John Morrisson scowled at the empty space in the hangar. He really didn't need this, with only one month left until he retired from this business for good. A ship he was doing testing on had been dragged out of the hangar and flown off, despite having the A and C conduits from the prime mover disconnected (and of course, the alarms inhibited so he could test the B without the prime mover shutting down). If the B conduit failed...well, Morrisson would rather not be there when it did. His mood was as incandescent as the Zearlan sun. He was regretting ever taking this contract, even though it paid well. He had started regretting it ever since he'd seen that INRA man there.
"Where's KV-355?" he snapped at a passing colleague.
Morrisson spotted Bright leaving the kitchen, nonchalantly rolling a cigarette. The young man was far too cocky, he'd only been working as a mechanic for 18 months and he thought he knew it all. Morrisson growled, and began pacing across the hangar angrily. Kevin Bright, indeed. More like Kevin Dim. He was going to give the kid a piece of his mind...
The Asp's flight deck was not a good place for intimate relations, but that didn't seem to be deterring Elyssia Wyatt or James Winston, who were now almost wedged between the command seat and the console in lustful embrace. It was unfortunate that the rather simple ship monitoring system had taken all the movement on the bridge to mean that someone could see the flashing master caution, and therefore not sound the loud and attention-getting remote alarm. It was even more unfortunate that every distraction so far had brought Winston's probing hand slapping randomly on the console until the distraction went away. His other hand had been reserved for certain other probing activities.
The Asp flight manual reads, "There are three plasma conduits for the thruster system. These are fully redundant, and a single conduit is designed to be able to take the load of all three for periods not exceeding twenty minutes. In the event of multiple conduit failure, the operator is advised to use reduced power levels, as diagrammed in table 5.7.7"
Winston now didn't care that Wyatt suddenly dragging him across the cabin was an act of lust. Her smooth, athletic body rubbed against his. Her slender fingers were madly trying to rip off his cl...
There was a muffled whump from somewhere in the rear of the ship. Both Wyatt and Winston were suddenly jerked back into reality as the main alarm started a piercing shriek that killed any moment of passion. Winston sprang up, and painfully cracked the back of his head on the underside of the console.
"What the hey!" yelled Wyatt, as she scrambled to her knees and slammed her palm on the Alarm Silence.
Winston tried to read the warning display. It seemed like every system had lit up red. He quickly identified a conduit breach, and reached over to shut down the prime mover. His hand never made it to the controls. A deafening crash followed by the sound of rushing air caused him to miss the appropriate part of the panel! A slam behind them indicated the airtight section doors sealing. Finally, he hit the right panel, but the automatic systems had already taken care of it.
"What the hell's happened?" yelled Wyatt, confused.
Winston struggled to his feet, and stumbled through the flight deck door into the supplies area. His hands were shaking from a mix of adrenaline and the ebbing excitement of the encounter that was just so rudely interrupted. After three attempts, he finally had the EVA suit on. Wyatt helped him put his space helmet on. He hurried towards the back of the main cabin towards the equipment deck, but the airtight door was down. Moving as quickly as he could in the EVA suit, he slid down to the deck below to the cargo bay airlock. He could go up to the equipment deck via the upper cargo bay airlock, even if it was a bit more awkward. It was certainly less awkward than letting all the air out of the cabin...
"Can you hear me?" came a tinny voice in his helmet, as he stepped into the airlock.
Now weightless, he glided up gently through the hard vacuum towards the upper airlock. It had been a while since he'd last tried to manoevre in microgravity, and his movements were clumsy. After a couple of attempts, he grabbed hold of the door, and opened it.
"Jim, it ain't good," came Jas's voice through the helmet, as the inner airlock
Winston dropped down to the lower catwalk to activate the APU. It'd at least keep the ship warm and the atmosphere breathable as they waited for help to arrive. He suddenly felt a further surge of adrenaline, as he surveyed the scene. The B conduit had exploded. There was no doubt about that. It had exploded right into the APU. A twisted lump of pulverised metal was all that remained. Most of the generator had been blasted off into space, through a gaping hole in the hull.
Winston looked upwards at the prime mover. The A and C conduits were not even attached. They had temporary blanking plates over where they'd normally connect. He hauled himself up to the prime mover manual control panel, and flipped open the cover. Another surge of adrenaline hit him when he saw that the alarm inhibits were activated, and the override key was in. The B conduit had been shot out through the hull and into space. Above him was another gaping hole in the upper hull. He fancied he could see a bright speck through the hole - Alioth's light reflected off the rapidly receeding parts of the Asp. This was deliberate, he thought. There is no way that someone could have done this accidentally. There was still even the red "Danger! Do not operate!" flags on most of the manual controls.
"Elyssia, I think we've been sabotaged. They were trying to kill us, and we are in deep, deep trouble," Winston said grimly, the strain making his voice shake. He tried to pull himself together - he'd faced pirates, freeloaders, and multiple attempts on his life - but the almost certainty that they'd freeze to death or possibly asphyxiate over the next few days filled him with a new kind of terror.
"Elyssia?" he asked, hearing no response from his shipmate.
Winston paused. No APU, no prime mover equalled no generated power. All they had was the battery. The AJN had routine Quest patrols of Alioth space, but it was anyone's guess whether they were within a dozen AU of their current position. Winston decided to dodge the question for now.
"Look, turn everything off apart from the emergency radio and minimal life support. Set the radio to broadcast a mayday. We're in safe space here and I know it's patrolled. I'm coming back up to the cabin. Jas, get some figures on our power load and how long we can survive"
"Are the clones prepared?" Tyler asked.
The meeting broke up...
"Set the life support for ten degrees celcius. That's still rather warm, isn't it?"
Winston asked as Wyatt entered the final parameters into their emergency power
Jas paused. The pause was less than a second, but it was long enough to bring out a subtle truth to Jas - no more than an AI in a box. An insight had hit her advanced AI systems like a tonne of metal alloys slamming into the hull of a stricken Boa. She realised that she couldn't grok fear. She felt she ought to feel it as the humans obviously were - but she couldn't because she literally didn't know what it was. Was it the desire to stay alive? She certainly had the desire to remain functional, but it was a mere programmed response.
"I'm not sure," she said, "there are a lot of ships there. You've got about
fifty hours of life support of the main battery at that temperature. The battery
is in good condition."
The bridge fell silent.
"We're dead, aren't we?" Wyatt asked.
"One of ours, you say?" asked Dennis Kernighan, peering over Captain Mike Johnson's
Kernighan entered the new course into the ship's computer. Without fuss, thrusters fired, and the Anaconda started to rumble as the massive engines worked hard to bring the vast ship onto an intercept course with the striken Asp. It was fortunate for the occupants of the Asp that they had already decelerated significantly for the approach to Edinburgh starport, only two and a half days away.
"We might have a bit of problem though," added Johnson quietly, "it looks like
an Alliance search-and-rescue vessel has picked the signal up and is also responding."
© 2003 Dylan Smith.