When I finally got to my office later on I found my workstation. I flipped on my desk and watched as the holo chugged through booting up, watching the different software corporate logos animate and dissolve as it did so. I really should've brought another cup of coffee to quaff while watching the sequence.

When the desk finally finished loading, I logged onto my partition. My P-suit's HUD asked if I wanted to network with the new partition found. I told it to do so and heard a soft chime signaling the completion of integeration. I double-checked my office's P-seal and then took my helmet off. Each room was pressurized from the central GEO-AMS system. Yeah, the airvents cycled in new air, conditioned to a comfortable 23.8 C, but these had auto-seals which would cramp at a millisecond's notice of any vacuum.

Eva popped up as I played with my desk's personal settings. She was polite, staying in the background but let me know that she was available if I needed any help with the GEO-AMS' proprietary software. It looked pretty standard, thankfully. Modern systems were pretty much the same in terms of organization. Macro and micro folders with subrouting hyperlinks, bubble tags for file names, and an internet and Ethernet port. A desk without an internet and Ethernet port might as well be fingers without a body. The CI-Pact had sent out Ethernet buoys ahead of the Zheng He's planned voyage so we wouldn't be more than a tenth of an AU from an access point. There was even a satellite in geosynch over where our planned colony was for a direct beam.

I checked my two e-Nexuses, work and personal, for any new video, audio and texts while I had been riding up on the space elevator. I had a vid from Jonathan Gavin telling me welcome to the Zheng He's nano-programming team and that he wanted to go grab yeast excrement later on after work with me. His mind was constantly on a technical setting that it managed to make booze sound unexciting. Yes, I could've checked it on my P-suit's HUB access but the limited size of the active plas-film on my visor made it uncomfortable. Plus, I'll admit, I don't like to watch or read floating media while there isn't a blank background behind it. Its too distracting to have someone walking behind text you're trying to read. Gives me a headache.

I had one spam from the Skub. I wondered how it'd managed to get through all the rules I'd set up. I wondered where it'd been sent from, so traced the generating IP. As I thought, it was from a server farm in the Antarctic, no doubt a compromised machine that had been tunneled into by several proxies.

I didn't even bother opening it to confirm that it was from Skub. Their network rarely strayed little from their central message, which everyone already knew by heart. Gene-therapy is wrong, nano-tech is wrong, any bio-modification of humans is wrong, space exploration is wrong and tear everything back to an 18th century level of tech. Religious luddites to the extreme. They did have some points which I would admit that were attractive but their logic was, well, lacking.

I mean, who wouldn't want to live with only 5 billion or so people? If we hadn't started creating archologies and extending shorelines, who knows how many hectacres of the planet would be under miles of Plexiglas, concrete and rebar? Certainly enough that food sustenance would be impossible. As it was, the current conditions only were enough for another century or two, hence the Zheng He and our plans to colonize Mars. Once there, we had every intention of urban planning from the beginning. In reality, as life couldn't exist without technological support, we were forced into that mind setting from the start: for the better, I think. Without planned growth humans have had a historical tendency to strip areas bare of resources and then have their civilizations collapse. Think I'm being drastic? Look into the story of Easter Island or the Vikings in Greenland that kids are taught in first grade. Thank FSM that Professor Jared Diamond and Al Gore were really the two who sparked the hard self-examination that humans needed at the turning point of the 21st century. The European Union and North American Union were on the verge of systemic collapse when the China-India Pact saved both from their top-heavy corporate consumerism. Sino-ingenuity saved the west from slipping into another Dark Age.

My e-Nexus popped a notification of a new text, another one from Jon. This one was more work-related, a large chain memo sent to everyone in the Nano Department. Typical of Jon: our work would be mission-crucial, everyone's lives depended on our standard of work, future history books would scrutinize our software algorithms so no pressure. I wasn't too worried about it, honestly. Most of the software was based off of at least a century-old theory called Autonomous Nano-Technology Swarming, ANTS, behavior systems theory based mainly off of, ironically enough, termites. Or so the story goes in Nano-tech circles. The email ended with a brief acknowledgement that with my joining the department we, "ended the beginning" of our Zheng He's pre-preparation stage.

I opened up Neural Node, our ANTS main programming sphere. It was extremely powerful. I could access any swarm, sub-swarm or worker nanobot plus the macro-rules of the neural coding. I had come up with the organizational pyramid of the Neural Node for my PhD's work; of that, I was quite proud. It wasn't too hard to come up with. The Zheng He had three organizational control-layers built into the swarm.

The first was a Conventional Control, a remote-controlled system which my wetware controlled the hardware. Or, in Jon's phrase for I physically manipulated the regional sub-swarms. This was rarely used, usually if there was a breakdown in the logic chains which happened but only if there was a radiation flare or something nasty like that.

The second layer was Evolutionary Control, a delegation of power. Each swarm was comprised of four slave groups and one master group. Inside the master group two nanobots communicated with my inputs and ruled over the leader in the sub-swarms. This was most often used if I needed something specific done but didn't want to destroy the entire swarm's current task to get it done. I could take several dozen swarms from the central hive and easily get something done with just a few simple directives aimed at the leaders.

The final layer was the Independent Control, an oxymoron if I've ever heard one. Nevertheless, the hive controlled itself for tasks based on pre-programmed rules. If it ran into an obstacle it thought a way around it. It was autonomous, redundant, collaborative, and distributed logic tasks in a way which humans could only dream of. The organizational structure was split thusly: Teams, comprised of swarms; and swarms each had a sub-swarm. There were designated communicative rulers and leaders for each sub-swarm that constantly chatted with the different layers and updated one another on the current tasks' status.

The entire system worked ridiculously well as long as there was a global information flow. It was redundant, but as I said, if there was any sort of solar flare which clogged communication levels it was an expensive piece of trash.

I opened up the Neural Node's programming section and got to work.

An hour or two later, I heard a knock at my office's door. A small vid popped up on my desk, of an external cam's view outside my door. Jon was knocking on it.

"Han? You in there?"

I reached into my desk's holo, pinching the vid's window to bring its process to the active foreground. I cleared my throat, then responded, "Yeah, I'm here, Jon."

"You busy?"

"Not really, Neural Node program testing. It can be done later."

"C'mon, let's go see the Zheng He up close. You been yet?"

"No, I got here around 06:00."

"C'mon, you can play with the Neural Net all the way to Mars. Its not everyday you get to see a newly minted interplanetary colonization ship for the first time."

"I think you're right on that. Hang on, let me log off."

I saved my work and quit to the desk's null-mode then went over to the doorlock. It slid open with a slight click.



We acted as if we hadn't seen one another for several years, as was actually the case this time. Oh, we'd seen plenty of each other through live vids and kept in touch almost daily with texts for work but actual face-to-face? That was at least five years ago.

After the handshake and slap, he stepped back and jerked his head off down the sloping hallway.

"This way."