The ghost in the machine

 

I hear the sound even in my sleep, that whisper of something different in the station that was not here when I came on board.

You donít spent a year on a space station and not get used to its sounds.

Yet my two companions seem unaware of the change.

They worry more over systems that seem to fail for no apparent reason.

No, not fail.

Big George tells me each simply doesnít haven enough power to operate properly.

This is impossible. We get our power from the nearby star, drawing from its endless spout of radiance.
So I have him and Norrik check out the systems again, going over each until we find a problem.

Norrik, the techy on this team, tells me each system is working perfectly, except that they wonít work.

The radio and interspace communication system check out fine, except that we receive nothing from them despite this being one of the most populated sectors of known space.

The only system unaffected by this power drain is life support.

This worries me. If this is some kind of infection spreading through the system, when can we expect life support to turn off or go whacky?

I ask Big George to test our escape rocket.

I tell him I hope we do not have to use it. When he comes back, he tells me, we canít.

The system reports say it should launch, but when he actually tests to the firing mechanisms nothing happens.

So weíre stuck here until we figure out the problem or -- perish.

We hardly get sleep in our assigned cycles, thinking over every aspect of the problem.

But it is the sound deep down in the belly of our beast that disturbs me most, and drags me to my console to study what system could be running when nothing else is.

I suspect the worst. But I say nothing to Norrik or Big George.

Why have three of us gone crazy when I can do it for all of us quite adequately on my own?
We test more systems. Defense systems are working, but not really.

Docking systems should be able to receive a craft, but -- they test negative.

Even long range scanning seems to have become limited, as if a veil has come down over us keeping us deaf, dumb and blind to every thing beyond the hull.

Finally, I can bear the burden of worry no more and ask Norrik if the Morton system might have activated, he telling me what I already knew, how we would all have to use our separate keys and then read in a special code sent to us via a private broadcast beam from central command.

I tell him about the sounds Iím hearing, and I see his face grow pale.

He checks it out. He is even paler when he returns.

Somehow, someway, the system has turned itself on, and the computer that operates it, is drawing power from the rest of the systems in order to activate a weapon capable of destroying this whole solar system.

Is it an accident? Or has some coup occurred at the Imperial Center and a war begun without our knowing it?

I ask Norrik to shut it down.

He says it isnít possible, but then it isnít possible to turn it out without our keys.

So he says heíll try.

Meanwhile, I hear the sound grow in intensity, not louder so much as more steady, as if something is winding up for a spring.

Even Big George hears it now as Norrik fiddles with this, and that, and the other thing.

But I know we donít be able to stop it, and wonder what the universe will be like after it goes off.

And whether or not, weíll survive the blast.

 


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