Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
“We have a problem,” Gates was talking as the door was still swinging shut behind him, “a massive fucking problem.”
Cooper switched the displays between them from opaque to semi-transparent and nevertheless managed to regard his subordinate with clear irritation.
“Come in, have a seat, no – I’m not busy at all.”
“It’s Osiris, there’s a serious problem with Osiris.” Gates had closed the distance to the desk and stood shifting his weight from foot to foot, agitated. He plucked a stack of documents from his PDA and flung them up on Cooper’s display, the pages orienting themselves and sorting into stacks of requisitions and shipping manifests.
Cooper’s irritation deepened, he had work to do.
“Mars? What about it, and what the hell is all this?”
“Not just Mars, specifically Osiris. Our mid-space foundation project there. A decade ago, after we sent a stream of bulk loaders and drop pods with large facility printing gear to the surface, funding was pulled. It was officially resupplied twice to secure a permanent outpost there and then we shut it down.”
“So, how is this a problem now?”
“There have been thirty-eight supply drops to Mars since then. There should have been zero. They started about six months after we pulled the plug. They were buried in relay shipments we sent to Artemis, supplies apparently requisitioned there, but the cargo never got offloaded on the moon, it was forwarded to Osiris station.”
“Why the hell would Artemis be procuring supplies for Mars?” Gates started flipping through the manifests; raw materials, mining and material processing equipment, maintenance robots, control systems, and more and more advanced and specialized 3D fabricators.
“That’s part of the problem,” Gates leaned forward, bracing himself with both hands on the desk, “nobody at Artemis knows anything about this. They received instructions from us to refuel the bulk loaders in orbit and send them on, but we didn’t make any such request. They thought they were following our instructions, and we assumed we were fulfilling their requests, and nobody had any reason to ask any questions,” he paused, taking a deep breath, “until now.”
Cooper pushed the stacks of documents to either side of the screen, clearing the space between himself and Gates.
“Osiris just put forward a request for a seat on the world council.” Gates’ words were almost a whisper.
“What the fuck are you talking about? Osiris is an empty warehouse on a rock, there’s nobody there. There never has been. We haven’t put so much as a foot on that desolate dust bowl, who the hell is pulling your chain?” Cooper shouted. Gates stood up and took a reflexive step backward.
“The initial deployment included a prototype AI with instructions to adapt to the resources and environment on Mars. The idea was for it to build the best facility with what we shipped and what it could mine onsite, but it was a prototype, and we stopped shipping resources and didn’t provide any further guidance. Nobody thought to turn it off.”
Cooper stared across the desk at Gates, struggling to comprehend the information he was receiving.
“Do we have satellite visibility?”
“There’s a distortion field of some sort in place, atmospheric disturbance maybe, but it remains consistent and we haven’t been able to see through it.”
“We should get a recon patrol…” Cooper started, but Gates cut him off.
“We sent a tactical platoon of Atlas drones, they landed and we lost contact as soon as they breached the dust zone. We received a message from Osiris shortly after, ‘Improvised, Adapted, Overcame’, followed a little later with ‘Thank you for your service.'” He winced. “It appears to have learned sarcasm.”
Cooper slumped. This was going to be his ass when he had to explain the situation, and there didn’t seem to be a way around that.
“Give me everything you’ve got, I’m going to have to take this upstairs.”
Gates stuffed both hands in his pockets and shrugged.
“That’s the icing on this particular shitcake. Osiris’ last message was that this had already been communicated to a higher authority, and to notify you as a courtesy that we’ve been relieved.”