Thursday, 30 August 2012


The data taken from the biotank readouts consisted of eighteen different measurements, and Dan rapidly saw that it was going to be easiest to assemble them into a data-cube and then slice through it in various directions to assess what patterns there were, and what data wasn’t conforming.  He transferred the data from Dr. Lesjes’s tablet to his own, backing up a copy on the lab’s local computer as part of standard process.  He was just about to turn the lab computer off again when he noticed that a decision box had appeared and overlaid part of the screen.
“Copy data to cloud?” he read out loud.  Strange, he thought, surely backing all the data up to the cloud – the information dense computing structure that laced its way through the entire star-freighter – was also standard process?  He reached out and tapped the Enter key almost automatically, and then noticed that the highlighted option had been Cancel.  The decision box disappeared, leaving the backed-up data visible on the screen.  He cursed softly under his breath and studied the screen, looking for the menu that would allow him to upload the data to the cloud for safe-storage, but before he’d covered more than a quarter of the screen (did Dr. Lesjes store everything on the desktop?) the door to the lab chimed, telling him that someone was requesting entry.
Surprised again, he called out “Enter,” looking over at the doors.
“Voice control is not active,” said a greasily smooth voice, too polished and enunciated to be human.
“What?” Dan looked up and around him, as most people did when addressed by the disembodied voice of the ship systems, and then felt a little foolish.  There was no response, and the entry chime sounded again.  He walked over to the door to the lab and pressed the door release pad.  There was a responsiveness to it that made him wonder if it was actually a mechanical switch instead of a touch-pad.  The door opened, and three men in maintenance uniforms stepped through.
“Please identify yourself,” said the first man holding out a tablet.  He was taller than Dan, and taller than the other members of his team, with hair that was greying at the temples and eyes that looked as though they’d frosted over.  His uniform, midnight blue with the maintenance logo sewn on both shoulders and the midriff, across the bellybutton, was tight-fitting, and after a moment Dan realised that the elasticated cuffs meant it was a pressure-suit, intended to keep its wearer alive for minutes in the event of a sudden pressure leak.  There was no sign of the helmet that would complete the suit, and Dan wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing.  He looked at the tablet, and laid his palm flat on it, inside the lines drawn on the screen.  The tablet chirped almost immediately, and as he lifted his hand off the man was already pulling the tablet back and reading the instructions on the screen.
“Sticking door in Lab-EST?” he said.  His voice rose slightly at the end of the sentence, but Dan wasn’t completely certain it was a question.
“Yes,” he said.  “Er, who are you?”
“Maintenance,” grunted one of the guys behind the grey-templed man.  “What more do you need to know?  We fix your door, fast as a supernova.”
“I can’t really call you maintenance,” said Dan feeling awkward now.  “That seems a bit impersonal.”
“You can call me Malik,” said the grey-templed man, turning his head slightly towards Dan.  His eyes seemed almost to be hiding behind the curtain of frost, but they didn’t look directly at him, or even indicate that they were focusing.  “Otherwise we’re just the maintenance team.  Where’s your door?”
“It’s on the tablet, boss,” said the third man, who’d not yet spoken.
“Nope,” said Malik.  “This is Lab-EST.  We make no assumptions, and we go nowhere without authorisation.  Not if you want to leave in one piece.  This man here,” he pointed at Dan, “will show us where the door is, and will show us out again.”
“Right,” said Dan, wonderingly.  “It’s this way, just over here in fact.”   He pointed himself, and then realised that he’d gestured so vaguely that he might have been pointing into the corner.  “Er, just follow me.”
The maintenance men, led by Malik, did exactly that, walking behind him in single file, stopping as soon as he did, and generally acting like they expected the whole room to explode at any second.

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