The transfer station was a feat of engineering that had to be seen to be believed — all the technical specs we learnt in class could not have prepared me to finally see the station up close. With a total diameter of five hundred metres and a perimeter of over one and a half kilometres, the immensity of the station was mind-boggling. The station’s outer ring — where the inhabitants lived and worked — had a diameter of thirty metres; it looked like a massive, nine-story wide, tire tube floating in space.
Capable of supporting a permanent staff of five-hundred, with additional accommodation for two hundred fifty transfers, the population on the station could range anywhere from six hundred to seven hundred fifty people. Food, water, and air were all purified or produced in the stations hydroponic farms. The farms took up two-thirds of the station, they were stacked into 1.1-metre tall rings; giving the station three hundred seventy five acres for hydroponics bays.
Artificial gravity was generated by slowly rotating the outer ring of the station around its central axis. The outer ring was able to maintain a steady .71 earth gravity — a sufficient gravity for the inhabitants.
The interior of the station didn’t feel as cramped as the capsule — the ceilings were seven feet high and the hallways were wide enough for two people to walk abreast. It felt a bit like walking around in a hospital; clean lines, white walls, and simple decor, all adding up to plain appearance. The floors all curved upward, giving the impression of always walking up a small hill.
Sunlight was reflected into the living quarters. Angled mirrors were used to simulate the day – night cycles. Condensed sunlight was transported into the farming section through light pipes: huge, mirrored collectors connected to the hydroponics areas by fibre optic cables.
The living quarters covered the outer edge of the wheel, the inner parts were filled with the hydroponic farms and the machines necessary for running the station: air scrubbers, water purifiers, etc. The propulsion, docking, maintenance, refuelling, and construction bays were all located in the central hub.
Six, one metre in diameter, spokes connected the central hub to the outer ring. The spokes were nothing more than structural corridors, unimportant to station operations. They served as a way for workers to transfer from the earth gravity in the outer ring to the zero gravity in the hub; where many of the station’s inhabitants worked.
All new transfers were required to complete an orientation immediately after boarding the station. The gist of orientation was: “Stay in your room, don’t bother the staff, and be sure to stay in your room.” I mention the latter twice on purpose; orientation was limited to the situations in which we were authorized to leave our rooms. These conditions included: an alarm going off, the red flashing light going off, or an officer of SPACE X telling us it’s okay to leave our rooms.
The balding, hook-nosed, retired colonel that taught our orientation seemed keen on making us all feel like unwelcome guests. I almost reminded him that he worked on a transfer station and that we were the transfers the station was built for but decided to keep quiet. There was no point making an enemy of an ornery ex-Marine Colonel. I was glad that we only had two days of waiting for our ship to be refuelled before we were to leave for Mars.
I slipped away from Scott after the orientation and made my way to the quarters I had been assigned. I was allotted a 6’ by 6’ room containing a small bed that could be flipped up into the wall, transforming it into a workstation. I revelled in being alone. I spent my first few hours on the station sitting at my workstation, reading the latest Star Commander news. The net connection and workstation weren’t powerful enough to allow me even basic, flat screen access to the simulation — I had to satisfy myself with the news.
I sat up abruptly, recalling the android from the capsule. I had spent hours of each day working on enhancements for my AI officers in Star Commander and now I might be given a chance to interact with a real, walking, talking AI? The limitless possibilities the android represented to me caused my breath to quicken. I simply needed to get my hands on him. I needed to know what made him tick.
I logged into the SPACE X central database and tried to dig up any information I could find on the android. Every time I got close to discovering an answer I was given a terse ‘ACCESS DENIED’ upon attempting to access the information. I was able to locate some references to the androids in a few different files, but nothing that gave any specifics about their operation. It seemed that Mr. Musk was working quite hard to keep the androids a secret.
I narrowed down my search terms and was able to locate an offhanded mention of a something called ‘Project Chattel,’ almost everything else in the file had been redacted; the reference was rather vague. I searched the net for any hints of what Project Chattel might be, but I was unable to locate any information related to it. Mr. Musk was quite capable of keeping his secrets. If he didn’t want something to be common knowledge, it wasn’t made public. The law provided harsh punishments for anyone even suspected of peddling in Tesla’s or SPACE X’s secrets.
I didn’t want to dig much deeper into Project Chattel while on the heavily monitored SPACE X network, so I switched gears and looked for any evidence of a usable, complete AI on the net, not really expecting any results. I had already spent many hours of my life researching AI’s and I’d never caught wind of a full, Turing complete AI out in the wild. Unsurprisingly I found nothing. Again I had hit a dead end. Tesla was going to great lengths to keep his androids a secret.
I drummed my fingers on my desk and tried to think of ways I could attack this problem from the side. Then, out of nowhere, it occurred to me: the flight manifest — maybe the android was registered as a passenger on our flight to Mars! I pulled up the manifest and there, at the very bottom of the list, he was: android model TX-149. Now I had something concrete I could research.
I pulled up a database query and typed TX-149 into the search box. The moment I pressed the enter key my terminal shut down; no warning, no power down sequence, just a blank screen. It was as though someone had ripped out the plug on my terminal’s power connection.
Moments later my door slammed opened, revealing a mean looking security staffer. “Ryan, you’re going to have to come with me,” He said, leering down at me from the doorway.
“What’s this about?” I asked, worried that I had breached the golden rule — operational security.
“Your search terms were flagged in the system, that’s all I know. Come with me. Now.” The security staffer’s tone left no room for argument.
I got up and left my room, allowing the staffer to guide me through the corridors of the station. We stopped in front of a door labelled CCC – Command and Control Centre.
The door slid open. “Go in, he’ll be with you in a moment.”
I walked into the Command centre and was taken aback by the amount of activity taking place within it. It seemed like hundreds of people were running from one terminal to another in a constant game of musical chairs. The operation of the transfer station was a lot more complicated than I had thought.
“Ryan,” a young man of middling height, wearing the red and gold slashed shirt that signified command, approached from the bank of terminals directly in front of me. “You’ve been on the station for less than 6 hours and you’ve already been flagged as a security threat. May I ask what, exactly, you were looking for in the database?”
“I wanted to find out about the android.” My voice came out with more confidence than I expected. I was almost shaking with anxiety about what might happen to me — what being flagged as a ‘security threat’ meant.
“Well, that information is classified. You will receive a full briefing on them when you get to Mars and your communications can be adequately filtered.” The commander smiled, easing the tension between us, “what about them interests you, Ryan?”
Relaxing, I replied: “I work on AI’s for my ships in Star Commander sir. I want to look at the android. I want to see how he works.”
“Well Ryan, you will be given ample opportunity to work with the androids on Mars. Until then, please try and stay off my radar. I wouldn’t want to have to charge you with any crimes against intellectual property, now, would I?” The commander smiled again, lightening his rather serious statement.
“Okay, I will call security and have you returned to your room. Your net connection has been reset. Do try and stay out of trouble.” The commander turned on his heel and returned to whatever he had been doing before I arrived.
The security staffer that had delivered me to the command centre guided me back to my room in silence. I spent the remainder of my stay on the station studying any recent advancements in AI I could find. I was committed to learning as much as I could about my new obsession: the android.