Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange Point
The trip to Álfhól space platform, went without a hitch. The platform was remotely constructed behind the moon and was unobservable from Earth. It was constructed by the Lýsi Group’s growing number of space-based Asteroid Mining and Construction Autonomous Robots or AMCARs as they were referred to.
Jón and Ásta were the last of a group of specialists to get to the platform. They had spent an extra month on Earth intensively studying AL-I, the medium sized asteroid-like object, which was on a trajectory towards the Sun, moving slowly, north of the solar system’s ecliptic. After the initial detection by the group, there were Earth-based as well as deep-space platforms constantly monitoring AL-I. The object seemed rocky, reflected little light and had few noticeable features. But it was starkly different from other asteroids. It was not moving within the solar system like other orbiting asteroids, nor was it behaving like other observed bodies.
AL-I was not believed to be orbiting the Sun. Nor was it considered to be a part of the solar system. It was determined to be interstellar in origin. What really caught the Lýsi Group’s attention was that it began massive deceleration soon after it was originally noticed. This was highly unnatural, and several theories were doing the rounds that included a concentrated patch of dark matter in the area, an undetected object exerting significant gravity and an outlandish idea that it was an artificial object that was able to control its own motion.
Lýsi had no illusions about extraterrestrial intelligence or the fact that at least remote contact had been made by off-world intelligence. A lot of the group’s key technologies, advances and research was based on acquired off-world artifacts. The group would investigate AL-I not just because it was unique, but mainly because its sudden appearance and erratic behavior, posed a hazard to the planet. Time was of the essence and the group decided to intercept and investigate the object before it got too deep into the solar system.
The twins were launched into the thermosphere from one of the group’s fleet of flying-wing aircraft. Ejected at high Gs while nestled within their individual crew launch capsules which were shot from the roof mounted cannon, both transhuman twins lost consciousness even though their physiology was tougher than their human colleagues.
The crew capsules were automatically captured by AMCARs, which were temporarily reassigned off their space junk recycling, fabrication and manufacturing jobs, for this specific task.
The twins only awoke on way to the moon in an S3 ‘Nesting Doll’ - a midsize Autonomous Cargo and Transport Vessel or ACTV, capable of accommodating people, or if the need arose any other life-forms. The nesting doll cargo vessel was fitted out for a crew mission and was as comfortable as travelling in a luxury train coach. It had cocoon-like bunks which doubled up as escape pods, a common area with ergonomic seating which was used for dining and mission operations. There were toilet and fitness areas to the front and rear of the vessel.
Manual maneuvering and vessel control units were built into digital pads contained in each of the bunks and the common area grav-seats. But these would only be required during an emergency.
Ásta groggily whispered into her hard-shell extravehicular activity suit’s helmet microphone, “Jón, you there?” They were both equipped with the very latest HSEVA suits.
He responded just as groggily “Yup, I’m here”. After a brief pause, he continued “Really didn’t expect to be unconscious for long after the launch. My neck feels like it was viciously twisted”.
Ásta giggled and replied “The AMCARs arms must have handled you by the head. Anyhow, we were given a drug-cocktail injection before the launch to fortify and sedate us. The sedative is administered so we don’t do anything stupid while the automated robots and systems carry out their jobs. Also, presumably so we wouldn’t notice if anything went wrong”.
Jón muttered “I’d feel safer getting from the launch capsule to the transport myself, thank you very much!”
Ásta mollified her brother “It isn’t so much for you as it is for others. Besides, the entire transfer process is efficient, and the automated systems are used to handling inanimate cargo. Anyhow, we designed the process ourselves and worked on getting this setup as close to perfect as possible, so no protests.”
Her brother’s focus shifted, and he brought up the transit tasks on his HSEVA suit helmet’s heads up display. He said, “Since we haven’t been in zero gravity, other than training, how about we keep the local gravity under us switched off and let our bodies get used to null-gravity operations?” Ásta replied in the affirmative.
The twins opened and rolled out of their bunk pods. They separately went through a checklist of the nesting doll’s systems to doubly ensure everything checked out. It turned out the S3 Autonomous Cargo and Transport Vessel was named Habogi by the AI Shun, after a young man in one of the twins’ most loved Icelandic fairytales.
The internal environment was nominal, and the local gravity was set at twenty percent above Earth gravity, to force their bodies to exert and offset atrophy. The twins then stood against magnetic mounts next to their bunk pods and undid their suits, which began a rapid recharge. The HSEVA suits could produce their own energy since they utilized compact versions of the dual-purpose Cosmic Ray Energy Generator shielding panels. The more compact CREG panels provided excellent exoskeletal rigidity to the suits, and long duration protection against cosmic ray radiation. Energy was stored in gel batteries, built into the suit’s skeletal frame. An additional layer of overlapping hexagonal scales made with double bonded nano-carbon and interwoven with graphene, provided added protection against hypervelocity projectiles. Since the exoskeletal panels brought up the overall suit weight, electrode-mesh gel filament artificial muscles, were used between and under joints, to augment the wearer’s strength and movement.
The HSEVA suits were overengineered to operate between superheated and cryogenic environment ranges. The twins did a checklist assessment of their suits to ensure they were prepared for quick deployment. They then did a once-over of each other’s suits as well. Checks completed; they were both eager to get on with their self-training by conducting the remaining trip in null-G. Deciding on a series of physical exercises between operational tasks, they began with a floating sprint across the interior length of the vessel and ended with manual maneuvering. They’d both been brought up fully immersed with the technologies being used, often leading design and development for many of the deployed vessels. Young as they were, each was well known and respected amongst the tightly woven teams within Lýsi.
After a brief hand-to-hand close combat sparring session, which they checked off their list of activities, they secured themselves into mission operation seats and unfolded manual maneuvering and vessel control units bringing them to chest level. Jón sent a quick text message letting Álfhól platform know of their intension to go manual for a short duration. The message went out over an encrypted tight-beam communication, which bounced off two line-of-sight satellites before arriving at its destination.
Kei the space-based AI, was plugged into and in charge of monitoring all autonomous and automatic systems. It let the twins know, “We’ll be arriving at Álfhól in an hour, so you’ll have about ten minutes each to try your hands at maneuvering the nesting doll”. Kei and its Earth-bound counterpart had picked up on the language, colloquialisms, nicknames and comfort levels of everyone they had encountered. Both AI offshoots were most accustomed to the twins, as they had spent considerable time providing moral, directional and decision-making guidance to Shun and Kei in the last five years. The twins in turn had picked up several traits from the AI like multi-pronged cause and effect problem analysis, an ability that the twins were adept at. They operated cohesively being able to intuitively predict each other’s intensions. Ásta took manual control of the vessel first.
“I’m going to try out a series of random maneuvers, that will take us off our current course. First off, I’m going to rotate the nesting doll full circle clockwise, and then reverse the move.” Ásta said while delicately spinning the vessel on a pivot. She completed the anti-clockwise maneuver and then followed up with bringing Habogi vertically up on their plane of travel. “This is a lot like training,” she said while trying out a few tricks which she had been planning in her head. Her ten minutes up, she handed over control to Jón.
After a few standard directional maneuvers, Jón said “Ásta hang on, I’m going to try some evasive maneuvers against simulated space debris. Kei, will you please insert some virtual debris into the path we’re currently on, I’ll try and avoid them”.
After the first few chunks of virtual rocks and asteroids, Jón noticed the debris field become thicker. The approach velocity for each lump became progressively faster and he had to really juggle Habogi around to keep from hitting any of the debris. This went on for a full minute, which felt to Jón like at least twenty. On one occasion during the session, Jón tossed Habogi end on end like a caterpillar, in a maneuver which nearly knocked them unconscious.
Kei took over control of Habogi. Jón realized that the AI may have been testing the twins for their G-tolerance. Since both twins had a very close relationship with the AI, he asked, “How did we do on the gravs?” Kei replied, “You both easily managed upwards of ten Gs for up to five seconds, without your innerwear pressure systems activated. With the pressure system initiated, both your enhanced bodies would be able to sustain forty Gs. Of course, once the local gravity systems are activated, you wouldn’t have any problems with acceleration forces in any one direction.”
All space vessels constructed by Lýsi were optimized for exploration and expected harsh environmental conditions. While transport and habitable exploration vessels could withstand up to twelve thousand bar pressure, the autonomous multi-purpose space robots could theoretically withstand up to fifteen thousand bar. Kei continued, “You’ve got just enough time to get clean and suit-up. We will be at Álfhól in half an hour.”
Ten minutes to arrival, the twins were tucked into their HSEVA suits in case of a rapid depressurization during docking. This was just a precaution, but a vital one. There hadn’t been an accident during the docking process involving people yet, because the entire process was completely debugged by the AIs - Shun and Kei, during construction of the platform. While each space vessel had their own mission AI to independently operate, they were all monitored and tasked as needed by Kei.
Before docking, Kei announced into the twins’ headsets, “I’ve just heard from Shun. There seems to be an intrusion into the Kuril Islands facility. Shun picked up an unrecognized face within the main hanger of the flying wing aircraft. The person seems to have entered the launch capsule assembly area. The space launch director, Dr. Maksim Popov was updated as soon as Shun noticed the intrusion. Your young transhuman colleague Rafael Borrego who’s undergoing space mission training at the facility, took it on himself to investigate this incident with Shun. A score of autonomous micro airborne drones have also been deployed throughout the facility to track down the infiltrator or any others who may have been missed. Dr. Popov has instructed that all scheduled activities are to continue, unless any physical threat is perceived.
“The priest made a sound decision to let Rafael jump in,” quipped Ásta. They had picked up the nickname given to the Space Launch Director by the operations team at the Kuril Islands facility. The nickname was a translation of Dr. Popov’s surname in Russian; and besides, with his beard and piercing eyes, he did look like a priest. Ásta continued speaking to Kei, “Rafael will get to the bottom of this in no time. He’s consistently performed better than Jón and me on mental agility tests. He’s quite dextrous too.”
Jón teased his twin, “You’re just sweet on him!” She stuck her tongue out at him. Grave as the situation was, the twins allowed themselves to behave childishly around each other. With company, they were quite the adults. Kei, listening in and remotely observing the interaction, was used to this behaviour. The AI provided a situational awareness feed from the island, for the twins to observe.
Planet-side at the Kuril Islands facility, things were taking an interesting turn. Rafael who was undergoing movement training underwater in a pool, fully suited in a HSEVA suit, was informed of the situation by Dr. Popov and asked to investigate the matter urgently. While making his way to the edge of the pool and climbing out, Shun brought him up to speed and provided various feeds through his heads-up display in the HSEVA suit’s helmet. Rafael decided to remain in his suit, since it provided him a wide array of sensor inputs and enhanced mobility. He looked at the video feed of the suspected intruder, silhouetted against the wall next to the main entrance of the capsule assembly area. Shun was at a loss to explain how the intruder may have got in, since security was quite stringent across the island, and especially so within the facility premises.
Walking towards the capsule assembly area, Rafael took in a few details about the person he was tasked with tracking down. He looked caucasian, was wearing a deep green-grey body-hugging garment and he had a bulge which looked like a backpack. The video was from five minutes ago when Shun had noticed the discrepancy while running through a three-minute surveillance cycle. This was a gap which would need to be fixed. The group’s ability to operate freely across the globe, depended largely on its ability to remain hidden, blended in behind layers of companies and individuals.
Rafael entered the capsule assembly area through an emergency exit after asking Shun to temporarily turn off the door’s alarms. Crouching, he entered the cavernous room, which was sectioned off according to the stages of capsule assembly. The entire assembly process was automated, with little need for people to intervene, even to repair or replace robotic components. Still in a crouch Rafael duck-waddled five meters to the closest robotic assembly unit. Three drones had entered the area along with him and he assigned them grids to survey, while he shimmied himself along an aisle close to the assembly unit.
The drones came up empty. There were two authorised base personnel in the area. Both were working on an input console of a composite materials moulding unit. Neither was aware of the activity around them. Rafael wanted to keep it that way. While turning a corner away from the two authorised personnel, he noticed a flicker from an overhead vent. Continuing without a pause in his movements, Rafael amplified the area within a small section of his helmet’s HUD. There wasn’t anything distinctly visible. Switching to infrared didn’t help either since the vent was a heating unit. The suit was capable of numerous sensory inputs, so he toggled through a few of them and stopped on a radar-audio combination, which showed a broken outline behind the vent’s grille.
There certainly was someone hiding there. He spoke into his comm unit, “Shun, you’re picking this up?”
Shun replied “Yes, it looks like there’s an intruder behind the vent’s grille. How would you like to handle this?”
Rafael said, “It’d be ideal to let the person get out of the vent and enter an area which isn’t mission critical. While we’re capable of fixing or replacing equipment rapidly, initiating conflict here isn’t going to be helpful. Send a drone into the vent quietly behind the intruder and let’s monitor the intruder. Keep a camera on the vent in case the intruder decides to exit. I suggest deploying a few drones with motion detection capability into the area, just in case. Give the person space. I’ll retreat into the recreation area next door.”
A short while later the two techs in the capsule assembly area exited. Rafael was monitoring the area remotely now. He’d just updated the launch director who agreed to let the intruder exit the sensitive assembly area without immediate engagement. Thirty minutes into the surveillance, during which time Rafael was also reacquainting himself with the island’s layout, Shun broke in, “The vent has opened and there seems to be movement. Sensors are picking up a male form. There he is, making his way towards the composite materials moulding area. The intruder has stopped and is observing the hardware there. Look closely, he’s wearing optical gear beside each of his eyes. I’ve identified them as miniaturised Swedish tactical communications gear. He’s obviously some sort of covert infiltration operative. The gear he’s using would be linked in live to whomever he’s in contact with via satellite. I’m going to locate and isolate the frequencies he’s communicating on. So far, whatever he’s seen and recorded has got out.”
Rafael replied, “Okay, send in a few drones to flush him out without spooking him, even though he is one”. No one listening in got the joke.
The intruder noticed a drone approaching him from the direction of the vent he had recently been hidden in. He raised his hand, fist clenched, knuckles pointing at the drone. Rafael exclaimed, “He’s armed. Some kind of forearm mounted system. Send in a few more drones. Also alert the perimeter security bots to increase patrol frequency, in case there’s anyone else waiting to extract the intruder.”
Another two drones approached the intruder backing him towards the primary exit. Shun informed, “I’ve located the frequencies he’s communicating over. He’s linked in via satellite or a high-altitude aircraft. Isolating and jamming now. Done, his communications are out.” The intruder was just exiting the capsule assembly area. Since he was armed, an alert had been silently sent out to all base personnel to vacate their work areas and head to the facility’s vast mess-hall.
Rafael turned left and rounded a corner from the recreation area towards the capsule assembly area, bumping right into the intruder. Both backed off a few steps. Looking at the massive and imposing individual in the HSEVA suit must have startled the intruder quite a bit. But he reacted without flinching, raised his left arm and silently shot a rapid cluster of projectiles into Rafael’s helmet and torso. Protected against hypervelocity space debris, the projectiles just ricocheted off the suit. This shocked the intruder who spun on his feet and hit a dead sprint. Rafael pursued cautiously since he wanted to avoid violence.
At the first corridor intersection, a drone relay showed him a door swinging shut. Slowing his approach, Rafael entered the room getting a full sweep of the area through his suit’s sensor arrays. The intruder was concealing himself behind a cabinet. Rafael approached. The intruder must have heard him. Three feet away from the cabinet the intruder raised his right arm and shot Rafael’s suit helmet, emptying his entire magazine. Seeing no effect on the suited person, the dexterous intruder ducked his way around Rafael and exited the room.
Shun burst into Rafael’s headset, “Our mystery person is headed to the roof. He must have some sort of exfiltration plan.”
Rafael replied while hitting the HSEVA suit’s open sequence, “I think the suit must be scary to this person. I’ve scanned him from close quarters, and he doesn’t seem to be armed any longer. He’s exhausted his forearm weapons. I’m going to ditch the suit and pursue him. Stay connected through audio.”
Shun acknowledged saying “The intruder’s trying to get the roof access hatch open. You may have a moment to catch up.”
Having got out of his training HSEVA suit, Rafael sprinted up the emergency stairwell, racing up the three flights of stairs towards the roof. By the time he reached the top, the intruder had already managed to jimmy open the lock to the roof access door. Cautiously exiting the door, Rafael looked around. The intruder was looking over the far wall towards the rear of the building. He called out to the intruder, “Hey! Hey you!” The person spun around without looking panicked. He didn’t consider the ridiculously young-looking Rafael a threat.
Allowing Rafael to approach, the intruder smirked. As soon as Rafael was close enough, the person lunged with a close-fisted jab to the nose. Without pausing, Rafael deflected the jab downward with his left hand, his years of cross- discipline self-defense training kicking in.
Each of the transhumans were placed on a heavy schedule of knowledge and skills development, and a rigorous physical exercise regimen. Going with the defensive flow, Rafael caught his opponent’s attacking hand at the wrist with his right hand and pulled. This drew in the intruder to Rafael who kicked up with his right knee knocking the breath out of his opponent.
Normally, Rafael had to limit his more aggressive moves to favour his practice opponents. Having reacted instinctively to the situation, he hadn’t held back. The knee to the chest did considerable damage. Medically trained for surgery, Rafael noted the gasping breath of his opponent, now lying on his side with his arms wrapped around his chest, indicating that his diaphragm may have torn. Neither opponent expected the confrontation to end this quickly.
Rafael spoke into his headset, “Shun, the intruder’s down but may require urgent medical attention. Send up a stretcher.”
A rescue team was standing by and arrived on the roof quickly. Rafael looked at the intruder’s forearm mounted weapons. There were multiple barrels forming a double layer over the wrist. Shun too was studying the system while running multiple face-recognition queries globally. The arriving medics were already appraised of the intruder’s possible injuries remotely by Shun. Sedating and securing the injured person, the medics gently moved him to the island’s infirmary building.
Rafael meanwhile went to check on his suit. When he got to where he left it, he saw it had been removed. Patching himself to the AI he asked, “Shun, has my hard-shell suit been taken in for a check? I’d really appreciate a full service and maintenance run-through. Whatever the intruder shot at me ricocheted off, but I’d like to know what kind of impact the suit can resist. Also, please scan the shielding panels for any inner layer damage.”
Shun responded jovially, “I’m way ahead of you. I have three autonomous manufacturing robots taking the suit apart and replacing all panels which may have been affected. The artificial muscles which provide enhanced movement are also being looked at. I’ve also updated ‘the priest’, the group’s leadership team and my space-based AI counterpart Kei. Incidentally, Jón and Ásta were observing how you handled the intruder. They were impressed. Our priority now is to get to the bottom of this intrusion. We’ve largely operated under the radar globally. Someone seems to be taking notice.”
Rafael replied, “I’d like to speak with our intruder soon. Let me know when he’s prepared to hold a conversation.”
Leaving this instruction, he went to the barracks section to freshen up before re-joining the investigation. Hectic as the action was, it was a good break from the intensive training he was undergoing.
Kei meanwhile was updating the crew in space. The AI had grown to learn that democracy of information was vital to successful operations in space and helped keep astronauts focused. Kei had even spun off real-time engagement AI to hold conversations with each individual astronaut. The mission AIs were all a part of Kei and interacted continuously with the core AI systems. Essentially, Kei came across as a unique AI completely in sync with every individual. Kei updated information on the planet side intrusion at the Kuril Islands facility, advising all space personnel to be cautious.
Jón and Ásta had just entered an operations centre where the crew put together to intercept AL-I were meeting. Kei did the introductions announcing itself from hidden speakers around the room, “Hello everyone. I’d like to welcome Jón Gylfason and Ásta Gylfadóttir to Álfhól. Jón and Ásta are twins born in Reykjavík, Iceland. They’re both transhumans, a concept you’re all knowledgeable about and comfortable with. Going around clockwise, I’ll introduce the rest of the crew.”
The AI continued the introductions, “Stefán Gunnarsson is also from Reykjavík, Iceland. He is our Bio Specialist. He recently began researching synthetic bio technologies. Stefán, I believe you’re already acquainted with the twins.” Stefán nodded to the twins who nodded back.
Ásta’s eyes lit up and she smiled. She’d been attracted to Stefán when the twins had taken a genetics and surgery course with him two years ago. Kei continued, “Next to Stefán is Isla Hansen, astronomer and materials scientist. She’s from Wellington, New Zealand.” Isla smiled around at everyone and nodded a hello at the twins. “Next, we have Eiji Ono, quantum hardware and software specialist. He’s been experimenting with molecular manufacturing and self-replicating machines. Eiji’s worked on my AI programming in Tokyo, Japan. He was born in the beautiful prefecture of Ōita on the island of Kyushu.” Eiji waved his hand at everyone after dipping his head appreciating Kei’s introduction.
Kei continued, “Sven de Vries is standing beside Eiji. He’s a space operations specialist and the lead for this team. Sven is from Delft in The Netherlands, where The Lýsi Group was founded. He’s been instrumental in planning the interception of AL-I.” Sven smiled and spoke out in a deep voice, “I look forward to working closely with each one of you and learning from you.” Kei went on, “Crystal Vance is an Astrophysicist from London, Great Britain. Isla and Crystal have been keeping an eye on AL-I, evaluating the asteroid like shape and studying the object’s trajectory.” Crystal smiled around the room. Kei made a last introduction, “Leimomi Kaʻaukai is from Honolulu, Hawaii. She’s a psychologist, botanist and surgeon.” Leimomi exclaimed louder than she or anyone else expected, “Hi everyone! Call me Lei!”
Sven took over from Kei, “I’m really glad we’re undertaking this adventure together. Each of you has multiple specializations. We will all have to work cohesively to ensure success. Kei, of course, will be along with us and will be fully involved with every aspect of our trip, including operations and analysis we will be conducting. The reason we can take this space journey with such a tiny crew, is because our abilities are amplified by our AI, advanced space vessel systems and autonomous robots. Instead of just one, we will be taking along three interconnected Standardized Space Exploration Vessels.”
Sven explained, “The SSEVs will each provide redundancy or backup for our deep-space mission. Each may be operated independently should the need arise. They also contain an atmospheric operations shuttle. As you all know, each SSEV can support a crew of eight for an extended period. We’re taking all three SSEVs to break them in. We’ll rotate through each vehicle every two days while going out to meet AL-I. We’ll also be taking a bio module along, which is longer than an SSEV. Stefán has been working with Lei on a project aimed at growing an assortment of edible plants over the last month. They’ve had better than expected success.” No one noticed Ásta evaluate Leimomi.
Stefán went on, “We will continue the bio module experiments in deep space to see how viable it is for extended periods of travel. AL-I is going to transit through the solar system. Its behaviour is of concern. We know we’re not alone in the universe. In fact, much of our recently developed technology is based on reverse engineered extra-terrestrial tech. We need to understand this object entering our system, evaluate the threat if any, and come up with executable solutions to deal with the situation. Now, let’s go look at the SSEVs. Our home for the near future.”
The team shook hands with each other, and some individually welcomed the twins. Acquainted or not, the twins had studied each crew member’s dossiers and exploits extensively. They probably knew their colleagues as well as they knew themselves.
Without a pause, the crew made their way behind Stefán towards an airlock on the moon-side of Álfhól space platform. Walking by a viewing port, they saw awaiting them, their three interlinked SSEVs. The bio module looked like a long, roof mounted, vehicle luggage carrier. They’d be aboard and away in another day. Each crew member felt the anxiousness of the unknown and the thrill of adventure.