Springingtiger's Blog

Chapter 4: Working on the Railway


I had been working in the aircrew of the Intergalactic Space Ship Roddenbery – It’s good to reflect that the one person who has had the greatest influence on scientists since the Twentieth Century wasn’t a scientist, but a visionary television writer on the long haul to Sigma Seven. Once there – for reasons that will become apparent – I slipped away and found work with the Bennie Railplane Company,

Sigma Seven was one of only four planets in the Sigma Sector that had been identified as habitable with modification, although others had been identified as suitable for mining. The colonists remained in stasis for the whole voyage while the crew manned the ship in shifts of several months at a time. Me I preferred to remain awake for the voyage. Obviously not all the time, like anyone else my body needs a nights sleep, but I avoided stasis. It wasn’t difficult it just took a little manipulation of the duty logs. It was made considerably easier by having a ship that enjoyed my company.

Unlike many humans I had always considered that Artificial Intelligence was intelligence and I treated the machines that had it with the same respect as I treated any sentient being. That they responded in kind was the thing that enabled me to survive the last great Cyber War on Earth and join the human diaspora. Roddenberry and I used to spend hours talking. I find neural uplinks a little disturbing, but not as alarming as mixing minds with the Trees on New Texas so we talked. We watched old films from the ship’s extensive library and discussed them. It’s hardly surprising that Roddy was a Star Trek fan, I suppose. For a multi trillion dollar piece of cutting edge of space engineering Roddy was a terrible geek and great company.

Occasionally I had to wake other members of crew largely to ensure they had memories of having been awake on the journey. Sometimes there were technical issues I could not handle that made waking someone a necessary, but on the whole I preferred Roddenberry’s company. Had someone not been a little too scrupulous with the records some years after we landed all would have been well and no questions asked. When we were approaching S-7 I had to wake the rest of the crew. While the colonists remained in hibernation the planetary terra forming was conducted by the crew from orbit.

The biggest problem with terra forming occurred on planets that had once sustained life as dormant genetic matter sometimes was stimulated into life by the process either giving rebirth to extinct species or some sometimes alarming mutations. Sigma was no exception, but on the whole even the mutations tended to be comparatively benign, there were also as expected some genetic reversions to earlier iterations of species. It meant that no colonised planet was ever quite the same as another which made my life more interesting. Few were aware of the planets I had seen, except Roddenberry and he wasn’t telling or so I thought.

Unfortunately since the Cyber Wars other people were less trusting of AI than I and thanks to some perceived anomalies in the crew’s hibernation schedules. There was an enquiry that managed to bypass Roddenberry’s security and even penetrated his personal memory and what they found there was me. It quickly became apparent that I was not an ordinary crew member and people hate and fear what they can’t comprehend. It soon became apparent during the enquiry that life might become uncomfortable for me. Fortunately Space Fleet hadn’t seen fit to shut Roddenberry down, largely because the new colony needed his records and processing. Roddenberry arranged for me to disappear from the records while providing credentials to ensure my employment with Bennie’s.

Needless to say after so many years on Earth I had picked up various skills and with the aid of Roddy’s falsified documents and my ability to demonstrate a degree of knowledge I persuaded the Bennie Railplane Company to employ me as a linesman. My job was to patrol the lines looking for damage and either repair it or call it in to the depot. Because the cable telephone lines were hosted by the Bennie pylons I received a second salary for maintaining them too.

I suppose the Railplanes were to space colonisation what the railways were to Nineteenth century industry and imperialism. The advantage of the Railplane was that there was no need for ground levelling as the trains were suspended high above the ground the pylons could be of different heights to accommodate different ground levels and with no railways running beneath they didn’t need the original sixteen feet clearance. On S-7 clearances varied between six and two hundred feet. Unlike the original Railplanes of the Nineteen Thirties the new Railplane systems could handle a degree of gradient for considerable distances. It was not enough to go over mountains, but it did make some passes accessible that wouldn’t have been before and so I frequently found myself on horseback following the rails through mountain passes.

I remember for a time we were having problems in the mountains with severe buckling of the rails between pylons. They were all of regulation length and instruments showed the ground shifting from the terraforming process had finished. After we replaced one section for the third time I pitched camp among the rocks nearby and waited.

On the second day I discovered the problem. As the afternoon sun was beginning to set a dragon descended and perched on the line. I call it a ‘dragon’ because everyone does – human beings love dragons – in reality it was more like a pteranodon. Sometimes terraforming produced genetic throwbacks and mutations and on Sigma Seven it had done terrible things to some of the chicken embryos we had brought for the colony. On the plus side there was a lot more meat on a dragon than a chicken, by several tons.

Unfortunately the dragon startled my horses whose panic attracted its attention. It turned to look in my direction, the rails creaking and buckling as it moved. I grabbed my Colt canon from my pack horse as the great leathery chicken beat its wings and lifted from the rails and flew straight at me. Hands shaking I somehow managed to slip a shell into the 25mm rifle and fire. The shell caught it in its right flank and it missed me, just. It overshot and crashed into the side of the valley. As I loaded another shell the beast got to its feet and started to run towards me. I put a shell into its breast, but still it came on, less steadily. Like all chickens of all time these dragons took a while to realise when they were dead. My third head destroyed its head. I moved my horses from its path, but didn’t have time to move my tent before the dragon collapsed on it.

In the mountain pass I couldn’t get a cellphone signal so I had to attach a handset to the cable to call in the incident. As well as a repair crew I told them to bring a cold truck for the meat, I would get a third of its sale price which represented a useful bonus. And that is why the Railtrain lines on S-7 are topped with iron spikes. it’s not just for decoration.


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