The softwire : Virus on Orbis 1

BOOK: The softwire : Virus on Orbis 1
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2006 by PJ Haarsma

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.

First electronic edition 2010

The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

Haarsma, PJ.
The softwire: virus on Orbis 1 / PJ Haarsma. — 1st ed.
p.  cm.

Summary: When twelve-year-old Johnny and his sister arrive on Orbis in a spaceship of orphans, he finds he has a unique ability to communicate with computers.
ISBN 978-0-7636-2709-6 (hardcover)
[1. Computers — Fiction. 2. Orphans — Fiction. 3. Science fiction.]
I. Title. II. Title: Virus on Orbis One.
PZ7.H111325So 2006
[Fic] — dc22    2006046285

ISBN 978-0-7636-3638-8 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-7636-5235-7 (electronic)

Candlewick Press
99 Dover Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144

visit us at

“I can see them! I can see the Rings of Orbis!” Theodore Malone cried, and a stampede of kids charged toward the observation deck.

“I bet you’re dying to see Orbis, aren’t you, malf?” Randall Switzer said, digging his foot a little deeper into my face. In fact, I was. I’d waited twelve years to see my new home, wishing every day was this day. But I wouldn’t dare let him know that.

“I can kill a little more time down here,” I said from the floor.

Switzer snickered and shifted more weight onto his foot. I hate feet. Feet with shoes, feet with socks, but worst of all — like the sweaty one grinding into my cheek — I hate bare feet.

“What are you doing, Switzer?” Maxine Bennett said.

“Why do you care?” he replied.

“I figure you’ve got another microsecond before Mother knows what you’re doing. I do not want to be near all this food when it turns the gravity off,” Max warned him.

You don’t want to be on a toilet, either,
I thought, but I didn’t feel this was the right time to bring that up.

“Why doesn’t he just
Mother to rescue him?” Switzer said.

And there it was, the thing that separated me from everyone else on the seed-ship. While the others communicated with Mother through their O-dat displays or heard Mother over the cent-com, I was the only one who actually
with it.
— Mother was the ship’s computer that had saved and cared for all of us after the adults died and that had guided the
to its destination — the Rings of Orbis.

The thing was, not everyone believed me, especially Switzer. Our self-proclaimed leader took great pleasure in discrediting my ability and making me the laughingstock of nearly everyone else on the seed-ship. But things were about to change. The ride was almost over — thank the universe.

“So now you believe him when he says he can talk to the computer?” Max said.

“I just asked him what his hurry was,” Switzer said, beginning to sound bored. “He knows the rules.”

“Answer him, JT,” she said.

Actually, I had come into the contest tank looking for Max. I needed her help getting something out of the computer. Something Mother wouldn’t let me have, but I didn’t want Switzer to know about it. Silently, I stared at her feet (at least
wore shoes).

“Stubborn doesn’t work,” Switzer reminded me.

Finally, I lied and told him, “I was just looking for my sister.”

“Baby-malf? Why would I care about her?” he said, raking his toes one more time across my nose as he released me. “See how easy that was? Come on, Max, let’s see if that freak really did spot the rings.”

I sat up and watched them leave. My quest would have to wait.

I found Ketheria standing alone in the eighty-meter glass tube that connected the common galleries and the contest tank. My sister, who was five years younger than me, was fiercely independent. Then again, so were all the children on the
Thirteen years with the supervision of only a computer can do that. Together, Ketheria and I squeezed to the front of the crowd and squished our faces against the glass as the giant seed-ship came about.

There they were: the Rings of Orbis — four colossal planetlike rings floating around an invisible wormhole.
What will it be like there?
I wondered for the trillionth time.
What will happen now — to us?
I had been waiting my whole life for this moment. After 253 years in space (we spent most of the trip as nothing more than a few cells frozen in plastic dishes), the
would finally set down on the ground, or the ring, that is.

I tapped on the glass for magnification, and the four massive rings filled the void in front of us. For a split second I wondered how my parents would have felt if they had been alive to see this day.

I squeezed Ketheria’s hand and said, “Look, between the rings, those are the moons.” I pointed. “See? Ki and Ta.”

Ketheria didn’t say anything to me. It wasn’t that she didn’t know what they were. She just never said anything to anyone. She was almost eight years old and had never spoken a single word. I looked out for her because she was the only family I had and we were the only siblings on the
I kind of liked that.

“I can’t wait to get off this ship,” I whispered to her. “Finally, a place we can call home.”

Ketheria looked up at me. She smiled and squeezed my hand again. It was reassuring because I really had no idea what Orbis would be like. There would be a whole new set of rules, but I felt confident that any alien rules had to be better than Switzer’s.

I stared at my new home. Our parents had signed a contract to work on Orbis for four years — one year on each ring. In return, their Guarantors, administrators for the Trading Council, paid for their travel and would sponsor their citizenship on Orbis when their work was done. But the untimely death of all our parents meant that Ketheria and I, along with every other kid on the
were now at the mercy of the Citizens of Orbis.

“Are you bleeding this time?” Max asked me, popping up on my left.

“No,” I said.

She kept her eyes focused on Orbis and let out a deep breath. “I can’t wait to see what makes those rings tick,” she said.

I like Max. She never makes fun of me about Mother, like most of the other kids. And she’s better than anyone when it comes to taking things apart and putting them back together, although they usually wind up performing an entirely different function when she’s done.

“Well, I’m going to finish packing,” she said.

As she turned to leave, I scanned the tube for Switzer. He was at the other end, preaching to his bootlickers.

“Max?” I called, and she looked back over her shoulder. “I need your help with something.”

She pointed at herself and said, “Me?”

I nodded.

“Sure,” she said.

“Sit here,” I told Max, pointing to the O-dat display in my room. It was actually my parents’ quarters. Most of the little ones still stayed in the nurture pods, while the older kids had scooped up the private rooms.

She read my screen. “Restricted? I didn’t know any files on the
were restricted.”

“Neither did I.”

“Mother, please access all research files, personal notes, and log entries from my parents,” I said out loud.

“Yes, Johnny,” Mother said. The reply filtered into my mind in Mother’s voice: the effort to sound human was a little overdone.

“Is Mother talking to you right now?” Max asked.

“Yes. Mother, can you respond using the cent-com? This room only, please.”

“Certainly,” it said. “But the reconstructed quantized waveform created inside Max’s auditory canals would only sound like static to her.”

“Oh, thanks,” I told the computer.

“No need to thank me, Johnny. As you’ve reminded me many times, I’m just a computer with no feelings.”

I smiled.

“Can Mother do that? Why don’t you get the computer to respond out loud all the time? Then maybe Switzer won’t bother you so much.”

I shook my head. “I wish. Watch the screen,” I told her. “Mother, would you access all files that make reference to my parents, please?”

“I’ve already performed that task,” the computer replied.

“I know,” I said. “But I need the restricted files, too.”

“Why would anything on the ship be restricted?” Max asked.

“Wait,” I whispered to her.

“Mother, under which category are the restricted files located?” I said.

“Research,” the computer replied.

Of course, I’d already asked Mother all these questions. I was just repeating it all for Max. “Why did you never tell me about these files before?”

“You never asked for the restricted files before this cycle,” the computer said.

Max looked at the screen. “Ask it why I can’t see them on the terminal.”

“Why can’t I see them on the terminal, Mother?”

“They are restricted.”

I threw my arms up in the air. “‘Restricted,’ it keeps telling me. And there’s
three hundred and twelve
of them!”

What made it so frustrating was that I thought I had read everything about my parents. It’s what I did. Despite the thousands of hours of entertainment files and the games Mother programmed in the contest tank, I often spent my free time searching the computer, reading everything my parents had left there: all their letters, their diaries, their research; all their hopes for the future. I read about my mother’s fears after the cryogenic sleepers failed and the ship lost thirty crew members. She worried that she and my dad would die in the sleepers before my sister and I were born. My mother was right. The cryogenic sleepers did fail again, and the entire crew was lost. The only survivors were the embryos — us.

“I want those files,” I told Max.

BOOK: The softwire : Virus on Orbis 1
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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