Atalya’s mining ship dove straight down through orange ammonia clouds to the white water clouds below. She wore a standard interface mask as any miner would, within the system she herself had designed. The mask brought a simple color range to her vision, overlaid with navigational info strings. But through the enhanced visual centers of her brain Atalya saw a variety of hues the remote miners would never see: an exaltation of orange, blendings of soft white against vibrant white. A mental touch to an icon of her internal workspace recorded the flow of images, routing them into temporary storage in one of her ring implants.
With a quick hand gesture she flicked the craft’s sonar into search pulses. Blips formed on the mask’s display showing whorls of turbulence, black dots indicating other mining ships. Her body’s hearing analogue chose frequency-shifted versions of the tones, rendering them as thrumming and humming. These were the music of a gas giant, music her virtual creatures would feel and hear. Another mental touch stored these in a second ring.
A slight motion of Atalya’s gloved fingers transferred instructions. Buoyancy wings inflated from the craft’s spine. From the tapering fluked tail, steering jets fired. The main engine went to standby, and the ship moved in gliding formation, catching a thermal, drifting up. Pressure bands formed along the skin of her back and arms; the sensations of balance and flight. All stored.
But now play time was over. She still had work to do on this last phase of her job for the Consortium. Centering her awareness in her workspace, Atalya relegated remote control of the craft to a partialmind, duplicated from the sensory and reactive subroutines needed to keep the ship stable.
Then she touched the blue snifter icon, bringing up from her nanobones the patterns of her modified personality adapted for systemic search. The snifter fit over her primary personality like a second skin, a skin covered with optical analogues. Interfacing with the Consortium’s remote-navigation system, Atalya touched her way through the entrance code, bypassed the filters, then swam the snifter through the data lanes.
The snifter processed input through five sets of visual imagery, each designed to catch the first layer of intelligence ordering. The beginning set showed data bits as schools of golden fish, each school performing its own simple (or complex!) design. She’d moved through three-fourths of the system before the snifter spotted deviance. A line of fish changed lanes, engulfed parts of two other schools, re-ordered them into long loops, then headed for the next lane out.
Atalya switched the snifter to its second set and saw the deviance as strings of numbers, watching them shift patterns, adding, multiplying, squaring. Moving in varied ways. Expanding possibilities through merging, branching into subroutines Exploring its environment.
The algorithm was still subturing, so not protected by law. But she’d become fastidious in her work; she loathed waste.
Atalya triggered open a storage amulet, then copied and compressed the deviant routine into it.
Then she triggered the navigation system’s own defense program, coded the pattern and location, adding the new deviance into its memory. She backtracked the snifter and set it to roam the remaining levels of the system, running through its image sets. Finding everything clean. Pure and secure, just as the nebs insisted.
The snifter’s modules re-folded into her bones; Atalya took back control of the mining craft, moving up.
The ammonia layers thinned, and slanting lines of yellow light edged the tops of the clouds as the craft moved through. Atalya’s fingers traced the patterns of reconfiguration; wings and rudder fins deflated and contracted, wings moved into their slots, and tail retracted. Acceleration numbers flooded the left of her vision.
Then green vector lines sped across the display, showing the way to Outpost; all she had to do was hold it steady through deceleration. Finally the ship was home; she coded the trigger for the airlock, it sled open, and the ship moved through, the lock cycled. She tucked the craft into its berth, clicked it off.
She removed mask and gloves.
The bay was quiet and dimly lit; long rows of masked miners sat at consoles, hands gesturing, touching open the hydrogen-scoops of their distant ships. Atalya walked down the aisle, and stopped at the door for an instant. Just looking. She’d brought it all together, made it happen the way the nearbaseline consortium wanted. Finished. Time to say good-bye.
As she’d said goodbyes to so many of her own people before coming here to Outpost for the last time. This was a time of severing for her clan, partings from people she’d known the whole of her life, and very soon the re-combining into a new populace. The new habship of their Progeny fleet waited in high orbit, having completed the last of its growth cycles. Her future lay with it.