My breakfast finished with two things; an extra slice of meatshroom and a quarantine alert. I was tucking into the former when the latter came through. My apartment hermetically sealed itself faster than I could blink, let alone read the alert as it blazed across the wallscreen. "Citrine level quarantine is now in effect,"
announced the headline. Not the worst but then again not the best. All hab residents were strongly advised to seek shelter and remain until further notice. A curfew was not in effect (not unless the alert escalated to carnelian) but unnecessary movement was a risk to self and could constitute a violation of hygiene laws. I picked up my plate and walked over to the sole window of my apartment. A standard single-room unit it overlooked the central promenade that ran around the circumference of our toroidal hab. Normally it would be getting busy right about now but other than a few people hastily following yellow emergency strips it was bare.
The quarantine alerts had been coming more frequently lately. Not surprising really, we'd come to the Taurus Nexus some ten years earlier and in that time the number of craft arriving each year had grown exponentially. Everyone wanted a piece of the mysterious cluster of wormhole-connected systems. An unfortunate side effect was the sheer number of biological and nanotechnological passengers that hitched a ride. All systems have their fair share of rogue elements of both; incompatible, mutated or maliciously designed replicators that live in and around sophonts. With this new mixing of people previously isolated by light years of space the spread of strains harmless to their hosts but lethal to others was more common, and more dangerous.
Resigning myself to some time indoors I had the breakfast table amble over to the window and ordered up a pot of chai from the kitchenette. I split my attention between the view from the window and the Net. There wasn't a lot of information at first, just the usual rampant speculation that came from a population forced to sit on its hands, but as the morning wore on a clearer picture came through. Several strains of aeromites, miniscule airborne robots barely two hundred microns in length tasked with everything from surveillance to atmosphere processing, had become corrupted by a rogue program. The effect of this was a significant alteration to their alveoli-breakdown protocol; a feature that normally would cause the mites to safely dismantle if they became lodged deep inside our lungs. Now however if they found themselves in such a state they would degrade incorrectly, burning lung tissue as they did so. Worse still they were passing along the corrupted code as an emergency update.
The view from the window became dark and misty. A counter-update had been released into all other aeromites and now the immune components of the two swarms were breeding and fighting each other. The increased density in the air was making it possible to perceive the swarms with the naked eye. As the hours dragged on an ultra-fine coating of dust from the destroyed units layered the hab. The alert didn't upgrade in severity, none of the habitat's fabs had been affected so batches of mites with the patched code were being built and deployed by the tonne. Sheer numbers would win soon, providing no further mutation gave the edge back to the rogues. As I was ordering dinner from the kitchenette a priority message arrived. Processor clusters throughout the hab had been running non-stop to design counter-agents, physical and digital, to the rogue swarm. A medisystem update had been developed to increase the interception of mites in the lungs. In addition a variant on tissue-regeneration medicytes had been evolved in simulation for enhanced lung tissue repair. I approved the download of the former immediately. Processors distributed through my body began the task of updating the software on the billions of microscopic machines roving around my bloodstream. The file for the new strains I forwarded to the apartment fabricator.
Returning to the window I watched as the air slowly thinned out again. Bots were out in force like a pack of anteaters to hoover up the debris. The quarantine alert was still in effect though the worst of it had passed now. A few people were foraying onto the promenade wrapped from head-to-toe in transparent film (a precautionary filter embedded with molecular pumps that only allowed limited gas and moisture exchange). With a chime the fabricator announced it had finished constructing the hardware upgrade. The applicator was a slim tube no longer than my little finger. Pressing one end into my nostril I squeezed the applicator trigger and breathed in sharply. With a slight sting thousands of spores carrying new medicytes crossed my nasal mucosa. It would take a few hours for the cultures to grow up to size and properly integrate with my other nanomedical systems. I shivered in anticipation (and annoyance) at the fever their rapid replication would cause. Still, a small price to pay to be immune to any of today's rogue strains that might remain, hidden or mutated.
My dinner started with two things; the fever and another headline. The source of the corruption had been determined at last. A visiting spacecraft in the dock was carrying nearbaselines with slightly different standard genemods to us in the habitat. In their home system they had built tethered cities in the skies of a high-pressure world with a different mix of atmospheric chemicals to Earth-standard. They'd made some minor adjustments to their respiratory system to adapt and as a consequence their aeromites had a slightly different alveoli-breakdown protocol. Upon arrival they had made sure to modify their technology to be compatible with ours. Ironically rather than prevent a problem it had created one as aeromites from their craft mixed with those of the dock and sought to rectify what they saw as a dangerous error in the habitat swarm's programming.
This accident would no doubt be used to improve our systems going forward, or would drive calls for harsher customs checks. Whatever the result I was uninterested for now as I felt the replication fever begin. With a grumble I gestured the window to blank itself and used the kitchenette to end the day as I had started it; with a second helping.
Snapshot By Rynn B (2019)
See more aboutthe Taurus Nexus
Back to Stories by Author