The ride in the old pickup truck was terrible. The old suspension creaking and groaning as the truck barreled over rocks and craters at high speed. If the ride was that uncomfortable in the crew cab on nice sprung seats, it was a nightmare for Dr. Manelski who was relegated to the pickup's bed. In the low gravity, each jolt would have sent the doctor flying off had he not had a death grip onto the custom hand holds welded into the bed.
Inside the cab, while the ride was rough, was remarkably quiet enough that Sophia and Veronica had started to discuss the reason that JADE had called a GUTS technician.
"About a month ago, one of our production bots in charge of manufacturing some of our jump drives started acting funny. Sometimes it would seize up and just stop working. Other times it would start attaching pieces incorrectly. Luckily, none of those jump drives made it out of the facility. It'd be bad news if you tried to jump with a faulty jump drive." she ended with a short chuckle.
"Our Technicians have tried to diagnose the problem and have come up nothing. Then one day it just returned back to normal and we thought we were done. But a day or two later another robot in a different part of facility started doing similar things. And it didn't end there. Whatever the problem is, it keeps moving around the facility." She paused for the big crack in the ground they hit and the cry from Dr. Manelski which would have interrupted her. "Soon after, our techs gave up and we decided to give GUTS a call."
"Are you sure it's not a hacker?" Sophia asked.
"After a week of this happening, we shut down all outside communication and net signals for twenty four hours, and nothing changed."
"Has anyone outside the company been to the facility? You don't need to be connected to the net to be hacked."
"No one without the proper security clearances have been in our facility in the past two months."
"Has anything worked?"
"Yes, last time this happened our techs disconnected everything from the bot and so far nothing else has happened. With all the paranoia going now, we've been having to quality check every single one of our drives, and that costs a lot of money." she said annoyingly. "Not to mention we now have a multibillion cred bot that's as good as scrap."
"That's very strange. It sounds kind of like an virus." Sophia puzzled. "But I've never heard of any virus acting like that. They're designed to spread and infect. Not just move about."
"It isn't a virus. Our techs jumped on that the minute we noticed something was wrong. All scans and tests came back negative though." Veronica had now slowed the Toyota to a more considerate speed for the doctor. In the distance, a set of posts topped with green pulsing lights led a path towards the front entrance into the JADE Propulsion Industries complex.
"JADE prides themselves in hiring the best techs available. But the best available aren't the best. GUTS typically grabs you guys from a young age." Veronica added with a slightly polite tone.
"That's right. The CST has a good idea of who to take at a young age." Sophia softly replied while looking out her window, referring to the coalition of planetary sovereign states known as the Collective Senate of Territories. There was a beat of bumpy silence. Sophia knew the question was coming. That Veronica knew it would be rude to ask, but her curiosity would get the better of her. But it's ok, she thought, I've told this story a hundred times now.
"So, how young were you when they took you?"
"Thirteen." She replied immediately after Veronica finished her sentence. "Thirteen. I was working with my father in the Argon colony on Iapetus when I was recognized by the Foreman General there to be gifted." Sophia recounted patiently. "He sent word to the CST and collected his identification reward."
"Well, I'm sure your father is proud of you." Veronica said, immediately trying to cover her initial rudeness.
Sophia chuckled. They always ask the same things. "I'll never know. Two years after leaving the colony struck a frozen hydrogen cyanide pocket and the resulting geyser wiped out the colony." Well, the sob story should score me some extra water at least. "A lot of things get lost in today's world. We've got a lot of people and a lot of money now. Argon didn't even flinch when they heard what happened to the Iapetus colony."
The resulting silence screamed embarrass-ment for Veronica.
"But that was thirteen years ago now." Sophia said with a smile. Veronica had to force a smile to respond, but she was secretly thankful that they had now reached the security check point. The small gate was the only ground opening in the massive fence which surrounded the enormous manufacturing plant.
As the dust covered pickup rolled up to the security check point a loud sigh of relief could be heard from the bed of the truck. Veronica pushed the button on her door and her side window retracted into the door as they came to a halt in front of a small gate and two men in envirosuits with bolt rifles slung over their shoulders.
"Ah, Ms. Valley, you're back already?" the guard on her side of the car said. "And I see you brought a guest with you." Then he notices Dr. Manelski in the bed, "Oh. I hope you drove carefully Ms. Valley," he said with sarcasm, "we wouldn't want Dr. Manelski to have to be sent to medical center on Ganymede."
"No, no we wouldn't." She smirked.
"So, uh, who's you're guest?" he gestured towards Sophia.
"Sophia Rose" Sophia interrupted. She stuck a hand in one of the pockets of the envirosuit and brandished a small metal badge. "I'm with GUTS."
"She's with GUTS." Veronica repeated annoyingly. "She's here to help us with our rogue bot problem."
"Well, if you say so." He gestured toward the other guard who punched on a control panel on his forearm. The metal gate in front of the pickup lifted up. "Have a wonderful day Ms. Valley and Ms. Rose." he said over enthusiastically. "And you too doc." he said dully as the tail end of the truck passed by.
Veronica steered the vehicle through the spaces between the large warehouse which reached more than four hundred feet off the ground. Each of the buildings were connected with walkways or large open tubes, which served as canals for the levilift transports and bots that served the plant. With a series of lefts and rights, she propelled the dust covered pickup towards one of the warehouses. As she approached, a large bay door cracked open slowly, blowing a cloud of dust away from it. The truck slowed while the bay door slowly finished opening and then entered the warehouse, the transition from the rough rock to the smooth concrete being a small blessing for the doctor.
Veronica turned the key in the ignition and the slow whine of the engine faded away, only to be replaced by the high pitched rush of air to pressurize the bay and the low rumble of the door sliding back into place. No sooner had the stream of air stopped and the red light that indicated the atmospheric safety of the bay turn green had Dr. Manelski unscrewed the helmet from his envirosuit, taking deep breaths of the slightly less recycled air.
Sophia and Veronica both waited until they were outside of the Toyota before they removed their helmet, and heard each of their unsynthesized voices for the first time. Sophia took a slow breath in, acclimating here to the new tastes and smells.
"Your oxygen scrubbers work very well. I'd have expected a more oily taste and silicone smell with all the manufacturing you do here."
"We keep those areas at atmospheric. Bots don't need to breath, so why bother spending the money scrubbing their air?" Veronica proudly replied.
"Yes, we only pipe air to the areas we expect people are in." Dr. Manelski repeated, happy to be able to talk to someone again.
Veronica stared at him, issuing him a coded command to remain quite. "Yes. But you didn't come here to see our scrubbing systems. You came here to help us with our bot problem."
Sophia tucked here helmet under her arm. "That's right. The sooner the better." she said.
"You can leave your helmet here. The techs have brought the bot into our conditioned machine shop. No need to be sealed up again." Veronica insisted.
With a shrug of her shoulders, Sophia placed her envirosuit's helmet into the bed of the pickup truck, now dust free from a blast of air they received as they entered into the bay. She grabbed her tool bag from the passenger door and slung it back over her shoulders.
"Alright, Ms. Valley. Lead the way." she insisted.
Veronica smiled and made her way towards the person sized doors at the back of the bay. On the other side of the doors was a hallway leading to somewhere in this building, and flanking the door they just entered were two rooms labeled "MEN" and "WOMEN".
"I'm afraid my stuff might be a bit big on you. If you want, I can call down a one of the younger secretaries and you could probably borrow some of her clothes." Veronica offered, as she began to take off the gloves of her bulky envirosuit just outside the women's room door. Dr. Manelski had already made his way through the men's room door, presumably in a hurry to get out of his suit.
Sophia politely declined. "I'll be quite alright. Besides, our envirosuits aren't as bulky as most others." referring to her dark red GUTS suit. "Besides, what would your secretary say when she got her blouse returned covered in hypergrease?"
Veronica gave a quick smirk. "Suit yourself." she said as she turned back through the door, leaving Sophia alone in the middle of the hallway.