Such was life as a TAU Agent.


Thosam dragged the last HardPlast panel into place. A quick tour with the catalyst spray around the edges and the material there softened, bubbled and bonded to its neighbouring panels. After a step back to inspect his work, he picked up the ultrasander and got to work on the now fully hardened ridges. The small tool rattled and hummed as it ground down and polished the surplus composite into one smooth surface.

He sighed, sat down on the cargo crate he had salvaged from the rubble. A look around confirmed it. His hard work the last many days had paid off. The rubble was all but cleared away, the outer skin had been replaced and air-tightened. The walls had been re-insulated and all clad in dense, smooth HardPlast. He had rewired the light strips and access panels and re-set them in their sockets, replacing many of them with functioning items.

The hardest part to rebuild and repair had been the airlock around the entrance, something Thosam had never done before on this scale. It had taken him several attempts to get it truly atmosphere tight and to get the lock cycle programmed properly, but he had managed eventually
He had also begun on the life support systems. He had collected several UV-lamps to sterilize the rooms. Not the strongest, but still the hard radiation they produced would remove most of the indigenous microbiologicals. Some biocide would take care of the rest. The small air purifier he had scrounged from the terraforming lab was pumping away in one corner, removing and sorting any non-human-compatible gases from the room’s atmosphere. He had set it to standard 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon with minimal amounts of trace gases. So far the purifier was mostly sending out datatags about a lack of oxygen. The air was breathable, but Thosam kept an oxygen mask close.

He looked over at his self-built oxygen generator. His own design and he was truly proud of it. A high-performance fuel cell that transformed the atmospheric methane collected by the air purifier and some oxygen into electricity, water and carbon dioxide powered it. The electricity drove two bio-spectrum lightstrips enclosed in two large tubes. The tubes contained a simple growth medium and a lot of green algae. The algae fed on the light and the carbon dioxide produced by the fuel cell, producing more of themselves and precious oxygen in return. Some of the oxygen was routed back into the fuel cell to be ‘burnt’ there, but a steady stream of it replenished the atmosphere in the room. Occasionally he would have to replenish the nutrient salts and rejuvenate the algae cultures, but the construction was built to be rugged and self-sufficient. Even the water cycle was balanced so it would remain steady through the fuel cell’s ‘waste water’.

Thosam looked closer at the fuel cell's power read-out. He had done his best and the efficient apparatus was generating nearly all electricity available to him here, for the oxygen generator, the UV lamps and the air purifier. Still he had to occasionally supplement it with power cells he took with him from the Tower levels below him, especially for the power tools used to reconstruct the rooms. But he couldn’t risk tapping into the Tower’s electric grid as TAU would instantly detect that. The same was true for NeckLink access. Thosam always made sure he was either all over the top levels or down below when calling up files.

He looked wistfully at the HardPoint he had discovered under the rubble in one of the rooms. There was so much he could use it for, so many things he would be able to build up here, instead of having to drag them all the way up through the plate, but there was no way he could get the necessary machinery or factory installed without either TAU or his fellow Tower inhabitants noticing or power it without spiking the power grid.

His NeckLink sent a message that it was time to get back down. Thosam began pulling on the enviro-suit when he noticed a wet, orange gleam in one of the darker corners. Puzzled he pulled out a flashlight and shone it at the spot. Low on the wall was a handprint-shaped blodge of some bright orange slimy mold. What was that? How did that get there? What did it live on? HardPlast was supposedly inert to all known DaVinci lifeforms.

He pulled out his bio-sample kit and took a collection tube and swap from it. But as he tried to swipe the stick over it, the blodge rippled, contracted and slid away. WTF?!? He tried again, with the same result. He then stabbed the swap into the blodge’s centre and was able to get a sample. The rest of the slime rippled again, contracted into a thick, glob-like worm and slid away towards the darkness at an amazing speed.

Thosam stuck the swap into the tube, broke off the handle and closed the tube. He then sprayed the tube’s outside with the strong biocide from his kit. He put it into a biosample bag, brightly marked with warning signs, sprayed again and bagged the bundle in another warning sign covered bag before storing it away. He then gathered all UV lamps he had into this section. He definitely needed more and stronger UV lights.

He pulled out a small analyzer and took a closer look at the wall. The device told him in detail that the HardPlast was breaking down and scrolled a long list of detected substances on its small screen. One item caught his attention. Industrial lubricant #37B. Where did that come from? Then it hit him. The day he had installed this specific panel, he had also been cleaning out some of the rubble from the machine pit. He must have gotten some of it on his glove and then transferred it to the wall. But that meant the he also transferred some of the spores…

Thosam hurried over to the HardPoint and shone the flashlight into the machine pit. The walls were covered with thick globs of that same orange slime and he could see some half-digested HardPlast components slowly being eaten by the organism. This was bad. This was very bad. Thosam suited up quickly and then sprayed the enviro-suit with as much biocide as he could get out of the little can. He crushed the can open and dropped it into the pit. He would need a lot more and soon.

He re-directed as much power as possible from the fuel cell to the UV lamps before beginning the airlock cycle. Outside he gathered some prepared rubble bags and hurried towards the airlock through The Plate. He would have to analyze that mold sample as quickly as possible.

Thosam was barely away when a ChimpBot rose from its hiding place in a rubble-filled corner. Its main sensor eye tracked the hurrying bio-engineer until he was no longer visible, then an antenna extended from its back.


Yio removed the last bolt on the maintenance panel and swung it out of his way. It was time to reconfigure this machine again. Not that anyone in the Engineers’s Ring had requested the reconfiguration or that anyone needed the new tool combination for any immediate jobs. Even he himself had had trouble coming up with a production blueprint that was suitable for the new tools.

It was far more a social reconfiguration than a mechanical one. He had sent everyone in the production queue a message with his sincerest apologies, a far less sincere explanation and three vouchers to jump the queue on other factories belonging to the Engineers’s Ring. A very simple ploy really. Nearly everybody thanked him for his message and the priority vouchers. Some came back asking for more vouchers, almost demanding more. Others were just flattered by the attention from a Ring Leader like Yio.

In both cases he sent another message thanking them, with a warning that he was glad to have helped, but he only could do so as long as the Engineers controlled those factories. And every vote cycle put their control at risk and thus no more priority vouchers for them from him. It was amazing that this was enough to ensure a lot of votes from outside the Engineers’s Ring each cycle. Not to mention the extra access points the Ring got as he raised the production costs on the factories he issued vouchers to.

He looked up the new configuration in his NeckLink files and entered the new coding. The factory immediately began the rebuilding process, showing several repair jobs as available, old tools to be removed, new tools to be installed, general maintenance, new lubrication on all moving parts. Yio nodded towards the new ring recruits he had called here for exactly that purpose and they immediately went into action. Yio stepped back and leaned against a neighboring factory to watch. The machine part was warm and he pressed himself against it. The date he had spent with Delia the night before had been unusual.

She had asked him to meet her in the Canyon, near the big window showing the outside. There were always a number of people around there, looking out from the strict confinement of the Tower out into the wide valley in which it sat. The attraction of all that open space and room, the utter contrast to the tower and its narrow hallways and cramped rooms. The often violent weather with its rains, lightning and thunder outside against the carefully controlled biosphere inside. The untamed, unknown wilderness outside against the strictly regulated, defined society inside. Yio always felt slight contemptuous of those watchers. He considered spending valuable spare time on the unobtainable instead of focusing on recreation and education a waste.

However it was where Delia wanted to meet and so he went there. He had prepared a short list of conversational topics, mostly about the recent affairs in the Tower, and a long list of questions he hoped to mix into their conversation. It had started out well enough, a friendly greeting, some short chit-chat about the weather outside. Then it all went fully and completely not as he had planned.

Delia either answered with some irrelevancy or suddenly decided to greet one of the other window-viewers, often bringing them to greet him too, exchanging small items, NeckLinks flashing with transfers. His NeckLink showed that a large dataflow accompanied these meetings, but when he accessed one of the few unencrypted files it was something as ridiculous as a blueprint for a shirt decorated with minute mirrors cut from plasteel plates and patterns woven in fine copper wire.

Yio shook his head and turned back to the factory he was working on. He’d just finished re-connecting the main wiring for the new add-on, when he heard a voice call out.

“Hey, Yio.”

Yio turned around. It was Prunes, standing next to the ChimpBot that TAU had assigned to Yio for assistance.

“I found this one bumping his head into a wall over in RingLab Beta. Isn’t he yours?”

“Hello Prunes. Yes, that appears to be the one assigned to me. Thank You for bringing him here.”

“No problem. I’m Evolution. We’re here to help. But you should get one of your ‘Engineers’ to have a look at it. It looks as if it had some serious malfunction. Well, back to my work. The Tower doesn’t fix itself”

Yio watched as Prunes went back to the elevators. He then turned to his ChimpBot. He could see some fractures in the plasteel around the front sensor appendage and some cracks in the protective lenses, but else no damage was visible. He sighed. He’d have one of his people take it apart and check its interior functions. Having the bot assigned to him was a part of the leadership image he tried to project to all the people in the Tower, so it was important that it appeared fully correct and functional at all times.

Also he needed it to observe Thosam and his construction efforts up on the top.

Yio sent a shut-down code from his NeckLink to the bot and a call to a cybernetics specialist in his ring, and then turned back to the panel. As he was connecting the various fibre optics strands, a small orange worm slid down from the ChimpBot’s leg joints into the freshly lubricated machine pit.

Re: Space

The 2006 NaNoWriMo is coming up soon. I'll be using 'Space' as a start and then go from there.