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THE VOYAGE TO ORION
July 11, 2002
"I knew I'd find you here trying to tan your pathetic white skin," Pilot Harry Liu-Chang joked as he entered the solarium. In the middle of the lush green plants, Pilot Scott LeVay lay on a lounge chair wearing only eyecups to protect his eyes and a cup on his cock and balls. Glistening with sweat, his muscular torso glowed red with the start of a tan. Fine black hair covered his body.
"Well, sure! Cowboy! My skin isn't a rich olive like yours. It's those damn Chinese and Hawaiian genes you got," Scott retorted. "I'll never understand why the Designers didn't plan for a proper sun room. Ain't fitting to sneak around in the all-together!" The sun lamps started to dim. Shortly, it would be night in the solarium.
"Those lamps are so hot you could roast meat under them. I'm sweating like a pig in heat! Hand me a towel, please," and Harry handed him a smallish towel. Scott removed the eyecups and wiped the sweat off his face. He stood up and struck a bodybuilder's pose to show off his arms and shoulders.
"Not a bad body for someone just turned 40 years old!" Pilot Harry Liu-Chang commented admiring what he saw. Scott was a muscle head and the two pilots often joked about how dissimilar they were. Harry was taller than Scott and just plain scrawny. There we not meat on his bones, so to speak. No matter how much Harry exercised, he never gained muscle.
"Better living through chemistry! Better living through chemistry, I live right. I eat right and I intend to reach Earth Colony One in good enough shape to father many children and live a long and happy life. Scott brought his arms out and down in another body building pose. The muscles on his chest, shoulders, and arms popped out in an impressive display. He flexed his hips and the cup fell off his crotch exposing a large uncut cock and egg-sized balls. That was another way that the two men differed, Harry's cock was smallish and thin and always hid in the folds of his extra large foreskin. When he was growing up, the other kids called Harry "dog-dick."
"And you think the women are going to fall for that overly-muscled physique of yours?" Harry teased and pulled Scott against him, wrapping his arms and the towel Scott. He licked Scott's shoulder and wiped the sweat from Scott's back into a portable scanner. It quickly analyzed and stored the chemical composition in Harry's private database. What a jerk, Harry thought he'll never know, and Harry licked Scott's body. "You taste so good. I could eat you raw."
"Easy boy, we got chores to do." Pilot Scott LeVay had a faint southern accent and manner that Harry found attractive. However, today for some unknown reason, Scott was all business. Some pilots on long voyages were lovers and other just went through a phase. With Scott and Harry, they started out as red-hot lovers but after a few years the sex became old and the differences between the two men split them apart. Harry turned and stared out into the solarium, losing himself in the ever-deepening shadows and darkness.
"Is status all green?" Scott asked stepping into his standard-issue, gray unitard and pulled it up over his shoulders.
Launched eight years ago, the automated, Regency-class cargo ship Ishimi-Maru required only two pilots. The ship was twelve miles long, five mile wide, and six miles deep. The latest fusion propulsion system occupied the back mile of the ship and the control room and living quarters were ten miles forward of the fusion propulsion drive. The front mile of the ship was covered with radar arrays and energy beam weapons to protected the ship from meteors as small as two centimeters in diameter. A giant scoop served to catch dust and dark matter and funnel it back to the fusion drive. Everything else, cargo holds and living quarters were armor plated to protect the ship from any other damage.
Regency-class cargo ships carried carry enough material to build and outfit several small cities. There were nearly two thousand cargo holds on the ship held together by a spider's web of superstructure. In addition to cargo, the Ishimi-Maru carried five thousand colonists frozen in stasis and shielded from radiation. The destination was Earth Colony One, the closest habitable planet to earth. An advance colony of 1000 engineers and scientists were busy terraforming the planet. The Ishimi-Maru was the third of six cargo ships. Every thirty-six hours the Ishimi-Maru received burst messages that traveled faster than light. Every seventy-two hours, they supplied a status report through their own burst message.
"I asked if status was all green!" Scott poked Harry's arm waking him from his daydream.
"Everything is green except for the starboard antenna array. It's yellow. The mechanicals can't get to the problem. I have to go outside and fix the problem." Harry said as he and Scott walked out of the solarium and into a gravity lock.
"Message burst is due in four hours. Is that long enough to fix it or do you want help?" Scott asked.
"It's only a minor problem, I should be able to fix it alone." Harry tapped a control panel and closed the gravity lock. Immediately the artificial gravity cut out and they floated off the floor. Only selected areas of the cargo ship had artificial gravity. Miles of narrow, gray corridors snaked through the ship. Harry and Scott floated knowingly through the corridors and finally reached the control room's gravity lock. Once inside, Scott examined the details of the yellow fault on various display panels.
"It's a simple circuit board failure, why can't the mechanicals replace it?" Scott asked.
"Plastic cable tie!" Harry replied, "Someone used a plastic cable tie to hold the panel closed when the ship was built 12 years ago and never removed it. The mechanicals can't reach inside to cut it. I'll go out in my robot to fix it. I finished the new program a few hours ago. No time like the present to try it out."
"How convenient! A circuit fault and the debut of your new programming for the robot," Scott teased Harry about his not-to-transparent logic. Rather than risk life and limb in space suits, each pilot had his own robot that was just about as large as his human body. The pilots merely downloaded their consciousness into the robot. It was infinitely safer to use in the harsh environments of space travel. The robots did not require air, food, water, or waste disposal. The never tired out and they rarely broke down. All the pilots and workers who used them had hoped for sleek, silvery replicas of their human bodies, but the Designers also made them clumsy and awkward to control. They looked like department store mannequins with their sexless, expressionless, and highly reflective nanomachine skins. The nanomachines functioned on two levels; on one level, the nanomachines merely formed an impenetrable skin to protect the internal circuits and servomotors from micro-meteors. On another level, the nanomachines converted hands and feet into tools and implements. When the pilot needed a screwdriver, he merely directed a thought at the proper port and the nanomachines formed the tool. Scott and Harry liked using the robots, but Harry's obsession with performance lead him to continuously improve the programming that ran the robot. The tricky part was reprogramming the nanomachines that functioned as the human-computer interface. Slowly Harry's efforts succeeded.
Scott watched his control panel and as Harry activated the nanomachines. "I never understood why the Designers made the robots so artificial," Scott remarked. "I always thought the robots would be sexy and elegant. They gave us tin cans."
"We're just pilots on a cargo run to the Designers. They don't care," Harry smiled and pushed a few buttons on the control panel to display his work. He fastened himself into a couch and set the transfer helmet on his head. "They gave us the minimum necessary of food, water, and living quarters and as an after thought threw in a few fresh fruit and vegetables because we had to tend the solarium, If they could have staffed this ship with mechanicals, we would be out of our jobs. If they could have only one pilot, they would have done it. They needed two pilots to keep each other sane," Harry adjusted the electrodes and fastened the restraints, "I'm ready when you are," Harry said as he closed his eyes: "Hit it!"
Scott activated the transfer sequence from the control panel. Harry's body froze as a stasis field gripped him. Visible electric discharges played over his head as his intellect, memories, and personality were digitized and removed from his body. Elsewhere in the spaceship, Harry's robotic doppelganger came to life as the computer downloaded Harry into the robot. Circuit boards, transistors, servomotors, and LED's sprang to life in the robot body. An electric aura formed around the robot's head as the data was transferred. The mechanical irises on the artificial eyes of the robot opened and closed. Harry's robot body flexed its steel limbs and tested each servomotor. It was like watching a car start thought Scott as he observed the power and control settings rise to normal levels.
"Transfer successful and complete," Harry's mechanical voice sounded through a speaker on the control panel. Magnetic clamps opened and released him so robot-Harry could took a few steps, balanced, and bounced around the robot bay in the absence of gravity. LED's sparkled on the robots shiny surfaces highlighting its muscularity. Harry touched various surfaces on the walls checking that the tactile sensations he received from his metal skin matched what would have been received from his real hands.
"Motion and balance are good, servomotors check out, and tactile sensation is better than expected," Harry's voice sounded excited, but his robot face remained expressionless. He continued to test the new programs, moving and jumping. Scott admired the results of the new programs.
"Your readouts look good," Scott spoke into the microphone. Robots always look good! thought Scott.
Harry's voice crackled back: "The new strength and movement programs are working well. Now let's see if our other enhancements work! I'm going to initiate the new program for the nanomachines."
The metal skin on the robot's face flexed slightly and formed a replica of Harry's human face. The lips moved as he talked.
"Stage one enhancements complete. How do I look?" Harry said facing the camera and talking to Scott.
"I thought you were going to fix your nose, but I see you kept the old one!" Scott said as he looked at the image of the metallic skin on the monitor and saw a smile form. There were even metallic teeth behind the lips. Scott frowned at the display forgetting he could be seen in the robot bay video.
"I thought you'd like this." Harry remarked as his robot face stuck its tongue out at the video monitor.
"That's utterly amazing! How did you get facial expressions?" Scott asked as his heart beat a little faster. He wanted to use this new program but he didn't want let Harry know.
"First, I increased the nanomachines programming from just being tools to include emotional memories. Then, I over-road the safeties and deepened the scan on my brain to take some emotional and autonomic functions and sent that data directly to the nanomachines."
"Harry! You shouldn't do things like that. You know the danger! What if you can't reload all that data? You'll either have to remain a robot or return a human zombie." Scott was angry.
"No need to fear, I have not intention of remaining a robot. Those nanomachines are really buzzing. I can hear them communicating. It's like a little voice in my head. Get ready for physical enhancement number two! Harry remarked as he turned his back to the camera.
"You're treading on dangerous ground, Harry!"
"I know what I'm doing. I can reload all the data back into my human body," Harry grumbled as he turned quickly to face the camera and struck a pose. He flexed metal his muscles and posed like a bodybuilder made of steel. Scott guessed that this is what Harry wanted to look like instead of his scrawny build.
"I got a metal hard-on just like my human one." Harry displayed a metal erection pointing upwards from his metal crotch. It was thicker and longer than Harry's human unit. He stroked the metallic shaft of his cock several times and stiffened as a bead of metal appeared on the tip. Harry's robotic body was mimicking an orgasm while Harry's mind relived the memory of it. Scott knew Harry's body movements all too well not to recognize them. A second and a third bead appeared. All of them connected by a thin wire of metal. Harry stood silent for a few seconds before the metal beads were sucked back into his cock.
"I haven't figure out quite how to do that yet without losing nanomachines. I might have to program them to build more nanomachines every time I want to orgasm." Harry joked back at the monitor.
"You silly fool!" Scott was angry that Harry would risk mental damage just to create a spectacle like this: "No one has gone that far in loading their minds into a robot and for good reason. They couldn't reload their psyche back into their human bodies and they ended up going crazy while trapped in the robotic one. I don't to lose you this far into the flight."
Harry just shrugged his robotic shoulders: "Nothing to worry about. I can reload my mind back into my body. Right now, I'm going to fix the starboard antenna array; there are only a couple hours to message burst. We'll talk when I get back." Harry said as he stepped into a small airlock, cycled the doors, and left the ship. The robot bay was kept at vacuum to save air. Only when the robots required repairs did the pilots have to pressurize the robot bay.
A rail car traveled the eight miles from the robot bay to the starboard communications array. It was slow, but it was the fastest way to travel around the outside of the Ishimi Maru. Scott watched in silence as Harry fixed the circuit board on the antenna. Replacing the circuit board didn't take long. Scott envied Harry's performance in the robot.
Harry arrived back at the robot bay only a few minutes before the message was due. He stood on the robot's pedestal and let the magnetic clamps grab hold of the metal body. The return data scan was automatic. An electric aura surrounded his metal head and sucked Harry's mind out of the data modules. The robot grew still and stopped moving. Quadrillions of bits of data flowed through the computer and back to the scanners surrounding Harry's flesh and blood head. Lasers and electrodes glowed as the data flowed back into Harry's neurons and synapses. The entire transfer was complete in seconds. The stasis field released Harry's body and he slumped forward in his chair.
"What a rush!" he exclaimed in a bright and cheery voice, "How long until the message arrives?" Harry looked a little drunk from the transfer.
"Sixty seconds to burst reception," Scott replied as he readied computers to receive the data. He looked at Harry as he shook his head to clear it. "You feel OK?" asked Scott.
"I'm Right as rain," Harry grinned from ear to ear, "It just took a few seconds to get used to the way the computer organized my mind." Scott shook his head in disapproval and Harry continued: "Don't worry! I told you I knew what I was doing. Did you see the parameters on the robot's performance? They're close to human."
"I never thought it possible," Scott said as the communications equipment registered the preliminary data scan. Scott counted backward: "Five, four, three, two, one!" Lights, bells, and beepers made noise as the message came streaming into the receivers and filled the computer buffers. It was over in ten seconds. The computer began decoding three thousand messages and stored them in the databanks. The topics ranged from the news, to music and performance art, and most important, telemetry data on the rest of the cargo ships.
Scott punched up the telemetry message to check on the progress of the other cargo ships flying ahead of them. Fear filled his face.
Scott spoke first: "This isn't good. We have four hours before we cross Type 1 X-ray bursts from a neutron star."
"Four hours to prepare for a type 1 burst! That's no time at all! I though we had a clear path to Procyon. How bad is the beam?" Harry asked softly.
"The pilots on the first ship never saw it coming and died in minutes. Luckily, the ship was on autopilot. The second ship tried turning blocking the beam with the fusion propulsion shielding but something went wrong and they didn't have enough shielding. They're in stasis with terminal radiation burns!" Scott mumbled out loud.
"I know the pilots on the second ship, that's George Black and Carson Tyler, I hope they don't die." Harry acted visibly shaken by the news.
Scott continued: "I only knew Carson at the academy; he's a good pilot but he liked being a robot better. I didn't know George Black." Scott stopped talking and read more of the message.
"Is there anything we can do?" Harry asked.
"Yes, they have a plan to keep us safe," Scott said as he read more of the message.
"They say that it's important we survive because they need us to pilot the other two ships once we reach Procyon. They can achieve orbital insertion around the binary but not around the planet. If we make it through we'll be heroes." Scott smiled and shook his head in agreement. During normal space flight, the computer ran the ship and the pilots were glorified mechanics keeping everything working smoothly. Once the huge cargo ships got close to a planet, the pilots were needed to make constant orbital adjustments as the ship was unloaded and maneuvered into final configuration as part of a giant space station set above the ecliptic of Procyon's solar system.
"They say that we have to shield our bodies with at least eight inches of lead shielding. They recommend turning the cargo ship so that the fusion propulsion shield faces the X-ray Beam and then getting inside the protected cargo bay where the colonists are in stasis. It's has sufficient shielding to withstand the X-ray beam," Scott said with a certain fatality in his voice.
"Let's see if we can get a probe into the beam," Harry said as he launched a long-range sensor to detect the beam that lay ahead of them. It only took a few minutes for the probe to find the beam and determine its strength.
"It's incredible, look at the readings. That's not a beam, it's an X-ray cannon! We'll have to turn off portions of the computers to prevent ionization of the chips." Harry showed Scott the data. Scott punched up parameters on the protected cargo bay to find a way inside. Harry, however, started searching the cargo manifests.
"How the hell do we get into the protected cargo hold? It's sealed and protected with energy beams." Scott asked. His voice was puzzled and uncertain.
"We don't! We don't need the protected cargo bay. We have enough lead brick in Cargo Bay 942 to create our own shield." Harry punched the access codes that opened Cargo Bay 942.
"There's not enough time to get all that lead in here, not to mention enough air to keep depressurizing the airlock." Scott replied.
"We don't need to take the lead out of Cargo Bay 942. We can put our bodies into airtight stasis pods and use the robots to build a lead shield in cargo bay 942."
"What about the X-ray beam? Won't that damage the computers in the robots?" Scott asked fearing the worst.
"Not if the robots stay behind the shield we build. We know the direction of the X-ray beam so we only have to build a wall to protect us. We don't need a cube, just a wall! The robot bodies are strong enough and fast enough to move all those lead brick into place. We only need to use the airlock once to get the stasis pods out of the robot bay." Harry said as he punched commands into the robotics control station to start downloading the new programs into Scott's robotic body.
"Can we download from the robot bay? It would take too much time to do it from here." Scott added as he drummed his fingers on the console.
Harry was a little frustrated that Scott's lack of thought: "Yes! We pressurize the robot bay, load it with two stasis tubes, and use the diagnostic scanners to transfer our minds into the robots." Harry said as he entered more commands into the computers. The plan started to make sense to Scott.
"I see! I see!" Scott's voice was excited. "Once we download our minds, we can seal our human bodies in the stasis tubes and go directly to Cargo Bay 942. Do we have enough time?" Scott asked. Time was a critical factor. Nothing moved fast on the cargo ship.
"Yes, if we hustle. We have three hours left before the beam hits. You go get the robot bay ready. I'll program the download and the rest of the ship's actions," Harry said earnestly, then added: "It's still dangerous, air supply is critical. We might be forced to stay in the robots if the air runs out at the end of the trip." Both Harry and Scott knew that the longer their minds stayed in the robot bodies, the greater the chance that they wouldn't be able to return to their human bodies.
"The alternative is death by radiation poisoning. Not much of a choice, is it?" Scott said signaling agreement with Harry's plans: "Start a countdown clock. I'll get the stasis pods into the robot bay," he said and left the control room.
Harry activated several small probes to fly ahead of the ship to get better telemetry on the X-ray beam. Every extra bit of information might be critical. Along with those, he rigged several dozen sensors and dosimeters along the length of the ship to monitor the levels of radiation exposure. Rotating the fusion propulsion drive towards the X-ray beam required shutting the engines down and performing a series of complex attitude, pitch, and yaw adjustments to keep their path straight. The shutdown would delay their arrival at Procyon exacerbating the oxygen problem. He made the computer double-check all the calculations. Turning his attention to the robots, he decided to keep the programming is his robot to save time and only downloaded the new versions of the programs into Scott's robot body. This shortcut would give him enough time to adjust the download parameters for his own personal desires. "Hey Scott! I won't let those pilots die in vain!" he yelled over the intercom for Scott to hear. Then he added extra memory modules to both robots. As part of the download, he increased the depth of the brain scan parameters to include not only the conscious mind, but also the autonomic nervous system, spinal reflexes, and emotions.
Meanwhile, Scott was busy pressurizing the robot's cargo bay and moving two stasis pods into the bay. The stasis tubes had a long checklist before they became active. Scott wished he had a better way and faster way to program all the parameters into the stasis tubes, but all he could do was hurry and wait.
Both pilots finished their tasks at the same time. The computer announced two hours left.
Scott's voice crackled on the intercom: "I'm ready down here, Harry, are you ready up there?"
"Yes," Harry replied as he set the controls on automatic. "I'm leaving now," he said as he walked quickly out of the control room and sealed the airlock door behind him. It only took two minutes to make the trip to the robot bay where Scott waited.
"I double-checked all the systems on the tubes. They're ready." Scott said as Harry entered the bay. He quickly noticed that the air was thin. I calculated the air consumption and this should work." Scott said as he removed his unitard and climbed into the first tube. He attached the stasis electrodes to his body. Harry did the same. When they completed the stasis connections, Harry motioned towards headsets and they both placed them their heads.
"Ready?" Harry asked fingering the remote control switch in his hand.
"Do it!" Scott replied and both men stiffened as the stasis fields surrounded their bodies.
The computer scanned Harry first. An electric aura played over his head as his intellect, memories, and personality were digitized and transferred to the main computer just like earlier in the day. This time, however, the computer wasn't done and a second scan stripped Harry's body of his emotions, autonomic nervous system, and spinal reflexes. For several nanoseconds Harry floated around the computer and then suddenly he was downloaded into the robotic brain. It was a rough ride. The download triggered the robot's computer programs and the nanomachines. Once initialized, the nanomachines became sentient and functioned on their own. Their collective voice buzzed softly as they assumed control of what used to be Harry's autonomic nervous system and reflex motor controls.
Harry's download complete, the computer scanned and extracted Scott's intellect, memories, and personality and then burrowed deeper to remove all of his emotional and autonomic functions. Scott was unprepared for the depth of the scan and quickly became disoriented as he felt his reflexes and emotions drain out of his human body. His consciousness floated in the mainframe for a few nanoseconds and then was quickly downloaded into the memory circuits of his robot body. The nanomachines were active and waiting for data and quickly absorbed and integrated large chunks of his psyche. Scott tried to initiate the servomotor check, but all of the new programming confused him.
"How do you feel, Scott?" Harry asked on the communications channel.
"What have you done?" Scott's thoughts broadcast through the communications port as his robotic body convulsed. Harry released his robotic arms from the magnetic clamps and punched a few commands into the control panel on Scott's headset. Scott's robotic body stopped shaking for a few seconds.
"It's just the new programming. Let me adjust your parameters," Harry said as Scott's robotic body convulsed again jerking the restraints. Scott couldn't assimilate all the information in the download and control the robot body at the same time. Harry made a second set of adjustments that released the constraints on the nanomachines in Scott's robotic body. In a few seconds, Scott's robotic body stopped convulsing. Harry released the remaining magnetic clamps that held them in place.
"Try to move your arms and legs." Harry said as he held Scott upright. Scott's arms and legs moved in a jerky fashion. Harry punched more commands into Scott's headset to enable a higher level of integration between the human mind and the metal body. Suddenly Scott's face appeared on the face of the robot. The nanomachines were able to take any form they wanted and they made the robot look like Scott.
"What have you done?" Scott repeated.
"Follow my movements!" Harry said as he forced Scott to make deliberate motions and accept integration with the robotic brain. It took about ten minutes for both robots to synchronize motions.
"What have you done to me, Harry!" Scott broadcast out the communications ports. "Talk to me, Harry! "I hear voices in the back of my mind." Scott said as his metal mouth formed the words on the communications line and his eyes tracked Harry. He pointed a finger at Harry.
"First, you're hearing the nanomachines, they've taken over control of your reflexes and autonomic functions," Harry explained, adding: "You'll get used to their constant buzz. How do you feel now?"
"How should I feel?" Scott talked slowly, still struggling with the new functions, "At least I'm not having convulsions. What the hell did you do to me? That wasn't a normal transfer! It felt like you emptied my body of everything."
"Just insurance, Scott! We might not beat the X-ray beam." Harry said through the communications ports.
"What?" Scott asked suspecting that this was a lie, he started to say more, but suddenly, the nanomachines sent Scott a series of images to get his attention. Scott turned in attention inward and ignored Harry and the cargo ship. The nanomachines started communicating with him. They were a symbiotic intelligence and were asking permission to completely merge with Scott. They showed Scott his lifelong dream of becoming a robot or cyborg in his memories. They informed him that they could fulfill his dream. Harry's changes in their programming and his releasing all the safeties on their base programming would let them digitize and merge with Scott's mind. They wanted Scott's permission to do this.
Harry meanwhile, was still talking to Scott: "It might take time to get used to the new program." Harry said. Scott didn't answer. After a moment Harry checked the ship's clock, "Come on! Let's get to work. We have about ninety minutes to get shielded or none of this will matter." Scott's robot didn't move as his mind was talking to the nanomachines.
Harry got worried: "Scott! Scott! What's wrong?" Harry sent out over the communications system as he tried to check on Scott through alternate data channels. The nanomachines blocked him. Harry knew something was happening in Scott's robotic but before he did anything else, Scott came out of his daze.
"Nothing's wrong, Harry! I just had a conversation with the nanomachines!" Scott sounded a little odd but then quickly added: "You said we only have ninety minutes left, didn't you?" Scott asked and before Harry could answer, he added: "Well, get moving and help me seal these stasis pods. That's what we have to do first." Harry was anxious as he sealed his stasis pod. Scott was at the control panel shutting down the artificial gravity throughout the ship and starting a computerized shutdown sequence of all but essential computers.
"There's still not enough time!" Harry whined, "It's going to take thirty minutes just to depressurize this room."
"No, no, no! We have plenty of time," Scott sounded firmer, more assured of himself: "Prepare for explosive depressurization" Scott ordered through the intercom. "The stasis pods will handle the force and that will save us time." Harry floated to the platform as Scott punched commands into the computer. The magnetic clamps grabbed their metal bodies.
"Here we go!" Scott said as the computer screen counted backward from ten. Lights flashed, klaxons sounded, and the airlock opened the chamber to vacuum. The few objects that weren't attached to anything flew out of the robotics bay. When the controls indicated the air pressure was zero, the clamps released the two robots. Scott and Harry guided the stasis pods into the darkness of space. Small glowing patches on the side of the cargo ship served as running lights and guideposts.
Except for the inherent gravity of the ship, the stasis pods weighed nothing and floated easily into position in Cargo Bay 942. It took thirty minutes and neither man said a word during the passage. Inside the bay, Scott secured the pods with magnetic grapples and Harry began moving the lead bricks to form a shield between them and the X-ray beam. It was slow, hard work due to the inertia of the lead bricks. Once they started a lead brick in motion, it tended to stay in motion. Gravity, air resistance, and friction didn't exist here and that made double work to move each brick and glue it to the others. The lead shield resembled the corner of a cube pointed directly at the X-ray source. They built from the center outward and with only a few minutes to spare finished the shielding. The positioned themselves behind the lead shield with the stasis tubes beneath them.
"Boy! That was hard work! Wasn't it Harry! I even broke a sweat!" Scott rubbed his metal arm over his metal face as if wiping sweat from his brow. Harry stared at Scott trying to figure out what had happened to Scott. "Don't worry Harry! It's only an expression." Scott replied and smacked his fist against Harry's metal shoulder. "Check the telemetry to be sure we're being shielded from the X-ray beam? I'd sure hate to die because we got our directions mixed up. That would be terminally embarrassing!" Scott joked.
Harry checked the telemetry through the communications ports. As he opened the channel to Scott's mind, carefully letting him experience the flow of telemetry information, Scott sent a few programs of his won to search through Harry's memories without Harry realizing it.
"Telemetry indicates that our shield and the fusion drive shield is facing the beam. Can you read and interpret the telemetry?" Harry asked Scott still unaware of his total integration with the nanomachines. Harry watched Scott's robotic face as his eyes went wide in amazement.
"Yes, I can." He said as he interfaced with the data stream, "It's amazing. I can see and interpret the data. It looks like we should be safe. How wide is the X-ray beam? Can we access the long range sensors?"
"Be careful, Scott! As robots, we can access the entire ship. Careful you don't try too much at one time." Harry thought he was warning Scott, but as as he released all the sensor information to Scott, Scott's programs rummaged through his mind.
Scott accepted all the information from the ship and sought out more. He found the long range probes and shared the data: "The X-ray beam is at least 15 minutes wide and quite powerful. It's not just one beam, but more like two or three. No wonder the first two ships got in trouble." Scott then let his mind interface completely with the ship's computers. He stood there for a moment in silence. His robot face grinning.
"I always dreamed about operating a ship this way, a complete mental interface. The Designers said that this level of human-machine integration was impossible. How did you do it, Harry? How did you solve the problem?" Scott sounded happy. Harry was relieved but still worried about what he had done.
"It's the enhanced nanomachines. A few scientists, myself included, always thought they could sentient. I just had the time and luck to find the right program combination." Harry replied. In reality, the conversation they were having was more like high-speed data transfer between several computers. The human equivalent was telepathy. However, both men still maintained human speech patterns.
A series of soft chimes signaled the passage into the X-ray beam. Dosimeters on the stasis pods and their robot bodies would record any radiation that leaked through the shielding. Harry could hear Scott interrogate the sensor grid throughout the ship. He wasn't using thoughts, just binary code. All of Scott's communications with the ship's computers were binary codes.
Harry's interrupted Scott's review of the ships sensor logs: "Is everything OK?"
"Yes! We are going to make it." Scott said, then he faced Harry and looked directly into his mechanical eyes. "Harry, what did you do to me? Why did you release the safeties on the nanomachines? Why did you can everything from my mind and body?" Scott asked over the communications channel.
"Well, I did, but I had a reason, " Harry answered slowly, "I saved time by using a slightly more advanced version of the programs for your robot than the program in my robot. I also deepened the scans, I had this strange thought that we might stay in these bodies and give our human bodies to the crew of the second cargo ship. I shouldn't have done that."
Part of Scott's mind scanned all the ship's functions. It took a few seconds for him to answer: "Is that all?" Scott paused and waited for Harry to respond.
"One of the pilots on the second ship is my blood relative. I'm sorry, I didn't want to tell you that I was planning anything so personal. I had hoped that when we arrived at Procyon they could use my body to save him," Harry said softly.
"So you were willing to chance damage from the deep scans and the subsequent integration without telling me?" asked Scott as he analyzed data from the sensor grid. He quickly added: "We lost some computer subsystems in cargo bays 19, 48, 230, 501, and 793. Half of the dosimeters are off scale and the other half will be by the time we are through the X-ray beam. However, we're safe behind this shield! So far, so good!" Scott announced.
"I just didn't have time to explain." Harry remarked regretting his decisions.
"I understand!" Scott's tone was so matter-of-fact that is surprised Harry.
"You seemed so confused when we downloaded, yet you've adapted so fast? How? Why?" Harry's concern caused Scott to smile one of his cutest smiles and shrug his shoulders in ways that he knew Harry found sexy.
"Aw! Shucks! Pilgrim! I always dreamed of being a robot! Now I are one!" Scott's voice mimicked a southern drawl. "Take a look at your handwork!" Scott added as he opened his mind for Harry to see the work of the nanomachines. Harry ran a quick diagnostics on Scott's robotic brain. The nanomachines had converted Scott's entire mind and personality into computer code. Everything that was Scott LeVay was now coded and stored on computer ships. The intricacy of the coding was beyond anything Harry had ever seen. Just then, the cargo ship began to leave the X-ray Beam and Scott brought the sensor grid into their conversation.
"No more diagnostic, you've seen enough of my mind," Scott prevented Harry from reading anymore of his mind and blocked any future access. Harry was unaware that Scott and his nanomachines had taken complete control of the cargo ship's computer.
"Now, Let's get back to reality," Scott said firmly, "I think we're going to make it! Look at the data here and here." Scott indicated on a diagram of the ship he projected into Harry's mind. "Maybe we ought to send a probe into our path and check that there isn't a second X-ray beam out there?"
"That's prudent! I'll configure the probe." Harry unconsciously opened communications, set the parameters as a binary data stream, and launched two probes.
"See, that was easy, wasn't it?" Scott poked Harry's shoulder with his fist. "It's better than punching all those silly programs into the keyboard, debugging them, running them. As a robot, all you have to do now is interface with the computers and analyze the data." Harry was stunned by Scott's revelation.
"I didn't expect that running the ship could be like this!" Harry remarked as they waited for the new probes to return data.
"It found another X-ray beam in front of us. Lucky we sent the probe out." Scott observed.
"That'll really bum out the astronomers as they try to figure out why there are two beams." Harry replied. Buzzers and alarms sounded again as the cargo ship encountered the second beam.
"When we're done, I think we ought to send this lead shield back to the fourth cargo ship. They may not have enough time to build their own shield." Scott suggested and added: "I'll set the computer to work out the course. We can use an engine from one of the large probes to power the shield. We should do it before we go back inside."
"Do we have enough time?" Harry asked.
"Of course we have enough time, why wouldn't we?" Scott seemed to shout at Harry, then added: "We don't need food, water, air, or even sleep. Why wouldn't we have time?" More alarms sounded signaling failures due to ionization. Scott and Harry listened to the data. Another half dozen cargo computers had crashed. As the reports finished, Scott checked the sensor net.
"We'll move out of the second X-ray beam in two minutes." Scott announced. Then he added: "I can reintegrate you with your human body, Harry. I think you're having second thoughts about staying in the metal body. Aren't you?"
"I didn't think it would be this way. I mean, I can relive any memory and the nanomachines will replay that memory to match my actions, but it's the same memory. It's not a new experience." Harry's voice carried his concern with it.
"It's the nanomachines. They save memory by removing redundancy. The human mind thrives on redundant memories to track time. It needs new experiences or at least experiences that the mind thinks are new." Scott launched another monitor program into Harry's to rummage around. Harry wasn't even aware of it.
"I think I understand," replied Harry.
"By the way, the nanomachines have adapted their touch and feel programs to human sensation. My robot senses are exactly like those on my human body, but as a robot, I experience the digital signals directly. A human mind only works with the interpretation of those signals." Scott explained, his voice was soft and reassuring.
"I'm beginning to understand what I've done. I don't think I can exist like that." Harry said.
"OK! Once we get the shield sent backwards and our bodies back into the airlock, We can reintegrate our minds into our physical bodies. When we get to Procyon, your son can have my body. I'll stay in my robot body. Your robot's programming isn't adequate to the task."
"I feel bad about this. It's like I fooled you into the sacrifice." Harry was glad he could still express regret.
"No, Harry. Don't ever think that! This is the life I always wanted from when I was a little boy. I dreamed of being a robot. I joined the space corps to be as close to a robot as possible. So don't regret giving me my dream."
"This all happened so fast." Harry asked.
"Your program changes made the nanomachines sentient and symbiotic. I just gave them permission to encode my memories. That's when they came across my lifelong desire to be a robot and they reprogrammed all of my intellect and consciousness in line with that. The nanomachines and I are the same as the flesh and blood Scott, we have the same desire, the same knowledge, the same personality, but combined, we are better and more efficient."
"And you don't feel any less by not redundant memories and human feelings?" Harry asked.
"I still have redundant memories, emotions, and feelings. The nanomachines got heartburn trying to assimilate emotions, but they solved that problem and they also understand hunches and guesses. They discovered human inefficiency and indecision and compensated for it." Scott retrieved the little monitor program he had sent into Harry's robotic mind and he continued speaking: "They also manipulate the metallic skin on these robotic bodies. We have recreated short and long term memory storage and redundant memories. The greatest physical loss is the sensation of eating and drinking. Does that help you understand?" Scott watched Harry as the two monitor programs reported back to him. They warned that Harry didn't want him to remain a robot and that he was planning some way to integrate him back with his human body with brain damage. It also warned him that Harry had lied about one of the two pilots being his son. That wasn't true. And finally, the little spy program discovered that Harry had created a secret databank with chemical analyses of Scott's bodily fluids.
Scott decided to keep Harry under surveillance at all times and created new programs to perform that task. Satisfied, Scott returned his attention to Harry who was still talking:
"...Yes, I think so." Harry replied. "My purpose in enhancing the nanomachines was to make the robot behave like a human body. I seem to have succeeded beyond expectations."
"You bet your baby, uh, grays!" Scott answered. His eyes used to be blue, but now they were robot gray. Alarms from the sensors indicated that they were clear of the X-ray beam.
"We're safe!" Harry said as both robots congratulated each other.
"You go get a rocket engine from a probe and I'll move all this stuff back to the robot bay. Let's get this show on the road." Scott said and Harry agreed.
7568 words more or less
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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