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Silent Manifest


Silent Manifest by Sean O達rien
Enlarge Cover


  Hard Science Fiction
  Alien Contact
  Space Exploration

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ISBN: 9781770531918
$5.99 US

ISBN: 9781770531925
Trade Paperback
5.5" X 8.5"
$14.95 US
$19.95 CDN
276 pages


Silent Manifest

by Sean O達rien
Copyright ゥ 2019 by Sean O達rien

Chapter One

"What痴 wrong, Blueberry? Don稚 like your potassium infusion?" Donn patted the glass canopy of pod 8-Delta-8. Although the tiny occupant of the pod was not in life-threatening danger, Donn nevertheless was concerned. He was about to speak more gentle words of encouragement when he was interrupted.

"Caretakers and crew, good morning," OSIRIS calm computer voice greeted him. "Please rise and repeat with me our prayerpledge."

Donn stood at attention and awaited the recitation. His mind was on the upcoming full assessment he had planned Blueberry had been less responsive to her potassium therapy than he had expected. If she didn稚 show significant signs of improvement today, he would have to upgrade her status to Serious. He hadn稚 put any of his swimmers on that footing in three months.

At the computer voice痴 command, Donn stiffened and spoke in low and reverent tones, even while he committed the barest of thoughts to the words. "I promise to ensure the health and well-being of those within my care, and through them, ensure the continued vitality and dominion of the human race. I will put nothing ahead of the mission to secure humanity痴 future in the stars. Amen."

Donn relaxed as he spoke the final word, and looked towards the master board that dominated the interior bulkhead back near the bay痴 entrance. All 1,728 lights shone a steady pale green. No one was in crisis, of course he would have known long before the master board lights changed. He regarded the perfect symmetry of the board, arcing above the control saddle in an impressive panorama. Even from his vantage point deep into the bay, he had an unobstructed view of the board.

There was something at once satisfying and unnerving about the uniformity of the pattern twelve banks of twelve-by-twelve grids, all shining back at him. All the panel told him was that no one was in biochemical crisis. It did not tell him what he truly wanted to know.

He resisted the faint impulse to simply trust the lights and forgo the assessment. He knew Blueberry was hovering close to danger, and although her numbers were within the preset tolerances, Donn knew that she was only a few percentage points off amber.

"All right, OSIRIS, I壇 like to have Agnes now," Donn said to the air. He turned away from the master board and headed to the wide, deep, and tall arrangement of pods in his bay. He smiled without thinking. The indicator lights did not do justice to the majesty of the sight before him. Over seventeen hundred glass-canopied pseudowombs, each one the size of a small oven, lay in the dim, blue-tinged light of the bay.

"Agnes, you ready?" Donn said, standing before pod 1-Alpha-1.

A new voice a facet of OSIRIS complex computing power greeted him. "I am. I should remind you, Donn, that full assessments are only required once per trimester. This will be your twenty-fourth full assessment."

"I know, Agnes. I知 off my goal of one per week," Donn smirked.

"That was not what I meant," Agnes said, and Donn thought he could hear a prim frown. Despite her total lack of a corporeal body, this part of the ship痴 computer was almost as real to him as the preborns under his care.

She continued, "You are not following procedure with these frequent assessments."

Donn paused, his hand resting lightly on the smooth, curved surface of pod 1-Alpha-1痴 glass canopy. Agnes had nagged him before about his schedule (he knew he was to blame for that, since he had helped choose her personality from OSIRIS bank almost nine months ago when the voyage had started) but she had never before sounded menacing.

"Well then, all I壇 say is for you to check the description of a caretaker痴 duties. What does it say about regular assessments of pods?" He had stopped smirking.

"Caretakers will assess each pod at least once per trimester. More frequent assessments will be held at the caretaker痴 discretion when the need arises." Agnes voice was flat.

"There you are. I知 determining the need has arisen. Now, can we get on with this?"

Agnes did not answer immediately, and Donn was about to call her name again when her voice came through. "Yes. Pod One-Alpha-One. Standing by."

Donn hesitated a moment before selecting the peepers from his multitool. Detaching from the heavy mutitool, the peepers allowed him to see through the opaque glass of the pseudowomb and observe the tiny preborn within. The master control board had indicated this preborn, whom Donn had long ago nicknamed "Prima Donna" due to her position as 1-Alpha-1, as healthy. Had he wished, he could have pulled up her numbers from the master control saddle, or looked in on her from there. But it was something far more visceral to be here, physically close to the developing baby. To press his hands against the warm glass, as he might caress a mother痴 belly. In the calculating part of his brain, he knew he was getting very little additional information from a visual inspection, but he didn稚 heed that. It was important.

"Lookin good, Donna," he said, and spoke to Agnes. "All good. Advance, please."

The pod slowly swung up on its track while another took its place and snapped into the receiving house, ready for inspection. The faint hum of the conveyor track stopped as 2-Alpha-1 waited patiently for Donn to pass it along.

"Hey, Tootsie," Donn said, patting the glass canopy and peering inside. All looked normal. Donn bade Agnes advance the pod again.

The procedure continued for dozens and dozens of pods: Donn greeting each preborn with their own special nickname, checking the physical development, patting or smoothing the canopy, and asking Agnes to move along. If he did not need to make any adjustments, it took him perhaps twenty seconds per pod. But there were frequent disruptions in his routine.

"Okay, let痴 see how Lunchpail is doing." Ninety minutes later, Donn was watching pod 11-Beta-2 click into place. "Agnes, didn稚 Lunchpail have a pH problem last check?"


Donn caressed the canopy. "I was pretty sure he did," he said, punching up the readout on the pod casing and scrolling through biochemistry tests. "Yeah, here we go. He was seven point three seven last check, and he痴 at seven point three six now. So we need to nudge that up."

"That number is within tolerances," Agnes said.

Donn sighed. "Not this again. How many times are we going to have this discussion? Yes, I知 aware. The range is seven point four five to seven point three five. I know. But I don稚 want Lunchpail to be hovering near the acidosis side of the number, okay? So please adjust the umbilical feed towards the alkaline by point zero four over the next twenty-four hours."

"I need your express order to override the"

Donn lost his patience. "Authorized! Override the protocols and change the damn fluid balance!"

Agnes met his frustration with prim calm. "Override accepted. Change log updated."

Donn smoothed his coveralls and attempted to calm himself as well. "Agnes, please place a monitor tag on Lunchpail痴 pod."

"I don稚 understand the designation 銑unchpail."

Donn tapped the canopy. "This one. Eleven-Beta-Two."

"Acknowledged. Monitor tag set." Agnes voice dropped a half octave. "You really shouldn稚 refer to the pod by these names you致e invented, Donn."

"Advance, please. Why not?"

Lunchpail痴 pod swung upwards and Mighty Mite痴 pod slid into place in the viewing platform.

"Because, for one, you know they won稚 keep those names when we make planetfall. So you値l have to learn whole new ones then when the parents are assigned."

Donn peered into Mighty Mite痴 pod, noting that his growth had accelerated nicely. "Mighty Mite痴 name already doesn稚 fit him. Or maybe it does he痴 gone from undersized to on the high end of normal. So he痴 gone from mite to mighty. Done with this column," he said, patting the canopy of 12-Beta-2.

The hidden machinery hummed as a new column of pseudowomb pods loaded into the feeder system. "And anyway, who says I will have to abandon their nicknames? I think it値l be neat for each of them to have something like that. Makes弾m special."

He grinned at the ceiling where the electronic entity of OSIRIS, and therefore Agnes, existed if the computer could be said to exist anywhere. He knew he was in violation of standards and practices with his nicknames, but he enjoyed the feeling.

"Donn, you must realize that it will be a serious violation of procedure to maintain your caretaker relationship once the preborns have exited their pseudowombs and placed with their assigned parental units."

Donn laughed as 1-Gamma-2 locked into place. "Shit, Agnes. Could you say that any more coldly? You mean, when the babies are born and given to their parents, don稚 you?"

"I am observing proper nomenclature. As you would do well to do."

"Oh, is that so? And if not? What are you going to do? Replace me?" Donn chuckled. "Almost twelve light years from Earth. I think my job痴 pretty secure." He looked into the pod. "Well, Kikiboots, let痴 take a look at you."

Agnes said, "You have fourteen separate formal violations on your record, and more than twice that many admonishments. You must conform to standard practices. It is for the good of the future colony, Donn."

Donn patted Kiki痴 canopy and nodded. Coming along very nicely. "Advance, Agnes. And let me get something clear to you. I take the colony痴 future very seriously. You think naming these embryos," he said, placing both his hands on 2-Gamma-2 as it slid into place, "is subverting the stability of the colony? Or performing multiple assessments? Or making minor adjustments to help them thrive? Shit, Agnes, I want each one of my swimmers to be healthy, productive, and happy members of the colony."

"And the nicknames help?"

Donn glanced at Garnet痴 body, folded in on itself in fetal sleep, and checked the synthetic placenta filter. It had been running a little inefficient last time, but now was registering as perfect. "Advance. They do, yes."


"Because I also want them to be individuals. Look at this, Agnes," he said, sweeping his hand at the huge bay where his hundreds and hundreds of preborns waited. "This isn稚 how this was meant to be. I understand why it needs to be this way, but this isn稚 natural. So if I can counter this, just a little, with a stupid nickname, then by Jezeus, I知 going to."

The echo of his words rebounded through the cavernous bay. When the reverberations had died down, Agnes spoke. "Regardless. Your flouting of protocol and procedure must be noted. In accordance with Standards and Practices section six, subsection two, I am placing an admonishment in your file once again for improper"

"OSIRIS, shut down Agnes. I値l do the rest of this manually."

The computer voice changed to the soft, androgynous tones of OSIRIS. "Agnes personality facet muted. Manual control established."

Donn nodded and checked on 3-Gamma-2. "Sorry about that, Peanut. Mommy and Daddy were having a discussion. Though I guess I shouldn稚 call myself that. And definitely not Agnes." He patted the canopy then reached for the manual advance button on the side of the feed apparatus.

Disabling Agnes slowed him down significantly, and he knew the act had been a petulant one: he had not prevented the official admonishment by shutting her up. Indeed, he may have earned another violation, if Agnes decided to take computerized umbrage at her silencing.

"There are definite disadvantages to artificial personalities, Wonder Girl," he said to 4-Gamma-2.

Ten hours later, Donn was significantly behind. He had stubbornly refused to recall Agnes, even though the manual interfaces required more time. He pushed the peepers up to his forehead and rubbed his eyes as 4-Theta-8 snapped into place. He summoned up some cheer for the preborn, knowing full well the developing human could in no way perceive him. "Hey, it痴 Daisy! Hey, Daisy. Let痴 take a look at you."

He grabbed the peepers and prepared to settle them back on his eyes when OSIRIS voice suddenly sounded in the bay. "Alert. Catastrophic pod malfunction in bay K-seven. Repeat, catastrophic pod malfunction in bay K-seven."

Donn looked up from Daisy痴 pod and said, "K-seven? Where痴 Thom?"

"Caretaker Agee is in bay K-seven."

Donn dropped his peepers and ran to the exit hatch of his own bay, slapping the "open" control on the hatch. As it cycled open, he said, "What痴 happened? What kind of malfunction?"

OSIRIS said calmly, "Unknown. Pod One-Mu-Twelve biomedical sensor failure. Correction: second pod malfunction. Two-Mu-Twelve also unresponsive."

Donn痴 training reasserted itself and fought off panic. "Is there an environmental problem? Breach in the hull, venting atmosphere?" Even as he suggested the idea, he knew it was wrong. The pods were sealed against such a hazard, and were secure in their holding areas. A hull breach would not affect them unless it was enormous, and then, it would not affect them one at a time.

"I知 reading normal environment in bay K-seven. Now reading a third malfunction. Pod Three-Mu-Twelve inoperative."

The exit hatch finally opened and Donn stepped through. He turned left and hurried towards K-7. The corridor curved upward slightly, but because of the ship痴 spin, the floor was always down to him. Even as he ran, OSIRIS added, "Fourth malfunction. Pod Four-Mu-Twelve inoperative."

He sprinted the length of the corridor to K-7痴 entrance hatch, shouting as he ran. "What痴 going on in there? Tell me what you see."

"Internal cameras offline. Fifth malfunction. Pod Five-Mu-Twelve inoperative."

Donn saw the closed corridor hatch ahead of him. "OSIRIS, open hatch K-seven-eight junction."

"Acknowledged. Cycle begun. Sixth malfunction. Pod Six-Mu-Twelve inoperative."

Donn slowed to allow the junction hatch to open, then stepped through and continued his run. He was now in Thom痴 corridor. The difference in decor was striking, and in the past, Donn had marveled at the painstaking detail Thom showed in the artwork.

Mythological creatures of every description festooned the walls in a long, unbroken mural. There was no consistency to the mythos Chinese dragons cavorted freely alongside leprechauns while a djinn took tea with Paul Bunyan.

Donn had always admired the effort Thom had put into the decoration, but was faintly disturbed by it. Now, though, he did not give the creatures a second glance, instead focusing on the entry lock. Above the lock, Thom had written in stylized old English script, "Here There Be Dragons."

Squinting briefly at the environmental condition display all green lights Donn hit the "open" button. The hatch began to cycle open. OSIRIS chimed in again, "Seventh malfunction. Pod Seven-Mu-Twelve inoperative."

He didn稚 know what he expected to find, but feared some conduit had exploded or an electrical system had gone berserk and that Thom was doing his best to cope with the disaster.

Then why hadn稚 Thom himself called for help?

As the entrance hatch cycled open with agonizing slowness, Donn swore in frustrated impotence as OSIRIS announced the failure of an eighth pod.

Donn angled his body through the hatchway as it began to iris open. The bay was structurally identical to his own, though Thom had continued his fanciful decorations into the bay itself. The bay was brightly lit, and the ranks of pods trailed off into the distance. Donn headed deep into the bay, towards Rack 12, the farthest from the entrance.

He could hear the retrieval system in use. Pods were traveling in a steady progression from their spots in the bay to where Thom stood, perhaps fifty meters away.

Before his conscious mind could accurately analyze all the elements before him, Donn knew the situation was horribly wrong. Details added up swiftly: the pod retrieval system was moving too quickly for Thom to do any kind of accurate check on each pod. There was also something shiny and moist on the deck where Thom was standing.

And the air had a sticky, sweet odor.

All this Donn noticed in a scant few moments as he dashed deep into the bay, passing rows and columns of pods. He opened his mouth to call to Thom.

The caretaker of K-7 calmly raised the heavy wrench-like multitool he was holding and brought it down with shattering force on the glass canopy of the approaching pod.

OSIRIS intoned, "Ninth malfunction. Pod Nine-Mu-Twelve inoperative."

Donn yelped incoherently, his mind temporarily unable to understand what he saw. For an instant, he saw in his memory the battlefield in low earth orbit, three years ago, when the Starfish fleet had appeared out of nowhere and begun their attack. In his LEO fighter, climbing with jets straining, he saw his fellow pilots blasted into oblivion with astonishing speed and efficiency. He could not then immediately understand the enormity of what he was witnessing Earth痴 defense fleet, and his friends and comrades, smashed to uselessness in a matter of minutes by the star-shaped alien fighters.

And now, he saw a caretaker calmly murdering the blameless lives he had pledged to protect.

Like he had three years ago in orbit, he did not stop to think. He launched ahead, heedless of the consequences. Donn closed the distance with wide strides and then left his feet, sailing through the air in a perfect open-field tackle against the caretaker.

Thom had manually advanced to Pod Ten-Mu-Twelve and had raised his multitool again when Donn痴 shoulder smashed into his midsection. Both men went sprawling to the deck. Donn felt the soft flesh of Thom痴 abdomen give with the impact, and felt the heavy multitool glance off his own leg as Thom dropped it. Thom痴 body jackknifed in half and landed a few feet away, while Donn himself landed heavily on the deck, his momentum arrested by the sticky substance that coated it.

The left side of his face was on the deck, and he tasted the warm, salty-sweet fluid. He knew with sick horror that this was synthetic amniotic fluid wine-colored fluid that had gushed off of the pods when Thom had smashed them. His eyes focused after the tackle, and he saw a glistening figure, dark brown and curled in a helpless pose, a few meters away on the deck.

One of the preborns had fallen out of its pod.

The umbilical was still attached to the preborn, extending eight or nine centimeters before terminating in a gruesome ragged end. It was no longer connected to the pod.

Thom groaned and the sound brought Donn back to the situation. He pushed up from the deck, his skin sticking slightly to the amniotic fluid, and scrambled towards the caretaker.

"What the fuck are you doing?" he shouted, climbing up Thom痴 body until he reached the man痴 bearded face. Thom痴 legs were coated in amniotic fluid, and his eyes, two pools of white in a craggy, hair-covered face, were wild.

"Save them! Save the children!" Thom screamed.

Donn stared at him for a moment, lost. "Save them? You were killing them!"

"Help me save them! It痴 better this way!"

Despite the insanity of Thom痴 utterance, the words reminded Donn that the preborns might still be rescued. "OSIRIS! Alert all K-Deck caretakers to get to K-seven. Tell them to bring all the portable ELS units they can."

OSIRIS acknowledged the command. Donn glared at Thom once more, then pushed off him and turned to the preborn he had spied on the ground. He crawled to it, hoping. It was only one month before its scheduled birth maybe it had survived and was breathing on its own.

When he reached the baby, he knew it was dead. Its skull had been partially beaten in, and multiple lacerations across its head and face told the rest of the gruesome story. Thom痴 attack with the heavy multitool must have staved in the pod canopy, and the force of the blow had hit the preborn along with glass shards from the canopy.

At least it had most likely died quickly. Donn swallowed and patted the baby once before scanning the ground for the others.

He felt his gorge rising as he realized he was standing in a graveyard. Nine infant bodies lay all around him, moist and unmoving.

No, one was stirring. He walked to it, his deck shoes making obscene sticking noises in the pseudoamniotic fluid, and gingerly examined it. The baby was alive, though badly hurt. He could see the wounds on its shoulders and chest, blood mixing with the clear fluid of the pseudowomb. The baby痴 eyes were open, and they looked about in wonder at this new, deadly world into which it had been thrust.

"Shh, shh it痴 okay you池e gonna be okay," Donn said, his hands moving hesitantly towards the infant. He was loathe to move it, in case it had a spinal or head injury, but he needed to stop the bleeding and assess it. If he could get it to one of K-7痴 emergency life support units, maybe this baby had a chance.

He took a deep breath and reached to lift the baby from the deck when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

Thom had risen and hefted the multitool.

"No! Don稚 save it this is the best for them," Thom said, advancing on Donn and the baby.

Donn had no choice. He lay the baby back down and raised his arm in time to deflect the downward smash from Thom痴 makeshift weapon. He felt the heavy metal of the multitool on his forearm and winced in pain even as he redirected the blow. The force of the impact sent Thom off-balance, and he stepped forward in an ungainly stride, the multitool deflecting to Thom痴 left.

Donn, still on the deck, aimed with military precision a kick at Thom痴 right knee. He connected and saw the joint bend at an unnatural angle. Thom howled in pain and fell to the ground, crashing to the deck.

Donn did not hesitate, but aimed an uppercut through the V of Thom痴 legs, punching forcefully into his groin. He remembered his close fighting instructor痴 words: "You can fight fair, or you can fight to win."

Thom痴 groans turned into screams of pain as he released his hold on the multitool and reached too late for his testicles, rolling over into a fetal position amid the other nine babies.

Donn, satisfied that Thom was at least temporarily incapacitated, turned back to the baby. He reached for it, his forearm throbbing, and gently scooped it up. He carefully rose and trotted towards the bulkhead where the nearest ELS unit was.

"OSIRIS! Activate ELS unit six," he called, and as he approached the bulkhead, he saw the ELS panel light up green. Thom痴 artwork covered the surface of the bulkhead, a fairy ring of dancers cavorting amid the ELS panel痴 indicators. Donn opened the drawer and carefully placed the infant inside. He tore open the sterile lead package and attached the sensors swiftly but delicately to the baby痴 chest, noting the open wounds. He completed the biomed sensor attachments and glanced at the small readout screen on the ELS.

The EEG and EKG indicators were flatlines, as was the respiration indicator, but that could be because the hookups either hadn稚 registered yet, or that Donn had placed them incorrectly. He watched, his chest heaving, as both indicators remained flat. The baby痴 temperature was slightly below normal, but that was immaterial.

"Come on, Champ, come on," Donn said, his eyes never leaving the readout.

The lines remained flat.

Donn cursed and reached for the IV needle, tearing the package open and holding the syringe sideways in his mouth as he took the baby痴 arm. He felt the slick yet sticky surface of the baby痴 skin and hunted for a vein.

Before he could insert the needle, he heard a scraping sound of metal on metal behind him. He whirled and saw Thom had regained his feet and had taken the multitool from the deck once again. He was partially doubled over, obviously still in pain from Donn痴 attack, but was making for the pod racks again.

"Thom!" Donn shouted, the syringe falling from his mouth. He released the baby and charged the caretaker. Thom turned, and for a moment, Donn wondered if the bearded madman would use the multitool on him first. He slowed his advance, wary of Thom and his makeshift weapon.

But Thom痴 voice and face were drowned in sorrow. "You don稚 understand. This is better. Better than what they have coming to"

Donn caught movement from the entrance to K-7, and he saw Thom turn fully towards it. Donn lunged forward and seized Thom痴 weapon hand with both of his own, grimacing at the pain in his own forearm, then hooked his left heel behind Thom痴 right and tipped the man heavily to the deck.

Thom landed with a sickening thud, the back of his skull cracking loudly against the deckplate. He did not move.

"What the hell痴 happening in here?" Donn recognized the voice of Paul Yune, the Caretaker for K-6.

"Paul! We致e got multiple embryos out of their pods! Get them into the ELS units as fast as you can!" Donn did not look to confirm that his order was being obeyed he instead regarded the moist, motionless babies littered all around the deck. Thom痴 body, too, lay unmoving among them. Donn glanced at the man, and stepped over his body to recover another baby just beyond him.

The tiny body was bleeding from multiple lacerations, as the one Donn had placed into the ELS unit had been. Worse, its eyes were open but did not move. Donn raised the baby痴 chest to his ear, the drying amniotic fluid still tacky.

Even with the sounds of Yune moving about the bay, Donn was certain he heard nothing. This baby was also dead.

He rose from his kneeling position, still cradling the dead infant in his arms, and looked at the carnage. Again came the flashback to the battle three years ago. LEO fighters, welding seams still visible from their hurried construction, flew like arrows launched by ancient longbowmen towards the enemy Starfish. Donn remembered the feeling of awesome power that settled in his loins when he regarded the sheer numbers of fighters on all sides. He was one of many, a wing commander no less, in the fight to repel the enigmatic alien invaders from Earth.

He watched helplessly as squadron members burst into flame and debris, the Starfish direct-energy weapons brutal and efficient in their destructive force. For an instant, the destroyed fighter痴 inertia had kept it aloft before it began its curving descent back to the planet. For a split second, before he had sealed his escape cocoon and ejected, he had flown in an airborne graveyard.

And now he stood, almost ten light years distant in space and three years distant in time from those grotesque memories, on a deckplate littered with the bodies of murdered infants.

He didn稚 understand how either slaughter could have happened.

"Donn," Paul said from behind him.

Donn turned, still holding the dead baby.

"None of them they池e all dead," Paul said, his characteristically gentle voice almost inaudible.

Donn nodded slightly and looked at the walls for an explanation.

Fairyland creatures danced in innocent joy.

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