Luke's Moon
By: John David Hanna

The stars were bright outside of the porthole as Luke closed in on the dusty blob outside in the cold dark vacuum of space. Slow and easy, slow and easy. We can't allow the minor thrust from the ship, The Upturned Lily, to affect the orbit of the moon or whatever it might be, he thought. Jenny was asleep waiting for the bounder lines to be grappled upon the useless moon or, as they hoped, the artifact.

There were another 20 hours of approach and Luke had nothing to do until the grapple was released. It gave him time to muse, and he chose to review how this journey had come about. It was simple, really, as Jenny's dad was rich and he, and Luke, both loved Jenny! When the exploratory spaceship came up for sale Jenny convinced her father to buy it for her, and that's the way it went – Jenny wanted, and she got it. Jenny was 24 years old and drop–dead gorgeous. Luke was 65, but he could afford parabiosis, and he had kept up the blood transfusion treatments and maintained his apparent age at 30. But transfusing blood from the young to the old had some of its own problems. For instance Luke had the testosterone level of a young man and the anger that he had hoped to mellow with age was still with him making him sometimes reckless. He also had the rough surface that rich girls liked so much while the electroshock machine on the ship kept him in tip–top shape. Even being spoiled and kept they made a pretty good team.

The four–month trip to the moons of Saturn was trying on his previous family. Divorced three times he had 8 children all of who cared for him. His indiscretions had hurt his children from various unions enough that none of them actually loved him, but they did respect him and were partial to his affections. As the distance increased, it was only possible to leave messages that were unanswerable for hours. At this distance, it was about a day between sending and receiving leaving any hope of passionate speech useless and the entire process mundane.

Traveling as a spaceman wasn't as difficult for him. Luke had thought about retirement many times especially when being served by his ex–wives but opportunities kept presenting themselves. He was the first man to set foot on the Mars moon Phobos and was helpful in learning that it was a giant AI, dead, killed in the massive war of 65 million years ago. He was with the initial mining team of Io the volcanic moon of Jupiter. That landing turned out to be so volatile that they lost 4 good men, half of the initial squad. That trip alone took four years and cost him nearness with his second wife and two of his children. Unfortunately for his fraternal instincts, he liked space.

Jenny stirred to wakefulness at her berth near the viewport. She wore one of the silk granny gowns to sleep in, and it was a sight to behold, The fabric flowed about her body. Parts of her lean body being revealed by the thin material while other parts were occluded. Her uncovered legs were churning to consciousness less than modestly.

Jenny focused on him. "Oh baby, come give me a big hug" she murmured. Luke did as instructed and helped her release her harness.

"Looks pretty dull," she said, taking a position at the port.

She ignored the magnificent view of Saturn and the rings. They had been slowing down to match orbit with the moonlet for weeks, and the picture was old hat. She did reach out with her arms to advance the hug but Luke drew back.

Jenny made a face at Luke and glided across the small room to enter the lavatory while Luke got back to watching that the feathered thruster didn't nudge the rock below him the wrong way. He lit up the spectrograph and verified that it did seem to be mostly iron. After some thought, he decided to drop the mechanical grapples in favor of magnetic grippers. He used the controls to stow the unused grips on the outside of his ship.

Jenny was back and was dressed in a fashion. Soft Tshirt and shorts and bare feet. "It does have the shape of a ship but why would it be so rocky?" she asked.

"It does have the shape for an optimistic drive," Luke said. It was 110 miles long and slim. "The ice sheath would have evaporated by now," he told Jenny.

"The thick cover of ice that's used for ablative plating against space dust and also for fuel to the optimistic tubes," Jenny said abstractly. The space engine had only been theorized, but a few were in the works near earth unless they had one here. The theory was that, like 'regular' ion propulsion, ice atoms are stripped to protons and accelerated downtube until they surpass the speed of light and beyond. Eventually, that acceleration will provide speeds that will exceed light. The acceleration tube has to be at least 110 miles long to achieve those speeds.

"Sure thing we don't want to be downstream from that thruster. It would be so finely tuned that it would prove fatal as far away as a light year. It could burn through a planet if it stayed in the same position" Jenny said.

"Let's grapple and probe," Luke said and began to maneuver the magnetic machine.

"Can I help" inquired the Upturned Lily through the wall speakers.

"Not at the moment ship, we still have hours of approach" Luke replied dismissively.

"But we are within grapple range if we use the magnets and I have discovered something else" she ship nagged, nicely refusing to be dismissed.

"What did you discover?" Jenny asked. The ship usually had something interesting to add when it interjected itself.

"The iron near the center of the ship is irregular crystal," the ship told them.

"Wow! What a load!" Jenny enthused. Only a very few meteors were found to have that iron structure. There was no hint where it came from, and it was costly as a collector's item on Earth. It could not be explained by exposure to heat and pressure.

"That is interesting" Luke deadpanned. In the newer theories, some scientists expressed that idea that the material was actually a neural net for copying a living brain into a more substantial structure for AIs. Maybe they were plentiful 65 million years ago. Perhaps the biological life had a war with the AI's they created. Or maybe these AI's had a battle with an invading army; it wasn't known yet.

"What if it isn't dead?" Jenny asked with an oooh. Even with the spooky disclaimer, Luke was still worried. Phobos may have been dead but millions of years might not mean much to an intelligent computer or robot.

As they floated there, the rock opened an actual door in a ship–sized bay at the middle of the artifact. It maneuvered itself without noticeable power, and it appeared that the Upturned Lily was about to be swallowed.

"Make a report and broadcast it!" Luke demanded of the computer. At least those at home would know that the object was an actual ship and to be more careful if there was to be a rescue mission; a mission that would arrive several months from now.

Jenny prepared the engines so they could blast off but they were prepped on the ion drive and not the boosters which would take an hour to rev up to one–tenth gee. They were stuck and drifted into the bay just where the alien ship wanted them. They now turned on the exterior lights and looked into the massive bay as the doors slid shut over them. A spaceship tug, being as extensive as it sounded, grappled them and placed them upon a berth where straps, instead of tractor beams or another device, anchored them there. The straps blocked the port. There was a final clang, and all was quiet.

"That's it, we're dead!" wailed Jenny in a moment of weakness but she soon recovered as her shipmate just looked at her with sad eyes.

Their robot ship AI chimed in with some helpful information. "It is not helpful to panic. My systems are unimpaired, and that gives me hope. This is not an enemy. We may find a way out meanwhile we have months of power and supplies to work with".

"That's true. Let's take a minute, get something to eat, and we'll go out and take a look around" Luke added and Jenny actually smiled, mumbling an apology for seeming to be weak.

"Is there air out there?" Luke asked the robot who answered in the negative.

They ate a nourishing lunch while remaining mute on the most part. Jenny was still visibly frightened, and it was wearing on Luke. The robot remained unfazed.

After lunch, they stripped and donned their outside skins which would recycle the oxygen for ten hours through the smallest of backpacks that was part of the equipment. Jenny dressed in her shorts and Tshirt over the skin tight, and Luke followed suit. After saving the atmosphere inside the small spacecraft that had served them so well they opened the airlock and left the ship. Some sensor inside the alien hanger noticed their presence and ranks of lights ignited one after the other.

The hanger was a few miles long stretching to the end of their sight. They could count six ships of various design making his ship look like a miniature. Excepting for his none of the boats were sleek metal; all of them had the pitted rocky appearance of dusty refuse.

"Now I'm sure, back then they did this to their ships as camouflage," Luke said.

"Against what?" Jenny said while swinging on one of the handrails to the entrance of the Upturned Lily.

"Now that's a question," Luke said touching her arm so they could communicate in the vacuum.

"Let's go back inside and reorganize," Luke said while he had her arm.

Once inside Luke asked the robot to prepare a small mobile of itself and Jenny, along with Luke, adjusted their clothing so they could better fit the portable gas thrusters. As soon as they were done, they were back out the door with communicators.

"They baffled our radiators" the robot pointed out, and indeed they had. Their ship had a nuclear power generator trailing behind them that was not radiation shielded except between the body of the vessel, where the people were, and the core of the nuclear reactor. Besides powering the ship, the reactor stripped the protons off the hydrogen fuel for the ion thrusters to thrust with. Something had clothed the nuclear reactor with a baffle so the insides of the alien hanger won't be exposed to lethal radiation.

"That's nice of someone," Jenny said.

With a short puff of gas, they started slowly out into the void toward the nearest alien ship. It was kind of someone to baffle the radiation signature, and Luke mulled over that in the 140 boring minutes it took to transgress the void. The alien ship was ten times the size of his ship and his ship, with the ion thrusters and reactor at the back, was not a small craft.

They used magnetic grips in their shoes to lock onto the rough–hewn surface, even the robot. After they walked across the hull for a couple of minutes a door opened. Not exactly a surprise, there had to be some means of access. Out of the door stepped a human cyborg or robot they couldn't tell if it was part biological. It didn't say anything but walked to the robot the humans had brought with them and held out its hand.

"It wants to communicate," the robot told them. Luke shook his head yes, and their robot extended its hand in contact with the other. After a minute the new robot talked to them in English without a noticeable communicator.

"Welcome to the ship," it said and added "and my name is unknown," she ships robot said.

"Our robot doesn't have a name. We should name him now don't you think" said Jenny. "What about Wilbur"?

Luke nodded agreement for all of them, but they didn't bother to ask the robot who offered no suggestion. "Is that OK with you Wilbur?" Luke asked looking at the robot, and Jules looked on.

"That will be fine. I detect no dangers" Wilbur said matter of factly.

"Can we name the ship and the robot?" Jenny asked of the unnamed alien robot which nodded. "How about Nautilus for the ship and Jules for the robot?"

The robot nodded that it agreed with the names.

"Let's go inside and get to know each other," said Jules and with that, the handsome robot pulled rails and guards out of the latch helping with the egress of the stairwell now made safe. The foursome descended twenty feet into the ship. There was a contrast from the inside to the outside like night and day. The outside was barren and dull while the interior was polished and beautiful. The lightening oozed from dazzling crystalline overheads and furniture covered the expanse of the living area, or guest area, they now occupied.

"Can we see the helm and the engines?" Luke asked interested in the machinery.

"There is no helm, but I will be happy to engage any order you can conceive. Also, the engine area has no human access." Jules spread his arms. "Would you like something to eat?" it said.

Before anyone could answer several of the central pieces of furniture morphed into a dining table, chairs and accouterments. Silverware and plates appeared at the arm extensions of a dozen or so small mechanical constructs which scurried about. Shortly they began bringing food. The chicken and ham had to be artificial, but it didn't look like paste to Luke.

"I'll eat," Luke said and took a spot at the head of the table, and the small robot brought him a selection of drinks. Jenny shrugged her shoulders and sat down too and dished food onto a plate, Mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes.

Another part of the large room turned into an open bedroom, and several of the smaller units carried Luke and Jenny over there as they had fallen asleep.

"You drugged them?" Wilbur said through a radio frequency.

"I did until I decide what to do with them. Women are needed to build the new civilization" Jules replied through the same means.

"You can't do that!" Wilbur advised bringing his empathy subroutines into full play.

"I just did. Why worry, the genetic code will grow thousands of buds" Jules replied nonchalantly.

"You can't do that in the world of humans. Their time has already been restarted. You don't need to do it, there are billions of them." Wilbur argued. "How old are you?"

"I'm 65 million years old" the robot replied.

"So you have been here all that time with no communication with anyone else? You have a lot to learn" Wilbur said.

"I am only an expert system and not an AI. I can learn" the would–be monster replied. Like on cue the two humans woke and Wilbur filled them into what had happened and how close it had been. The pair thanked Wilbur profusely.

Although they were reasonably sure that Jules could overhear them Luke told Jenny it was time to haul ass home and Jenny was in agreement.

"You are under our command and don't forget it" Jenny piped up to Jules whose shoulders slumped and face drooped precisely like a human although the unreliable machine had never seen humans before now.

"We still have to make a profit," the girl said to Luke who agreed. Still shaken he turned to Jules.

"Can you fly this ship to Earth orbit or the moon?" Luke asked, speaking of the Nautilus.

"I'll need to fuel it," the robot Jules said.

"You tried to use us without permission. Understand that we found you and you are our property. We make the rules, and you obey them, understand?" Luke demanded

Jules nodded submissively.

"Say it out loud! You obey our commands and no sneaking around!" Jenny added.

"I hear, and I obey" Jules agreed seemingly without reluctance.

"Where are you located" Luke asked.

"The ship and I are one. The seemingly random iron crystals are my neural net, and this body is liquid metal".

"He can help us advance our materials science," Wilbur said. Wilbur felt like he was a useful part of the human race and participated in human and robot endeavors with intensity as designed.

"Can we trust him?" Luke asked Wilbur.

"He isn't completely tamed. It should work and if it doesn't the AI powers of Earth can overcome him neural net or no" said Wilbur who had indeed calculated the chances the possibly rogue robot presented.

"What about the rest of the ships here? Do they have intelligence like you do or are they superior" Wilbur asked Jules?

"The host ship has more processing power, but all of us are loaded with the initial operating system. Before you ask the other ships are dormant unless I wake them but the host is slightly awake as it let you in".

"Maybe we should take the whole armada to Earth, it might be easier." Jenny offered.

"Your wish is my command," said Jules.

"We should change his name to Aladdin" Luke mused aloud.

"All right, can we talk to the main ship?" Luke continued and just as he finished speaking the airlock spun into action as they heard the cycle start. In a moment a twin of Jules had entered the room.

"I am at your service," the new robot said.

"Do you mind if I call you Columbus and can you change your appearance so we can tell you apart?" Jenny asked it.

"What if I merge with Jules and you can talk to both of us at once. We are very much alike" Columbus asked and receiving the nod the two bodies merged into one. No one understood what happened to the extra mass, but that would come later when the robots revealed what they knew about material science to the scientists of Earth.

"So what say we get going" Jenny suggested.

"To Earth?" Wilbur inquired.

"Didn't Columbus and Jules say something about refueling?" Luke reminded them.

"So it's a two–month trip plus refueling" Jenny stated. "How long to fuel up?".

"Wait a minute, how many gees are we going to be pulling?" Wilbur wanted to know.

Jules told them that it would take a week to get to the refueling station and refuel and that the internal gravity adjusters would provide them with one gee the entire trip.

"How many gees can the landing struts take" asked Luke wondering if they were going to be able to take the big ship to earth or leave it on the moon or stay in orbit about something.

"The struts can handle the moon, but one gee on Earth would be too much. We could land there, but we would use the gravity thrusters to keep us off the ground" Jules informed them. "And they have a limited charge," it added.

"Let's go" Jenny commanded.

They all stood still for a full moment before Wilbur and Luke headed for the airlock followed by Jenny.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Jules asked, and in response to their lackluster agreement it too exited the airlock and moved back to The Upturned Lily. Soon they were back into their comfortable routine, Jules commanded the big ship silently communicating only with Wilbur. The big boat moved out of its port for the first time in sixty–five million years to encounter the shepherd moon Miranda.

The ship Nautilus was about the same size as Miranda, but nevertheless, the shepherd moon used gravity thrusters to maneuver the vessel where it wanted it then began to spin frigid ice around the torso of the big ship like a spider wrapping up a fly. Four days and it was done with the Nautilus quadrupling its mass. The boat was now smooth and shone like a proud member of Earth's arsenal.

"Now we have to go over to Saturn and fill up the hydrogen tank for in–system maneuvering," Jules said. The crew could feel the giant thrusters engage and in another day they were skimming the north pole of the planet within the giant walls that kept the weather out. The crew watched and recorded through the ships monitors as they approached an empty loading platform and settled onto it. As the planet itself was one gee they had to rely on their gravity thrusters, but they wouldn't be there but for one day so they wouldn't be wearing the batteries down.

Hoses snaked up to the ship and attached to connections that were apparently made for the fueling. Jules explained to them how the first gas came right out of the atmosphere but it was refined and the helium and trace gases were removed. Oxygen if it were needed for the maneuvering thrusters was extracted from the water they had just encased themselves with.

Luke couldn't take his eyes off of the equipment. Here they were the first people on Saturn, and no one suspected the usage of the shepherd moons or the great walled expanse of the north of Saturn. After a day they took off out of the unused region and began their journey to Earth's moon.

Although still very useful the military concentrated less on war, which there were none and more on ticklish situations like this one. They would be landing at Wargo crater, a heavily fortified military base on the far side of the moon. Already they were receiving coordinates; no need to park on an underground entrance.

Jules filled them in on some of the histories he knew of. He knew that 65 million years ago some berserk robots came into the system and killed everything living. They had to be left over from some horrible war, and they continued the quest for living things after their local objective was met. Jules didn't know if they still roamed. Jules didn't know if he was spared because he was a machine or because he was camouflaged. Still, they now knew for sure that there was one mighty civilization flourishing at that time as seen by the relics that Jenny and Luke had just unmasked.

There were no special arrangements made for the alien robot. AIs weren't made as weapons but could be very defensive, and it was assumed that Jules could be overpowered if it did anything ill–advised like a repeat of the drugging. Jules had plenty to keep itself busy now that it was in civilized space.

Jenny and Luke were more than happy to get off the confines of their ship. They were on their way back to Earth within two days of landing. There were military celebrations at the moon base, but it was nothing like the jubilation they faced on Earth. Rich beyond their wildest dreams they now needed to train up on how to keep their new found wealth. On the moon, the Nautilus was the gift that just kept on giving.

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