Darkness Within (26)

Sometimes Athnéël’s random factors are kind.

I grin like an idiot, staring into the hole my obliging drones have cut into the engineering bulkhead. Although, to be fair, that might be the oxy-tox.

It’s there.

It’s intact.

A geodesic sphere wrapped in golden foil, glittering in the weak starlight and its own sputtering photon-discharge glow. No signs of damage, leakage, or short-circuits. It’s a factory-spec, fully-operational, command-ready vector-control core.

And right now, I decide – as I order the drones to execute the clean shutdown-and-remove-for-maintenance procedure, then bring it out to me – it’s the most beautiful, unlikely, ridiculously perfect thing in the whole damned galaxy.

Hells, if I weren’t in this suit and it weren’t dangerous to touch, I’d kiss it. If it gets me out of this, I might anyway.


FROM: CS GOUGER (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD)
TO: CS GRITFIST (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD);
CS UNDERBELT (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD) ;
FIELD FLEET RIMWARD COMMAND (CS ARMIGEROUS PROPERTARIAN)

*** ROUTINE
*** FLEET CONFIDENTIAL E256
*** OVERDUE FOLLOWUP

REF: TASK GROUP R-4-118
REF: OVERDUE STATUS, CS GUTPUNCH

  1. AS PER TASK GROUP ORDERS ORIGINATING CS UNDERBELT, HAVE SEPARATED FROM COHORT CS GRITFIST AND HAVE PROCEEDED AT BEST SPEED TO NARIJIC SYSTEM.
  2. SYSTEM LONGSCAN BUOY CONFIRMS INBOUND GATING OF CS GUTPUNCH IN ACCORDANCE WITH PATROL ROUTING.
  3. SYSTEM LONGSCAN BUOY REPORTS LOSS OF TRANSPONDER SIGNAL FROM CS GUTPUNCH AS OF MET 183-10-1:16.
  4. INITIAL ACTIVE SENSOR SWEEP REPORTS PRESENCE OF MULTIPLE TARGETS CLASSIFIABLE AS HULKS WITH P > 0.85 MATCH, LEAKING WEAK EM EMISSIONS. NO TRANSPONDER SIGNAL PRESENT. NO INTENTIONAL SIGNALLING DETECTED.
  5. SELF COMMENCING CONIC SEARCH GRID SWEEP WITH ORIGIN AT MALTEVIC STARGATE AND LARGEST HULK TARGETS AS FOCI. REQUEST IMMEDIATE TASK GROUP REINFORCEMENT.
  6. MORE FOLLOWS.
  7. AUTHENTICATION AXE MOUSE FRANTIC FAN RIPPLE NUMERAL / 0x1DEED3A79926FFE2

ENDS.


Oh, you lovely, lovely thing.

All tucked in nicely into the thrust frame, right between the motors. I can’t see you, but I can feel the edge-effect take hold. The drain on the accumulators is more than I’d like, but low enough I can live with it. Heh, for long enough, anyway.

Right then, you drones! Enough gazing! I have Spark One and Spark Another clamp themselves onto the girders that brace my remass tank. I’m not going to get much more thrust out of them, but every little helps. Besides, can’t leave them behind after they might just have saved my ass. That’d be rude.

Checklist. What’s left on the checklist?

Course? The gyros screech again as I fire up the navigation program, spinning slowly to put the Kerjejic stargate prograde. Looks right, close as eyeball can tell, which isn’t very much, but it’s a bit late to start rechecking your numbers now, Isif. Time to see if that cross-training paid off.

Ackles. Ackles? Ackles! Remote access enabled. A fine lot of good it would do, running into some rescuers if they have to shoot the drives off this thing to stop me.

Anything else?

Not that I can think of. Just one last thing to do.

Node<-# lastchance exec.

The acceleration hits at the same time as the drugs, the pain of thrust on bruised bones mingling with the cold numbness of nepenthol. Nothing worth being aware for now – if anything breaks, I’m dead, and with nothing to fix. Or no-one’s searching in the right place and I’m about to turn into a one-woman expedition into the deep black. Either way, I’ll pass on the experience, especially as that’ll save battery and oxygen both.

– Good luck – , my muse whispers in the back of my mind.

I have just enough time to think that she needs it every bit as much as I do before –

Personality execution suspended.

 

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