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Chapter 7 - The Lab

by Ilyssa Monroe 10 months ago in science fiction
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The Cloud - Book 1

Chapter 7 - The Lab
Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

Lena laid in the cot that she had been provided with. She had just finished talking to her aunt, explaining to her what she knew of the plans that had been hashed out in D.C. and letting her know that she would be spending some time in Ohio before returning home.

The room that she was in had more than fifty cots arranged in neat rows. She could hear gentle snoring from some, where men and women were taking naps. Carl, too, was blissfully snoring away in the cot next to her. Prof. McNeil, in deference to his age, had been given two adjoined offices, one of which had been furnished with a twin bed.

Lena closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep. She knew that she would begin working with the engineers tomorrow and wanted to have a clear head. When she finally fell asleep it was fitful. She dreamed of orange skies, fireballs, and great cracks opening up in the Earth to swallow her whole.

Lena awoke with a start when she felt someone shaking her shoulder.

“Wake up, lazy bones,” Carl said, smiling mischievously down at her with a cup of coffee in his hand.

She groaned and sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“What time is it?”

“Six-thirty.”

Lena groaned even louder and rolled over, fully intent on going back to sleep.

“Kimberly Quinn is here.”

At the mention of her friend’s name, she rolled back over, took the coffee from Carl’s hand, and got up.

“Hey, that’s mine,” he protested.

“Get another one. Where’s Kim?”

“In the breakroom, eating breakfast.”

Lena followed Carl down the hall, sipping on the coffee and trying to wake up. The aroma of the room hit her before they had made it more than ten steps. When they entered the “break room,” she realized that they had converted one of their many conference rooms into a cafeteria of sorts. There were several people already there talking and eating at tables that lined the walls. In the center of the room sat a long rectangular buffet table laden with a variety of foods. There were eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon, doughnuts, pastries, bananas, apples, oranges, yogurt and several coffee dispensers, pitchers of orange juice, and bottles of water.

Her stomach growled at the feast set out before her. Grabbing a plate, she filled it high and poured herself a glass of O.J. When she spotted her friend at one of the tables, she made her way over, Carl following closely behind.

Kim smiled when she saw Lena walking over.

“As hardy as ever,” the woman teased.

“How are you doing?” Lena asked, as she set her plate down and gave the woman a one-armed hug.

“Pretty good, all things considered. Might fine of you two to discover the end of the world,” Kim said in jest.

“Sorry, about that.”

Kimberly Quinn was a small woman with medium length, straight brown hair held up in a messy bun, freckles that covered her entire face, and thick-rimmed black glasses. She stood just over five feet tall with a full figure, wore coveralls with multiple pockets that covered her legs, and a utility belt that rested on her hips filled with a variety of tools.

Sitting at the table with Kim was a man and woman who were dressed similarly to Kim and were clearly related. They were both tall and skinny with skin a touch too pale and hair a dirty blonde color.

“This is Simon Winchester and Sabrina Winchester,” Kim said, introducing her co-workers.

“It’s nice to meet you both,” Lena said, shaking each of their hands in turn. Then, motioning to Carl, she continued, “This is my friend Carl.”

Carl shook their hands too before they took their seats.

As Lena sat there eating breakfast, she learned that the duo had worked at Richland’s Robotics five years ago when they developed an automated robotic repair system that the United States Space Force had found interesting enough to make them a job offer that paid twice the salary they earned at Richland’s. Additionally, the USSF gave them the opportunity to do their robotic development at the Luna Orbital Station and they had been preparing for their third, three-month jaunt to L.O.S. when they had been called to attend the meeting that Director Wiess had called three days ago.

“So, now my brother wants to work on a program for the nanites to allow them to do medical diagnostics on humans and animals,” Sabrina explained.

“We already have a swarm programmed to do diagnostics and biological repair on the plant life to make them more adaptable to the lower gravity environment. Medical nanites will be a necessity,” Simon argued.

“I know brother, but we should be focusing on making the voyage more efficient. They have already begun assembling a medical team that is more than capable of performing diagnostics. We should be working on building a robotic workforce to do internal repairs and maintenance. We will have plenty of time once we are underway to create a medical swarm and figure out the programming for medical diagnostics,” Sabrina retorted.

“I agree with Sabrina. We really need to focus on perfecting and building the droids that will be doing the internal repairs. From what Christine says, the expansion of the original vessel is going to be six to seven times larger. The droids we have now will not be enough,” Kim cut in.

“I guess,” Simon said, dejected.

“Oh, don’t look so glum little brother,” Sabrina said, elbowing her brother lightly in the ribs.

“You’re only two minutes older,” Simon said, deadpan.

Lena listened as she ate, silently agreeing with the two women’s assessment of the situation, when a familiar voice spoke from behind her.

“Excuse me, Dr. Ranson,” Amelia interrupted.

They both turned around to see the Director’s assistant standing there in a pair of jeans, t-shirt, and white coat, wearing the ever-present TechGlasses, and holding a data pad that seemed to be glued to her hand.

“Yes,” Carl said.

“Would you mind if I had a word with you?” she asked. When he did not move, she added, “In private.”

“Oh, sure,” he said, stuffing the last of his bacon in his mouth and standing up with his empty plate. “I’ll meet up with you guys later?”

“Sure. Meet back here for lunch?” Lena suggested.

“Sounds great,” he said with a smile before following Amelia from the room.

A few minutes later, Kim was on her feet, empty plate in hand.

“Guess it’s time to show you the lab,” Kim said.

“Let’s go,” Lena replied.

*****

“I need your help, Dr. Ranson,” Amelia said as he followed her onto the lift.

“Please, call me Carl.”

“Carl, what I am about to show you needs to be kept confidential,” Amelia stressed as the lift doors closed. Handing him a pair of strange new TechGlasses, she motioned for Carl to put them on. As soon as they were in place, a thin, green line of light slid across his retinas, startling him. When the retinal scan had completed, he heard a soft chime in his ear before an incredibly complex code began scrolling across his vision. Carl looked sharply.

Amelia smiled knowingly.

“What do you need from me?”

*****

Lena spent the day with Kim and her team, catching up on the many projects that were being repurposed for the migration project.

Upon entering the robotics lab, she grinned at the familiar surroundings. Every robotic lab she had ever been in had one thing in common, they were all a study in organized chaos and this one was no different. The lab was enormous, encompassing two levels with a balcony running in a U-shape. And it was loud. There were projects in every stage of development that took up much of the available space.

On the west wall there were several automated manipulators called ‘Manies,’ steadily working on tasks. The manies varied in size and flexibility and looked like multi-jointed metal arms. They were currently being set to work building human-like robots.

At the far end of the lab, a plexiglass window stretched from one side of the room to the other and then up two stories to the ceiling. Behind it, Lena could see bursts of fire jetting up from the floor as tests were being performed to measure material endurance.

She looked to the right and saw that the east wall was half lined with military-grade steel cages that held a vast collection of tools and materials. The other half was lined with 3-D printers, busily producing custom robotic parts for the various projects.

Spaced evenly down the center of the lab where six workstations were equipped with computers and scattered with soldering irons, magnifying glasses, small vises, hammers, measuring tapes, vernier calipers, arc welders, wires, and other tools needed for robotic engineering.

Kim made her way over to the west wall, beckoning Lena to follow while Simon went over to the east wall to check with one of the assistants on the completion of parts he needed. Sabrina, however, disappeared up the stairs that led to the second floor.

“These little babies are the Intelli-Bots,” Kim said, beaming with pride at the human-like robots.

They were about five and a half feet tall with a head, neck, torso, two arms that ended in five-fingered hands, and two legs and feet. They also lacked any hint of a gender. Kim informed her that their core structures were made of a magnesium-based metal alloy that made them light, strong, and resistant to corrosion, and that they had coated it in a milky-white polycarbonate layer to make them more impact resistant.

The head was oval-shaped and bald with two eyes, a bump to resemble a nose, and a mouth. The chest was broad by human standards and contained a flat-vid screen at its center. On the left forearm, a hinged door sat open displaying a keypad while the left displayed another compartment containing a miniature keyboard used to perform manual manipulations.

Finally, Lena saw that running down each side of the Intelli-Bots legs were several closed compartments and each leg ended in appendages that resembled human feet.

“They can be used in a number of ways. Each is programmed to be able to identify every person using facial and voice recognition software, even if they change appearance in an artificial manner such as dyeing or cutting hair or in a natural way such as gaining and losing weight or aging. They are also programmed with around 200 languages with English, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, German, Portuguese, and Latin as the ten primary languages,” she said.

“The flat-vid on the chest will be used to give visual displays. For instance, if someone asks it for the lunch menu, it can display it on this. But this will be my crowning jewel for this project.”

Lifting the hand of the bot to eye level with the palm facing up, she pointed to several tiny lenses that were on the pads of the fingers.

“Are those individual holographic projectors?” Lena asked, intrigued.

“Yes! Each one uses a different digital holographic interference pattern. Three are equipped with the three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue while the other two are equipped with green and purple,” Kim said excitedly. “These allow the Intelli-Bots to produce holographic still-frame images such as maps in full color and I am working on allowing them to produce holo-vids for surveillance in real-time.”

Holo-tabs already had the capability to view holo-vids, but they were monochromatic images with a ridiculously small projection field. Most household holo-projector could produce projection fields of up to 144 cm in width and up to 122 cm in height and could display the full-color spectrum, but they were massive devices.

“What is the size of the projection field that they produce?” Amelia asked, curious.

“The field can be up to almost 46 cm wide and 91.5 cm in height,” Kim said, smugly.

“That’s incredible!”

“It will be when I finish the coding for it.”

When Kim mentioned coding, Amelia’s thoughts went straight to Carl, about the night in the hotel when he held her until they both fell asleep.

“Dr. Quinn, come quick,” an assistant said, trying to catch his breath.

Amelia snapped out of her thoughts at the clearly anxious man’s interruption.

“What’s going on Brad?”

“The President is on the news,” the assistant said between gasping breaths. “He called a press conference that is supposed to begin in ten minutes. I think he’s about to make the announcement.”

“Thank you, Brad. Go let everyone one in the other labs know,” Kim said.

“Ok,” he said, running off.

“We take turns leaving an intern or assistant in the break room watching the news since none of the labs have flat-vids and none of us want to miss the President’s announcement,” Kim explained when she saw Lena’s bemused expression.

“Everybody listen up,” Kim suddenly shouted out to the entire robotic lab. “The President is about to do the press release. You all have eight minutes to get to the breakroom if you want to see it.”

*****

Lena watched as the man she had met in person just yesterday, walked onto the stage in front of the White House. Behind him were several holographic displays with official-looking men and women of every nationality.

President Simmons wore his Dress Blues, decorated with multiple medals and ribbons with two silver bars that adorning the epaulettes on his shoulders and the crisp white shirt underneath. As the flashes of reporters’ cameras lit his face, the lines etched into his countenance made him look as if he had aged dramatically overnight. When he spoke, his voice was somber.

“Good morning to all my fellow humans, across the globe,” he began. “Forty-eight hours ago, two astrophysicist students at the University of Colorado Boulder learned of grave news that will affect not only America and its allies but will affect every human life on this planet.”

President Simmons paused for a moment to let the gravity of what he was about to say sink into the audience.

“In two and a half years’ time, a massive cloud of interstellar debris is projected to begin its final approach to the Earth. The interstellar debris, that we have named ‘The Cloud,” will bring destruction on a level our solar system has never seen before.”

“After speaking with this administration’s top officials, the experts at the United States Space Force, and the leaders of nation’s all over the world,” he said, motioning to the array of people projected behind him, “we have formed a coalition of world leaders and developed a plan to secure the future of humanity. For the first time in the history of man, all nations have put aside their differences, choosing instead, to work together to achieve this common goal.”

Murmuring could be heard from the press as President Simmons took a breath.

“Under construction at the Luna Orbital Station is the spacecraft originally named the USSF: Outpost. This vessel was commissioned with the purpose of carrying nearly 4,000 brave souls to a terrestrial planet called Tau Ceti F that orbits within its system’s habitable zone located in the Tau Ceti star system. However, due to these new revelations, a migration program will be implemented and the USSF: Outpost will be enhanced and expanded by the collaborative efforts of the United Migration Coalition. In honor of this great coalition, the USSF: Outpost will be rechristened as the UMC: Destiny.”

“By collective agreement, the UMC has determined that the bulk of the colonists will be selected from the brightest children Earth has to offer. The UMC is calling on every person around the world to do their part, ensuring that as many of our children as can be saved, will be. The massive undertaking will require more materials than any one nation can provide by itself and a workforce larger than any we have seen before.”

Pausing to take a deep breath, President Simmons finished his speech.

“As humanities’ time on Earth comes to a conclusion, I challenge each and every person all around the world to spend time with your loved ones and be kind to your neighbors. Let go of hurt feeling, anger, and grudges. Now is the time for unity and peace as we work towards a future for our children.”

President Simmons exited the stage as his press secretary took his place.

“In seven days' time, the UMC will release the official cap on the number of minors who will be selected as well as the process for theirs. Additionally, all requirements and qualifications for adults who would like to apply to be a crew member or volunteer to work at one of the worksites will…” the woman began.

Turning to Kim, she asked, “Do you want to head back to the lab?”

“Sure,” Kim replied.

science fiction

About the author

Ilyssa Monroe

Married, mother of 8, Student of IT/Cybersecurity, and aspiring author in the realms of Fantasy and SCI-FI. Enjoy!

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