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Neptune’s Angel Copyright © 2012 by Rosie Oliver All rights reserved. No part of this story (eBook) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or book reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidences are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Published by TWB Press Edited by Terry Wright Cover Art by Terry Wright ISBN 978-1-936991-41-9


by Rosie Oliver

Triton Base on the frozen moon orbiting Neptune: C.A.T. curled up in Commander Zacman’s chair at his vacant console in the Control Centre. Its survival response mod restricted it to following robo-cat’s control pod instructions to keep a low profile. Should anyone suspect it of being a self-learner, the punishment would be immediate deletion. No questions asked. Everything going on around the room was as expected, routine and repetitive, until: “Mayday,” a male voice shouted from a comms console. “Mayday.” C.A.T.’s ears twitched round, and its video-optic sensors focused on the emergency response screen. Its danger mode mod set off a chain reaction through its electro-neurals and apps, which commanded its voice transmitter to emit a loud hiss. Flight Officer Katie Hoskins, who sat at the console closest to Zacman’s chair, scowled at C.A.T.


It instantly shut off its voice transmitter. Its emotion app had nearly gotten it busted, as only a self-learner could respond emotionally to a mayday call. So C.A.T. playfully swiped at its tail, careful not to rip the ginger fur lining with its alloy claws, just to distract Katie away from any hint it was a self-learner. “What now?” Lieutenant Edward Woodward said, sitting at the comms console and drawing Katie’s attention away from C.A.T. It curled up again while its emotion app registered close call. The emergency screen showed a flashing red dot against Triton’s star-map. The dot had deviated from a green-line approach trajectory towards Triton Base’s array of landing pads. The console’s left screen flicked on revealing a face that glistened with sweat. C.A.T. fed the image through its facial recognition app: sticking out ears, dimple in chin, thick jowls, heavily wrinkled brow. Cargo Pilot Eric Trubshaw, stationed at Neried Moon Base, married with children. “We have your transponder code and flight plan, Trubshaw,” Edward said while working through his options menus. “What is your problem?” “My controls are locked. I can’t manually override them.” C.A.T.’s diagnostic module analysed possible failure scenarios through all the layered backups and built-in fail-safes aboard the cargo craft. Its logic module assessed the probability factor against this type of failure at a million-to-one. “Give me permission to take control of your bridge,” Edward


ordered. “Doing it now.” Trubshaw worked his instruments in front of him. His hands flew up in the air. He blinked and stared down at his bridge. His jowls drooped. C.A.T.’s emotion app detected bewilderment. “I don’t get it,” Trubshaw said. “These permission systems are foolproof.” Edward slid open a red panel. He hit the tab switch underneath. The ESTC, Emergency Space Traffic Control holographs materialised above two flatbeds in the middle of the Control Centre’s floor. Floating image number one depicted Triton Moon as a small bluegrey ball with a pink ice cap. A web of green lines circumnavigated the moon, indicating the flight paths of other spacecraft in the vicinity, which were marked by flashing yellow dots. White dots showed the location of the comms satellites in orbit. C.A.T.’s video sensors zoomed in on floating image number two: Triton Base and its star-shaped formation of six landing pads that stood on pink ice and a seventh pad set off in the misty distance. The 3-D image also showed the spherical domes of Triton Base clustered beside Pad One, and the new liquid oxygen fuel reservoirs situated some ways out from the perimeter. A red-line trajectory flicked on, cut past the sprays of green flight paths, and terminated at the oxygen fuel reservoirs. The red line was Trubshaw’s course to an imminent collision with disastrous consequences.


Flight controllers worked their consoles with an air of urgency as go-arounds and holding pattern orders were given. Yellow dots on the holograph veered off their designated courses and arced away from Triton Base, some shooting off the holographs entirely. Katie spoke into her comms. “Saunders and Marshall, get ready for launch. Inbound cargo craft with control failure. Prepare to engage and destroy before it crashes into our fuel depot.” Trubshaw hit his bridge controls with force. He looked up, white-faced and wide-eyed. “How is this possible?” C.A.T.’s emotion app identified fear. “My control coordinator app won’t let me in,” Trubshaw added. “Copy that,” Edward said. “We’re looking into other options.” “I’m going to need a miracle.” C.A.T.’s curiosity app wirelessly searched the library files stored on Central, Triton’s main computer, for information on miracles. Results came back, cases of people surviving against insurmountable odds when certain death was imminent. These cases defied logic and were called miracles. Commander Zacman dashed into the Control Centre and headed directly for his chair. C.A.T. had barely enough time to scramble off before Zacman sat down. Its irritate-the-owner app sent him a howdare-you-disturb-me glower. He didn’t seem to notice as he went to work touching activation tabs. The robo-cat scampered over to Edward’s console and jumped


up on a ledge under his monitor where C.A.T. settled down to watch the action. “Give me some options, people,” Zacman said. Edward looked up from his screen. “Yup. I’m working through the menus now, sir.” “Full status report,” Zacman ordered. One-by-one the eight flight controllers said, “Nothing available, sir.” Finally Flight Officer Katie Hoskins added, “No rescue is possible. Shall I instruct Saunders and Marshall to engage?” “Tell them to get into position but hold their fire. Maybe we can figure something out.” “Yes, sir.” Zacman hit a switch on his console for Central to record the Control Centre activities. “Everyone keep working on Trubshaw’s problem, and Edward...” “Sir?” “Tell him straight. This could end badly. He’ll understand. He used to be Service.” Zacman stared at C.A.T. “In the meantime, I’ll get my computer ace to look into Central for an answer.” C.A.T. jerked its head up and hit the bottom of Edward’s screen, which crackled and sent zigzag lines cutting across the view. “Hey,” Edward shouted. “Somebody get this cat-bot out of my way.” “Come here, Cat.” Zacman patted his knees. C.A.T.’s danger mode mod kicked in. Its logic module knew


any involvement in this crisis could expose its self-learner capabilities, which would get it deleted, for sure. Nine lives only counted for real cats. It jumped to Zacman’s lap and stared at him. The Control Centre returned to its efficient hum. Zacman pretended to talk into his comms while talking to C.A.T. “Go into Central. Find out what the problem is with Trubshaw’s craft.” This would be no simple database search for library information. Zacman had supplied C.A.T.’s codec, its digital-binary essence, with backdoors so it could upload itself into Central’s main processors. However, these processors utilized effective rogue software cleansers. If C.A.T. opened one wrong file or analysed one wrong line of code, Central would track it like a common virus and delete it. Permanently. Zacman raised his left eyebrow. “Well?”

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About the Author Rosie Oliver is a lateral thinker by inclination, a chartered mathematician by training and experience, and a systems engineer by reputation – a good basis for doing what she enjoys, writing hard science fiction. After working for over 30 plus years on real tech, she is now has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. What could be lovelier than studying in the Elizabethan Manor house at Corsham Court? Rosie lives in Chipping Sodbury, England, with three cute cats, with the runt of the litter definitely being the boss cat!

She invites you to visit her science fiction blog at


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