Mortem Ex Machina- A Tiny Tale of Discovery


The tether was set, and Jasmine was leashed to both Nevin and the hull of the decrepit old ship, wedged hundreds of feet above a canyon floor on a supposedly abandoned heap-of-rocks planet.

“It’s easy,” She insisted, “I climb around and set the next tether, then you climb around, and when we’re at the computer we kill it.”

“I’d feel better about this plan if we were inside the ship, Captain. You’re sure we used the titanium core stuff?” her First Officer, Lawrence Nevin asked.  Jasmine could feel his anxiety through the light contact she had with his arm.

“I would rather be in the ship, too.  And of course I used the ti-core.” She unleashed her tether, “It’s all you.”  She crawled around him, clinging to the thin lip of steel on the frame that had never meant to be load bearing.  “Damn space ship designers, anyhow,”  Jasmine grumbled as she clung to the thin hull, using rivets and rust as grappling points.  She set a new loop with the stolen bolt gun at the play of her leash and hooking her own tether in. Three lengths of rope, two harnesses, two climbing clips, and some poorly set steel eye bolts were all that kept them from plummeting to their untimely demise.  “Your turn,” She announced cheerily.  Law crawled around her, claiming the bolt gun as he went, and placed a new loop in a clear area of hull.

“We should only have a few more trades,” Jasmine said as she crawled around him, she had about four feet of play before she attached another loop.

“I will never take solid footing for granted again,”  Law grumped after a particularly rusted section of runner groaned dangerously, dropping oxidized dust silently into the canyon.

Jasmine wasn’t entirely sure she should be pleased that they made it or let down that it had been so easy when they reached the crude ventilation slashes that marked the computer room.  She hoped that the lack of interrupting locals was a good sign, at the very least for the sake of the crew that were keeping them distracted.  As surmised, the walls around the computer were much thinner than the rest of the hull.  Initially the design made sense because less cooling was required if the computer kept at the normal ship temperature. Currently the nanomachines had taken a lot of the raw materials from the walls here to use in other parts of the ship, first by applying the vents then skimming layer by layer off of the walls themselves until they were just thick enough to be considered structural.  Jasmine sank her survival knife into the wall at the corner of a vent and dragged down with as much effort as opening a can, quickly creating a short door.

Jasmine ventured in first, hooking to the interior.  When Nevin had cleared the door she unhooked from the wall and focused on the computer, she didn’t bother to unhook from him; the room wasn’t large enough to necessitate it.  The mother computer for the nanomachines whirred quietly, an almost pleasant crossbreeze playing through the room.  Jasmine stared at the alien looking computer for a few seconds, determining how it gained power, and where to tell it to stop doing so.  Wires and tubes snaked across the floor to disappear into the walls, and others hung up to the ceiling like vines from a tree.  There was no visible interface.  Jasmine assumed the interface was through the nanomachines, but that was clearly out of the question.  Even the idea of allowing them to alter her perception made her skin crawl.

Bwump bump. Lawrence froze as his foot made the floor flex.

The floor was as thin as the rest of the walls.  Jasmine mentally reviewed the layout for this room.  This was the only room with no upper or lower floor.  Flanked in engines this room had been designed to be kept away from the rest of the ship.  She shifted her weight.

Bwump bump.  Thin metal groaned with disapproval as she tested her theory.

“Help me cut, I want to see if this stupid computer is gravity proof.” Jasmine said, moving to the farthest point her tether would allow her to reach.  She pushed her knife into the floor near the base of the computing system and the metal gave way easily to the diamond edge blade. She was going to drop the stupid illegal nanobot creating computer out of the sky.

“What if it is?” Law asked, snapping cables and breaking tubes to create a clear path to cut on the floor.

“Then we make a new plan.” She grunted, avoiding a puddle of suspicious sludge that was gathering by some broken tubes.

Law didn’t have an argument for that, and the computer was starting to lean dangerously, wires pulling free from the walls with twangs and worried beeps of software. There was a low hum starting; the nanomachines knew what they were up to.  Jasmine heard the thonk of the bolt gun as Law cleverly hooked himself to the wall that faced the rest of the ship, a thicker wall than the rest.

The hum was persistent as Jasmine stood and kicked the computer a few times, it was mostly cut free, being held up by only power wires and some other conduits.  She felt the growing whir of anger and concern in the back of her mind, and she fought harder to shut them out.  The tiny robots were screaming to be heard, and she knew Law was having a harder time at ignoring them, but he continued to help her, despite the attempts to control their motions.  She fought hard against the created idea that maybe she should just lie down and take a nap instead of sabotaging the computer. With a few swift cuts of cords and cables the computer fell through the floor.

Unfortunately, one of the power conduits hadn’t wanted to let go of the falling computer or the wall, it tore the rest of the floor out from under them with a deafening screech of tearing steel as the computer fell.  Jasmine tried to kick free from a tangled knot of cords before the floor gave, but she was wrong in her assumption that the swarm of nanomachines were trying to attach the cabling to the deck. They had been instead attaching the cabling to her, she realized as the floor fell.

After what felt like a lifetime of weightless breathlessness, Jasmine felt a bone-jarring thud as she hit the end of her tether seconds before the sharp, unpleasant tug of a couple hundred pounds of computer threatened to dislocate her hip.  The cable tied to her ankle held firm, cutting into her now tingling leg.  Past the swarm and the dying computer, the floor of the canyon was not inviting.

“Captain Jakes! Are you okay?”  Nevin asked, dangling above her. He was clearly in pain, shaking his head and blinking to clear his eyes as the nanomachines pushed harder and got louder in panic.  She looked down at the computer, a hazy glow of clouding nanomachines inching the wiring up her leg, refusing to allow their central brain to die.  Her knife was still in her hand, but she couldn’t reach the wires to cut them, she couldn’t even move her leg.

She looked up at the rope holding her to Nevin.

“You remember when I said that I knew for sure which rope was titanium cored and which wasn’t?  She asked.

“Yes, why?” He was attempting to reach the ruined floor of the ship.

We were shorter than I told you, so I made the two lead tethers ti-core, but the tether between us?  It’s just regular parachute cord.

“NO YOU DON’T. No no no no no we can figure this out!”  He warned. He leaned away from the ship and held out his hand, “Give me your lead tether!”  He froze in terror as a metallic groan made them droop lower.

“We really can’t, but it was nice of you to try.”  She smiled, bringing up the knife to the cord, “Get back up there and take care of my ship,” She tore through half of the cord with one sawing motion.

She closed her eyes and imagined she was drifting asleep, falling only in the safety of her mind. The nanomachines and Lawrence could scream all they wished but her people would be safe. Jasmine smiled.

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