Infinity Afterglow / Episode 26: Critical Update

Aboard star ship Odela, Shol mulls a critical update of the Ootray tech he depends on.

An epic space Opera by Mark Laporta

With the last component of his android army still not complete, Shol must make a key decision. If he makes a critical update in the ancient Ootray ring that has already enhanced his mind, it could destroy him. In this episode of Infinity Afterglow, the stakes are higher than ever. Read Infinity Afterglow from the beginning.

A few hours after his surprise conversation with Ungent, Shol paced the Odela’s bridge, pausing only to check and recheck the readouts from the nav-AI, as Yaldrint looked on with mounting concern.

“Yaldrint?” he asked. “Why aren’t we there yet? Should we check, like, the engine status?”

“If I may,” said Yaldrint, “by requesting a stealth approach, you have added fourteen standard rotations to the Odela’s ETA in the Zyffer system.”

According to the Grashardi AI, the most efficient way to avoid detection was to take a route less commonly used and break it up into a series of small hops, separated by at least a day. That made tracking its movements directly, or predicting its destination via standard statistical modeling, virtually impossible. For an extra measure of security, the Odela would also mask and remask its energy signature after each hop.

“You can, of course, countermand your order,” said Yaldrint. “Or you may wish to use the time in the Odela’s robotics lab.”

Shol rubbed the back of his neck with his slightly curved right hand. 

“Should’ve thought of that,” he said. “So stupid.”

“Not in the least, friend Shol,” said Yaldrint. “It may comfort you to know that it is only because I am composed of quantum circuitry that I can still count the number of times I have had to remind Har Draaf of important matters.”

Shol’s sheepish smile spoke volumes. 

“Yeah?” he said. “Well, I can hear him saying I have to … I dunno … focus on the solution. Too bad the templates are so hard to understand.”

“I supposed it is possible,” said Yaldrint, “that your work may proceed more quickly if you allowed yourself to integrate more closely with the intelligence embedded in the pkaholul ring.” 

“Didn’t know I could,” said Shol. “Not sure I wanna lose … control.”

“That, of course, is up to you,” said Yaldrint. “Though I am constrained to remind you of how little control you will have if the Quishiks cannot be stopped.”

Shol stared at her a moment before dropping down into the Odela’s command chair.

“Can’t let that happen,” he said. 

He closed his eyes and let the ring’s tiny voice come to the front of his mind. 

Further mental integration possible, it seemed to say. Effects irreversible. 

“Will that, like, help me with the androids?” asked Shol. 

Probability of increased comprehension at 95%, said the ring, due to direct overlay of quantitative data, statistical analysis and qualitative research findings.

“Yaldrint,” said Shol, “I’m gonna …. integrate more. Promise to kill me if I start acting crazy.”

The Grashardi biomechanoid’s status lights blinked erratically. 

“I can promise nothing more,” she said, “than to prevent you from harming yourself, other sentients, or this ship. Besides, I can only assume that, having adjusted its parameters thus far to match your genome, the ring will continue to do you no harm.”

Shol stood, looked down at his ring finger and turned its band a fraction of a millimeter to the left.

“Hope this….”

His mouth hung open and, for a full minute, he appeared as frozen as a frame in a theatrical holovid with a technical glitch. 

“Friend Shol?” asked Yaldrint. 

The young Krezovic’s response was eerily tranquil. 

“Recalibrating,” he said.

Yaldrint’s internal temperature rose. For several more minutes, Shol appeared utterly disconnected from his surroundings. Following a long-established piece of Grashardi emergency medical protocol, she hurried to the compact medical station at the far left of the command center and replicated a hypodermic that was filled with a sedative. As she turned back to Shol, the young Krezovic let out a slight gasp and tumbled to the command center’s carpeted floor. 

“Friend Shol!” said Yaldrint. 

“So … it’s OK,” Shol whispered. “Can you, like, help me up? Feel kinda, you know, kinda dizzy.”

Yaldrint rushed to his side and gently lifted him up to his feet. 

“Thanks,” said Shol. “I’m fine. I guess I’m … what is it? … overloaded.”

Yaldrint recommended sleep. Shol wouldn’t hear of it. 

“Have to … have to get started,” he said. “Everything … clearer. Might even be able to give you an upgrade, later.”

“If I may,” said Yaldrint, “I believe you have more pressing matters.”

“Robotics lab,” said Shol. In an instant, the ring had transmatted him to the lab where he’d spent so many frustrating hours. Yet now, he barely recognized it. “Looks so … simple.”

In the days ahead, Shol worked so intensively that Yaldrint had threatened, more than once, to force feed him if he didn’t stop for meals. Even so, despite the beneficial influence of the ring, Shol’s progress on the Commander Android, whose template he’d received from Mlelodrur, was slow. That is, until the late afternoon, of the fifth day relative to the Odela’s artificial calendar, when the weary Krezovic emerged from his lab.

“Friend Shol,” said Yaldrint. “May I assume you have succeeded?”

“Almost,” said Shol. “One step to go. Only I don’t know enough to finish it.”

“I assumed the ring had given you the perspective you needed,” said Yaldrint.

“Sure,” said Shol, “for, like, the technical side of it. The thing is, the Commander Android needs a — what do you call it? — a personality vector. What kind of personality does a Commander have? I never met one.”

“Perhaps Captain Mars, if he returns,” said Yaldrint, “can share his insight. Or you could consult Captain Cavendish.”

Shol looked down at his black, neo-leather boots.

“Don’t exactly, you know, trust her,” he said. “After the way she threw me in the brig and, like, yelled at me for no reason.”

”Be that as it may,” said Yaldrint, “it appears we have come out of fold. How would you like to proceed?”

“Dunno,” said Shol. “Too tired to … to think about….”

The young Krezovic surprised the Grashardi AI by collapsing a second time to the floor of the Odela. His deep snores were only one reflection of his overwhelming exhaustion. Deep in his mind, a distant echo of Plaandrur Quishik Hlalkuhr’s tormented thoughts wafted through his central nervous system. 


This concludes Episode 26: Critical Update. A new episode of Infinity Afterglow appears every Saturday.

Read Ungent Draaf’s earlier adventures in Mark Laporta’s novels Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. Mark Laporta is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an ebook.

Image by Kalyee Srithnam.

Stay in the Know

Sign up for our newsletter.

Email List Subscribe Form