Day 60. 25 pages, 7,524 words.
Part of the difficulty of working with the Flesh-Eater was that it occupied that grey area between biological and artificial life-form, but not in any of the commonly understood cybernetic or biomechanical ways. It was biology, stripped down and hardened and rendered in ancient – indeed, in many cases outlawed – chemical compounds. It was machinery, built with an artistry that no longer seemed to exist in this utilitarian world where there was no room for what philosophers called the unnecessary beautiful. It was a solid-state computer, formed from a liquid-crystal matrix that would not look out of place growing on the underside of a coral reef somewhere.
It wasn’t necessarily a coral reef around which Predericon would want to swim, of course. Not without a personal shield. The unnecessary beautiful was by no means friendly by nature.
Still, she did her best to adjust her approach and customise her limited tools accordingly. And she made a certain amount of progress. The Flesh-Eater’s logs were a good starting point, and although its internal protocols were locked out by apparently invisible security measures, she was able to use the absence between accessible and inaccessible systems as a starting point to burrow deeper into just what had made the Flesh-Eater tick.
When Gyden and Lelhmak intruded, she was almost as engrossed as she had been in her sculpture. She must have jumped when Old Man Lelhmak waved a hand in her field of vision.
“Wish you’d paid that much attention to me when I was trying to teach you about the history of Firstmade megaengineering,” Lelhmak remarked.
“I’m paying you exactly as much attention as I paid you then,” Predericon retorted, sitting back from the partially-dissected head and the long, unpleasant row of spinal nodes they’d extracted and thawed from the torso. Her hands were blackened with zirgox, and Lelhmak gave them a slightly queasy look.
“Fair point,” he said, and sat a little gingerly at a seat pulled well back from the table. Sterile the dismantled unit may have been, but Predericon couldn’t fault the old phobe for his reaction. There was something fundamentally nasty about the Flesh-Eater tech. Something, she was convinced, it had been intentionally built around. Within the concept of the unnecessary beautiful, after all, was coiled the concept of its opposite number. “Any progress?”
“I have isolated the node which would handle communication, and connected it – very crudely – to the main mass where we’ve got our interface running,” Predericon said. “But the main regulator node required to actually enable communication is shattered beyond repair.”
“What about replacement?” Gyden suggested. The younger Molran took a seat opposite Lelhmak and closer to Predericon, her bead-highlighted face intent.
“That’s another thing I’ve been working on,” Predericon said, and pointed to the nearby console. A bunch of filaments scavenged from the burned-out sensors now sprouted from the console and connected to various points on the opened-out skull and node-chain. “I’m using our comms processor as a surrogate regulator, but the original regulator was so badly smashed – and its connections to the neighbouring components were so microscopically integrated – that the filament connections I’m using are far too clumsy-”
“Maybe if you went back into your cabin for another eight hours,” Lelhmak suggested, “that’d help.”
“Aren’t you up past your bedtime anyway?” Predericon asked. Lelhmak snorted in amusement. “Any connection I manage to establish also depends on the continued existence of a platform,” she went on, “with an operational communication system. If the Elevator has suffered more damage of the sort we saw in the log-”
Predericon was vaguely grateful that she wasn’t the only one to jump this time. After so many months in the company of – at most – two other Molren and the uncommunicative ship’s computer, it was a shock to hear the soft human voice emerge from the comm system. It was difficult to discern due to its odd monochromatic nature – humans only had a single windpipe – and Predericon’s lack of familiarity with the species, but she thought it was female. In fact, if you dialled the volume up, it was actually very similar to the voice that had continually shouted “SEGMENT FOUR” on the Flesh-Eater’s final logs.
Identical, in fact. And Predericon didn’t think it was just because human voices all sounded much the same. It made sense that the same agent would be responsible for both sets of auditory data.
They were listening to Category 9 Convoy Defence Platform Destarion.