Transmission Halted Chapter 01

By: MTKnight

The attendants named me Roland some three hundred years ago on the planet of Resonance. Of course, I am not that old physically, but I was brought into this universe several human lifetimes ago. I wasn't the only one; there were others. I can't remember too many of them now, but there were exactly one hundred of us. Rika, Rachel, Rooks, Ryer, these I remember well even today, for I travelled here to this planet with them, but others like Rall, Rico, Robert, Reese, Roger, they're all long-dead now.

Physically, I am now roughly twenty-five years of age, but mentally, my knowledge and intellect are both far superior to any human's my age or older. We were all born--or created, rather--in a laboratory, brought to life by our attendants. These were neither human nor mechanical; they were not quite alien either, however.

We humans had lost ourselves somewhere. We had mutated or been modified into what our attendants' race now was. Even today, their race swarms the Earth and other planets, spreading and conquering. Mostly, they are a heartless and mindless people, only the elite ruling classes benefiting from luxuries and intelligence. They are ruthless and happy in their dominion. Our attendants were an unheard-of exception to the disappointing rule. They had stolen ancient files containing original human genetic data, enhancing our intellect. Sometimes I wish they had made me physically stronger as well.

They had--produced one hundred of us, fifty of each sex. We learned much from our attendants, but the others eventually found us, and we were forced to escape. Twenty of us made it onto the Reliant and into space; only five of us made it past the final cycle to our destination. Still, that's not important, not what I wish to write of. I suppose I should begin, but I'm not certain where the beginning is. I suppose I must start somewhere; the mess hall of the Reliant in the year of our Lord 3402 would be best.


~~-~~~=~~~-~~


I made my way to the mess to find Rika already sitting at our preferred table. There was no reason why we preferred that particular one to any other; it was simply routine. Baggy-eyed and yawning, I greeted her. She only looked up at me, smiled weakly, and sipped her wake-up brew. I understood perfectly how she felt; I was miserable myself.

Making my way to the dispensary, I got myself a wake-up mix of my own and sat down at the table. Soon after, Ryer joined us, followed by Rachel a few minutes later. The last to rise as always, Rooks sat down heavily in his chair, a cup of actual coffee in his hands. Of course, it wasn't real coffee grown in earth, but it was as close as anyone could get.

We didn't say much for a few minutes still, not quite awake yet. Eventually, though, a thought came to Rachel and she spoke up. She looked to Rooks and, with a smile, said she had good news to tell.

"I checked the event log on the main computer's readout," she told Rooks. He raised an eyebrow inquisitively.

"And?"

"You're now eight years old, my friend," she informed him.

"Oh, joy," Rooks said, rolling his eyes

Rachel was the eldest of us in physical terms; still is, actually. As far as birth dates go, we're all the same age almost to the second, but Retich cryogenic technology has an indefinite effect on the human body. Not every subject is completely suspended; indeed, this was the case for all of us. Consequently, we also all aged at different rates. Rachel was 13 years, 74 days of age; I clocked in at 12 years, 325 days; Ryer was 12 years, 10 days wise; Rika was at a modest 10 years, 218 days; Rooks was the youngest at 8 years, 2 days. We had left Resonance halfway into our seventh year, but Rooks had aged little during our 300 years of sleep. In fact, the computer had calculated that he had only aged a little over a month.

Every cryogenic cycle in a chamber designed by the Retich lasts fifty years exactly, solar standard. In controlled tests, Retich specimens began to break down after further prolonged exposure to the process. For this reason and also the more practical reason of general ship maintenance checks, an interruption of 30 days, solar, for all journeys. Since human anatomy is relatively similar to Retich anatomy at its core, the small differences did not warrant our modifying them; our attendants had seen no reason either, in any case.

This, however, was going to be our final and eternal respite from the cold-sleep tubes: we were nearing our destination, the planet our attendants had called Renaissance. Of course, their language was not English, or French, or any remotely resembling either, but I will spare you the complicated Retich spelling and pronunciation, dear reader. In any case, we decided that we needed more years under our belts before reaching our destination, especially Rooks. It would help us greatly to have more physical strength when we reached Renaissance; we had no idea what would be waiting for us, at the time. Besides, it would halt the widening gap between our ages. Rooks was very pleased about that, but I was not looking forward to years in deep space with much conviction.


I sat quietly as Rika and Ryer talked about their dreams they could remember from the cycle we had just completed. They debated which ones were strangest, Rachel obstinately insisting they were both crazy. Rooks just laughed at the queerness of their heads. I had not discussed my dreams since Rose and Reese had died after our fourth cycle. I knew they were dead when I awoke; I had dreamt of it. Of course, they had both died because of complications with the tubes, but I felt responsible, somehow. I've moved away from my grief since then, but I still miss their company.

Still slightly groggy, complaining about being tired, Rooks raised the question of food; everyone around the table agreed it was time to eat. We went to the dispensary, got some chow, and started eating like pigs. As I expected, Rooks had another cup of coffee with him.

"You know," Rika told him between bites of toast, "coffee does not help to shake off cold sleep, dear boy." Rooks only shrugged, taking another gulp.

"It helps every other day, though," he argued. "Besides, that wake-up brew tastes like diarrhoea in a cup," he added, gagging. Ryer chuckled, agreeing whole-heartedly. I only smiled absentmindedly.

"Coffee tastes just as bad," Rika protested. I didn't know about that, and I still don't, but that that terrible excuse for a beverage the Retich developed didn't taste any good at all. I said as much.

"Maybe that's because it was made for the lower class," Rachel suggested. "No taste for the worthless slaves." Ryer didn't buy it.

"If the lower class drinks that, what do the members of the higher class drink, then?" All around the table, we had no answer. We certainly wished we did; we were tired of the same old crap-in-a-cup. Finishing off a strip of bacon, Rooks shook his head.

Isn't it obvious?" he insisted, raising his mug. "They all drank coffee!"

We all laughed at that.


Later that day, we all pondered on what we would do to entertain ourselves for the next eleven years. We needed little or no education, and we all decided that educating ourselves further would be only indulgence. We also were free of caring for the ship; automated systems had been executing that particular task for 300 years. So, we all came to the conclusion that we would grow to be quite bored rather quickly.

"Maybe we could cancel the artificial gravity have some fun," Ryer suggested over a lunch of junk food with a side order of ice cream. Ryer and health food never mixed well. He looked over to me for assent. I shook my head, saying I'd like to keep my lunch inside my stomach.

"The ship has an archive of old films from Earth, doesn't it?" Rachel asked. I nodded. Our attendants had apparently enjoyed human entertainment mediums greatly. "We could watch those, then." That idea was met with a healthy amount of acclaim. Within minutes, Rachel and I busied ourselves finding films we would all like while Rooks synthesised popcorn as best he could at the dispensary. We spent the rest of that day and most of the week just watching comedy and science fiction movies in the entertainment room of the higher-class lounge. The science-fiction films made us laugh just as much as the comedies, but they all filled us with a bit of sadness. All of them where shot on Earth of course, and this realisation hit us quickly. Rachel had selected a range of releases both good and bad from 2200 all the way back to the 1950s. It was hilarious. As we finished a cheesy spoof sci-fi about pirates with swords in space trying to steal ice, my company decided it was time to turn in for the night. They all yawned, except for Rooks, who was still showing a semblance of wakefulness. He went over to the title listings and started browsing. I asked him what he was looking for.

"Pornography," he said simply. I fixed him with a queer expression. "Well, are you not curious?" I suppose I was, mildly. Still, I didn't think our female company would approve. Rooks shrugged.

"They don't have to watch it," he coaxed. "I'm sure it would be an enlightening experience," he added. I shook my head; told him he was on his own. "It's a purely intellectual curiosity," he assured me, grinning like an idiot. I suppose it would have to have been, but I didn't bother pursuing the point, opting instead for a late-night snack before retiring. I'm still not certain if he actually watched them. I suppose it doesn't matter.


The remainder of the month passed slowly, the five of us keeping mostly to ourselves. We had known each other on Resonance; after all, there were not that many of us, but we had never been friends. We would eventually become friends over time, but it did not happen overnight by any means. We ate breakfast together and usually supper, but lunch was more of the 'grab and go' nature and breakfast and lunch were often combined due to our last rising. We sill watched old films from time to time, but I mostly kept to myself, writing my thoughts about the dark void through which we travelled. Sometimes Rika played the piano or Ryer his acoustic guitar, which I enjoyed greatly.

Time passed; we aged. My thirteenth and fourteenth birthdays came and went almost unnoticed, but on Rooks' birthday that year, we held a huge birthday bash for him. We gave him presents we had made ourselves, ate cake, and made fun of him playfully. It was all in good fun, though, and Rooks tried his best to counter every insult we threw at him. On that day, we dug up some specifications on virtual reality equipment from the entertainment database and amused ourselves with the last great feat or human technology. Ryer won the game, but we all had our five minutes of glory, myself included. We played against each other, against zombies and bigheaded aliens; we even textured some Retich soldiers and bashed-up some mutated alien scum. We went to bed tired and content that night.


Come breakfast time the next morning, though, Rika was missing from the table. Even Rooks made it to the mess before her. Slightly concerned, I made my way to her room padding my cold feet on the thick carpet lazily.

I knocked on the door many times, receiving no answer. Opening the door a crack, I saw her sitting curled-up in the corner, a blanket wrapped around her, shivering.

"Roland," she said weakly through chattering teeth, "it's so cold in here." Indeed, I had noticed it was slightly cold, but I was not the one sitting against a wall, half-naked and shivering. I sat beside her and held her tight, but she was unable to move for quite some time, her teeth chattering loudly. After what seemed like hours, Ryer poked his head in and sighed as he saw Rika asleep on my shoulder.


Hours later, with Rika sleeping soundly in bed, Ryer offered to inspect the climate control systems of the ship.

"Something has to be wrong with the maintenance systems," he concluded. I agreed, and Rachel insisted on accompanying him. With the two of them working together, the climate control systems were back on-line in short order.

Rika showed her face only by late afternoon, and even then she showed signs of depression and weariness. She remained mute, and we dared not attempt to strike up a conversation, lending the ship very hushed atmosphere. This continued for a week until we found Rika sitting in the mess first before any of us, as usual.


Things returned to normal after that incident. I, however, grew bored of myself soon afterwards, and my mood reflected this, changing drastically. I became even more introverted than I had been previously, digging up the virtual reality equipment again. I lost myself in the simulators, piloting jet-powered warplanes from the beginning of the 21st century. I spent hours admiring the landscape of an Earth long gone, far away and no longer my people's to live in. It gave me comfort, gave me something to do. On occasion, Rachel would join my squadron to keep me company. She thought I never noticed, but even the most sophisticated of computers cannot replicate the spontaneous nature of a human being.

Before I realised it, my fifteenth birthday was at hand, and it was on that day that a surprise was waiting for me inside the simulator. An over-sized banana was programmed as the only enemy craft, one practically impossible to shoot down. I died quickly and exited the simulation, meaning to inquire who had changed the program. What I found was Rachel grinning down at me, a gift-wrapped box in her hands.

"Happy birthday!" she cried, kissing me on the cheek. I spied the present in her hands, a box about the width of my fist and twice as long. She smiled, handed it to me, and bid me open it. I complied obediently and was surprised to find an ink pen inside. A real pen, with real ink. Well, perhaps it was not truly real, but it was certainly the thought that counted, the pen in a padded case. I thanked her, but she silenced me quickly, dragging me to the meeting hall.

It was a regular party, all five of us gathered in a room meant for three times as many to sit comfortably and have room to dance. I received presents from them all: a ludicrous English dictionary from Rika, an equally ludicrous English thesaurus from Rooks, and a ream of paper from Ryer. Combined with the pen Rachel had given me, these four items were the stock in trade of a writer. The presents were useless given what I was at that time writing with, but the gifts were so hopelessly nostalgic that I was already restless, eager to put them to good use.


We indulged in simulations once more, this time fictitious deep-space combat in fighters. We attempted the 'suicide missions' of the game, getting ourselves killed constantly, undermining our mission by holding our own feuds, yet we managed to win the scenarios nonetheless. After a costly victory over an enemy mother ship, I decided I had had enough.

Retiring to the mess, we surprised even ourselves by beginning to reminisce about our earlier years on Resonance, something we had not dared discuss before. Folding my poker hand, I recounted my memories of my friendship with a boy named Ralph who, by all rights, should have been with us that very day, playing poker and losing terribly to Rika. Given a chance to live among our long-dead human familiars, he would probably have been an actor or a stand-up comic, as they were called. Sighing after losing most of his chips to Rika's full house, Ryer looked to me.

"It wasn't hard to set this up for you, you know." He drank from his glass of wine and started dealing the cards. You spend so much time in those sims; we hardly see you." He grinned. "You should get out more." He pointed his head in the direction of the centre view port. I gazed at him, wanting to believe he was not pointing there for the reason I thought he was, but he simply grinned.

"It'll be fun," he intoned, trying to make a big deal of it. I told him the truth: he was crazy.

Promptly, he rose from his chair to cut the engines and fetch space suits.


Rika declined the invitation, insisting someone had to mind the ship. I couldn't disagree to that, though I suspected she also wanted to guard her winnings. In essence the chips were worthless, but they also represented our shame at losing so terribly. Wishing her good luck in her fight against boredom, we jumped out of the airlock with great anticipation, having never been in space before. This was true, not a flawed imitation like everything else about our voyage. We were fitted into impact suits and already knew--in theory, that is--how to pilot them, so we adapted quickly. We manoeuvred around the ship, chasing each other, weaving through the Retich cruiser's queerly designed hull.

We returned after two hours, decidedly disoriented and slightly queasy. As soon as we were all securely passed the airlock door, we heard Rika reinitialise the main engine boosters. She obviously did not want to spend more time in deep space than was necessary. Stripping from my impact suit, I glanced at my pocket watch--2309 hours. Yawning, I turned in for the night, having no energy remaining to tinker with my presents.


~~-~~~=~~~-~~


The remainder of that year passed with little of note. I was in higher spirits, having found an outlet for my emotions in writing. When I had recorded my thoughts before, it had only been myself holding a monologue: confused thoughts running into each other with no flow, style or cohesiveness. Thus, accustoming myself to the red ink-pen and blue-lined paper was hardly a chore, but an enjoyable challenge. I chose to write in English on account of the dictionary and thesaurus, although I could have written in any of dozens of languages without need for either tool.

It was strange to feel the words run from my head to my hand, flowing out from the pen instead of my mouth. At first, I attempted to duplicate the text outputted by the ship computer, but I soon developed my own, more practical script. This gave me a small sense of accomplishment, although I knew even then that it had been only natural to the earthbound humans of yore, yet it was a large, important step for me.

I wrote for entire days on occasion, Rachel stopping in to try and hold a conversation with me, Ryer doing his best to persuade me to join him at the poker table. Sometimes I caved in; more often than not, I declined. When I did play, however, I won--constantly. The others soon became irritated with me; I could tell, but they were still visibly happy to have my company. My winning streak continued up 'til a fortnight after the New Year. Then, my luck turned decidedly bad. I stopped writing entirely; I no longer played poker, did not even participate in sim games. I realise now that this was the general state of mind on the ship at that time. I cannot explain it. It is simply the truth.


We threw a party for Rachel's birthday, and it was an occasion with great gaiety. Unfortunately, her sixteenth year was going to be anything but sweet: two days later, the ship's LocalStar system detected a Retich ship of unregistered configuration positioned at 4 o' clock low. Its weapons were charged, locked on our aged battle cruiser.

TRANSMIS
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