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.

 

Darkness Within (25): Helpers

(And now, we continue.)

The bytescanner sings in my ears, a song of disconnected network segments, lost packets, and failed rerouting attempts, interrupted by the few remaining segments of the ship’s mesh still on-line in the hulk of the aft section. Few were major nodes, most were isolated, and none of them, dammit, recognized my command-succession captainly ackles, which meant chewing through engineering diagnostic override codes at a snail’s pace.

Attitude control system command sequencer.

Life support auxiliary circuit B partial pressure intermix regulator.

Low power bus secondary transfer point, aft section.

Engineering light panel controller, main bus A.

Low-temp thermal control circuit C emergency pressure relief to space isolation valve.

Robot hotel –

Robot hotel!

A flurry of mental commands mapped a pathway of circuits that might be intact enough to carry current at least for a little while, and crammed amperage from the remaining aft accumulators into the hotel’s circuitry. With one thought, I commanded the space door of the hotel to open, and with another ran a quick inventory. Drones! Two perfect, lovely, beautiful, Sparks-class starship maintenance drones, polished octahedra with arcjets on their tips and a quartet of modular arms spaced around the multifunction toolbelts at their waists. Drones that, most importantly, still had power and were responsive to commands. It was the matter of a moment to unslave them from the unresponsive damage-control systems and merge minds…

…and the matter of some minutes for them to finish cutting their way out through the warped space door. But before long, my helpful assistants were hanging in space before me, a little battered-looking in the light from my helmet – one had even lost an arm entirely – but still entirely functional. Certainly enough so to save me from having to wield a hullcutter in an oxygen-soaked suit.

“Okay, boys,” I said to them. “Tear down that bulkhead, if you please.”

 

Darkness Within (24): Cutter

I frown at the vibration – almost a mechanical scream – of the reaction gyros against my back, then dismiss the thought. For certain, they are out of balance: holding this much mass on true means overdriving them, even if they haven’t been damaged by the collision. Nothing can be done; nothing to be done. As long as they hold long enough.

The vibration dies away as the candle completed its flip.

Oh.

Well.

This doesn’t look good.

The module in the Nelyn when the impact occurred – well, it should have been a standard passenger/small freight loadout, but there’s no telling that now. Either – both – of the original impact or being dragged out of the bay has hammered it almost flat along most of its length. I can see the forward bulkhead of the engineering compartment for most of its height, torn away at its upper edge. A tangle of torn cables spill like water-serpents out of the broken-off upper conduit, and I hope the breakers have all opened cleanly. Erosion marks on the hull shows where pressurized tanks had broken open and vented to space.

A background clicking calls my attention to my suit’s rad-counter. In the green-caution [1] – significantly elevated over background, or what I’ve told it is the new background after accounting for the rads I’m riding. I squint at the forward ACS – enough to see a split in the case, and some reflections that might be spilled fuel pebbles. Low activity, scattered like that, but still best not to linger.

I flip open my local-space antenna, hook in, and start the bytescanner running. Dírasán’s staff, there has to be at least one functional node in this wreck. It’s no place to go poking around with a suit oxy-soaked and a body oxy-high…


[1] Green-caution, in this case, is that part on an Imperial gauge between blue-go and yellow-warning.

Darkness Within (23): Ping

ping ping ping ping ping

Grid minus two, plus eleven. Negative ping response.

This is taking too long. It’s been almost two of my three hours. And so far…

ping ping ping ping ping

Grid minus one, plus eleven. Negative ping response.

…no sign of the cutter. Just some small scraps, nothing big enough by half. Now…

ping ping ping PING ping

Grid zero, plus eleven. Positive ping response. Profiling.

…maybe? Ah, crap. It’s clean, but it’s tiny. Can’t be any more than a toolbox.

ping ping ping ping ping

Grid plus one, plus eleven. Negative ping response.

So be it. Five minutes. Then I make for the aft…

ping ping ping ping ping

Grid plus two, plus eleven. Negative ping response.

…section. No delays, Isif. No more scanning. Just make the run you can.

ping PING PING PING ping

Grid plus three, plus eleven, positive ping response and — void gods’ imperceptible excrement! Thirty by eight, cylindrical profile! That’s the damn cutter!

navmod<- !gyrospin exec (spotter::current)

I’m coming for you.

 

Darkness Within (22): Coming Back

FROM: CS GRITFIST (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD)
TO: 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 PROCEEDED WITH COHORT, CS GOUGER, TO LAST KNOWN POSITION CS GUTPUNCH, MALTEVIC SYSTEM.
  2. NO TRACES OF CS GUTPUNCH OR RECENT SIGNS OF COMBAT APPARENT OR RECORDED IN SYSTEM LONGSCAN BUOYS. TRANSPONDER LOGS CONFIRM OUTBOUND GATING TO NARIJIC SYSTEM IN ACCORDANCE WITH PATROL ROUTING.
  3. RESPONSE TO FORWARDED QUERIES TO SYSTEM ENTRY BUOYS IN NARIJIC AND KERJEJIC SYSTEMS INCLUDES NO HIGH-ENERGY EVENTS.
  4. CS GOUGER WILL PROCEED FORTHWITH TO NARIJIC SYSTEM AND COMMENCE SEARCH GRID SWEEP.
  5. SELF WILL PROCEED FORTHWITH TO KERJEJIC SYSTEM AND COMMENCE SEARCH GRID SWEEP.
  6. MORE FOLLOWS.
  7. AUTHENTICATION MORAINE HAMMOCK VAULT SIMMER GOLDEN PAWL / 0x9981ABD43E3ECC22

ENDS.

 

Darkness Within (21): On the Drift

Z plus four seconds

Mind-state transmission received: 3.301229 exp 16 octets validated.
Identity confirmed: Isif Alclair-ith-Alclair [UCID and mindprint match].
Reinstantiating…

Dynamic mind-state analysis confirms mental integrity.
Cannot contact Am-I-Me service [no endpoint].
Cannot contact Identity Tribunal (proxy) [no endpoint].
Cannot contact incarnation insurance provider (proxy) [no endpoint].
Identity assumed pending verification under emergency protocol.

Noetic reinstantion complete; initiating corporal teleoperation.

That’s it, then. All is ready. Time to go. I enable full connection with the router, and the candle’s controls blossom in my mind’s eye.

One last glance around. The lights in the bay are dimming to as my script runs the shutdown-safe sequence, leaving nothing but the emergency protonic inserts. The remaining nodes on the ship’s mesh execute orderly terminations and wink out, one by one. The spacetight doors remain shut, but I’m heading out the fractured end – most of the floating debris was cleared in my rebuilding efforts.

I think again of the scuttling charges, but there are no secrets to protect in this fragment of a ship, except those I’m taking with me.

I feed a trickle of hydrogen to my thrusters, start myself gliding forward at safe-in-dock speed.

Farewell, Gutpunch! Thank you for my life.

Z plus three minutes

Here’s the plan.

I have approximately 48 hours of breath remaining, if I stay calm and breathe shallow. That’s more than I need to get near enough to the stargate to be rescued, but not by all that much. If I can find that vector-control core from the cutter. If I can’t, I have to work with the native delta-v I have, and it will be even more important to set off early because I’ll barely be able to get inside the search cube.

So I’m giving myself three hours from now. Pointing the spotter backwards tells me I’m now a good mile clear of the hulk. The way the hull fractured tells me that Gutpunch was struck from ventral, portside, and for’ard and recalling the camera images from first waking and doing some crude plots on the after-section debris, it seems to have drifted mostly aft-relative – probably venting tanks added some thrust in that direction – with relatively small starboard and dorsal components. It also looks to have developed a Y-spin. (I’m keeping the hulk’s orientation as an inertial reference, for now.)

With the auxiliary battery room up front, if the reactors scrammed – and the reactors must have scrammed – and the aft section spinning like that, it’s very unlikely the aft half of the cutter could have stayed in the hangar. The tie-downs would have almost certainly snapped.

So assume that. Assume it got flung out, and flung out at the moment of greatest stress. That would be on the first spin when there was also thrust to take into account, which should put the cutter somewhere relatively close to the aft section, but further starboard-dorsal relative to the hulk.

I should be able to find the aft section easily enough with the spotter; it’ll be the biggest object within its range. Then all I have to do is scan the space near it along the right sector for something with the right proportions to be cutter-hull, and that should have my core in it.

If it doesn’t – well, it’s the highest-probability option. If nothing shows after two hours, I’ll continue scanning on the way to the aft section, just in case the tie-downs held. If that doesn’t pan out, I abort to plan B. Not enough time to check any other options.

And I’ll get to it.

 

Darkness Within (20): The One Who Leaves

Z minus four minutes:

Damn it.

Well, I’ll try, sister. I’ll try hard.

Last parts are mounted, the couch from the cutter – right through the forward viewport – and the spare PLSS pack. Software tests clean. The script is ready to shut me down on Gutpunch‘s servers and reboot me on the substrate’s temp space when I give the word. The gyros are spinning up to threshold. It should be time to hit the black.

What have I forgotten?

What have I forgotten? I know –

Shit and ash, I almost forgot a spotter!

Z minus one minute:

Lucky there was one in the DC locker. Anyway. Air’s very tight, so cut her free and make the life support switch first. Aft tether, aft tether, fore tether, fore tether. Good, floating free. Now —

Enter unlock code into the PLSS.

PLSS<-Safety instruction one-four-eleven-niner-six-two. Lock motion enable.

Hyperventilate. One deep breath. Two deep breaths. Three deep breaths, and hold it.

Rotate safety check valve to closed.

Unfasten security turnbuckles, left and right.

Depress eject switch. PLSS will float free and alarm will sound, much appreciated, yes, I know, shut up!

Have assistant place replacement PLSS in position – or, in this case, back up, press shoulder-blades against the interface panel that’s part of the acceleration couch and wait for connectors and latches to engage —

— to engage —

Move forward, move back, and try it again.

Still nothing.

Oh, hell. No panicking, now, Isif, work the problem. Pull free and check the connectors.

Feed line, looks clear. Return line, looks clear. Data connector – shit, that pin’s bent. Tools — no time. Will a finger fit? No. The taste of carbonic acid on my tongue. Unclip — the tiedown rings. Okay. The end of the spotter will fit. Find the leverage. Looks eyeball-straight now. Good enough? Have to be.

Rotate back. Press against the panel again.

Thunk.

Gods, that was too close. Connectors show blue. Fasten security turnbuckles.

Rotate safety check valve to open.

Exhale.

Inhale.

PLSS<-Safety instruction eleven-one-three-eight-seven-four. Lock motion disable.

They’re right. Sometimes canned air can be worth tasting. One breath, self, that’s all the reflection you have time for. Bring your mind over here.

candle_router<-!transferflag exec

Packing for mindcast commencing. Personality execution terminated.