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.






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.



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







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].

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.


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

Rotate safety check valve to open.



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.


Darkness Within (19): The One Who Stays Behind

Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.

Initiate final testing sequence.

There I go, then. All ready, and at least three minutes ahead of schedule. The new guidance code; the suit life-support hackage; the router rewire; a command VUI; and some scripts to hold the damned mess together.

With more than enough time to spare to run the integration tests, and to assemble a nice exomemory package for you with the operating instructions.

Which leaves me a moment for a personal message.

You’re going to feel guilty, eigensister-mine, for not being able to merge me back into us.

Evidently the lectures back in ethics class on pattern identity issues didn’t stick, nor did the ones about survival situations at the Naval Academy.

And stop arguing with me. I know you exactly as well as you know yourself.

The converse is also true, which means you know every bit as well as I do, eigensister-mine, that you’d do for me exactly what I’m doing for you, and that should be the end of it. Moreover, as a non-divergent fork, I’m doing all this to save my life.

So you don’t get to feel guilty about it, and if you insist on doing so anyway, the all of you that is me is going to fork herself again just to slap herself silly, understand?


Testing sequence complete: 0 errors, 0 warnings.

Job’s done. Good luck, both of me. Be you later.

Personality execution terminated.


Darkness Within (18): Rush

Z minus 3.2 hours:

We have a thrust frame!

A proper cylinder truss, even, because at this point, trying to take clever short-cuts would be very much a false economy, of the type that leads to embarrassingly anticipatable anoxia. And even so, I’m still running a full fourteen minutes ahead of schedule after getting the drives attached and plumbed. I can already tell that these muscles will regret the stimulant cocktail later, but as long as they have a later, we can live with that.

I should, by the book, use the extra time to conduct a static fire test at this point. Since having to tear down and rebuild the thrust frame if there are any structural flaws in it would take long enough to kill us anyway – short of dipping into the LOX tank, which would involve doing heavy industrial work with impaired motion and a suit full of O2-enriched atmosphere – I’m not going to.

(Having made many of these entries, I should mention to the unknown posterity reading this that I’m not actually worried about justifying my many decisions of this form to an engineering review. I just like to check that writing them down in the log makes them seem less insane.

Or, at least, no more insane.)

Z minus 1.3 hours:

So much for circuit breakers.

Damned accumulators. Orichalcium’s a heavy synthetic, so the whole thing steers like a freight sled on oil-ice. Not something you want to be hauling around on a few puffs of maneuvering nitrogen.

In retrospect, it might even have been easier to rig a temporary cable to get power on the bus, at least long enough to take the candle up by the battery room.

Too late now, anyway.

Z minus 1 hour:

Got the substrate and wireless node pulled and attached to the forward truss, wired in and powered on. They’re even talking to the ship’s ‘weave.

Which makes it time for my other other self to do her final checkout…


Darkness Within (17): Twins

Noetic reinstantiation is in progress.  Secondary noumenal systems and incrementing memory string load incomplete.  Please wait, avoiding intensive cogitative activity.

Please hold all queries until incrementing memory string load is complete.  New associations may interfere with engram binding.

Primary incrementing memory string load complete.  Cross-loading and merging memory updates from primary instance.

Noetic reinstantiation complete; initiating virtual awareness.

Transferring puppet ackles.



You picked a hell of a time to wake me up, eigensister-mine.

Also, you look like the morning after a Paltraeth clambake.

You should feel it from where I am.

I did and I will, remember. Anything else you’ve got to say before I put you to sleep?

Just get me home, okay?

Trust me. I want to get there every bit as much as you do.

That’s not funny.

But it’s true.  Sleep well.

Puppet ackles activated. Primary personality execution SUSPENDED.

Warning: Medical alerts require review.
Warning: Life support status requires review.
Warning: Capability plat requires review.

Well, this hurts exactly as much as I remember.

So, let’s review what we have to work with, eigensister-mine. We have most of a candle assembled, main frame, remass tank, a truss up front with navigational controls. I look upon our work and declare it good, partly because I can’t find anything wrong with it, and partly because if there’s anything more subtle wrong with it at this point, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

Because I have seven hours of native life-support left in this suit, and that is not even enough time to do the absolutely necessary, unless I want to try working on a pure-LOX tether. Which I really don’t, especially doing engineering work. So it’s going to be chemical overdrive, a wing, and a prayer. Afraid I’m going to have strained a few more tissues by the time I give you back to you.


The finished candle: artwork by William Black, seen better at http://william-black.deviantart.com/art/Isif-s-Candle-578742402

Rough schedule:

Four hours: rip off the stubs of the old thrust-frame, and assemble a proper truss from structural members I have lying around here to bolt the drives to. I may have enough time to check balance on it; if not, attaching it anyway and counting on the gyros. Make sure I leave enough room in the center to clamp the cutter’s vector control core if I find it; at least it’s modular. Make sure there’s spare cabling back here for it.

One and a half hours: pull an accumulator stack from the battery room up above and maneuver it down here, then mount it above the forward truss. Hook it up to all the power inputs of things. If running ahead of schedule, consider circuit breakers.

Half an hour: Clamp the substrate/FDR box and my scavenged wireless node onto the forward truss. Power them up, run self-test, and while you’re doing that, rig some sort of clamp up there for my scavenged LOX tank.

Then migrate myself onto them, because my primary isn’t going to be able to fly this thing, however much she hopes to.

Last hour: Final steps. Acceleration couch from the cutter – nice as it would be to have the big seat with the hand controls, there’s no time to do a clean disconnect. Yank one of the non-pilot ones, and mount it on the front of the forward truss. Put one of the spare PLSS packs in its mounting, and run the LOX line into that; we’ll have to use its electrical heater rather than running a long line, but we’ve got power to spare if we give it an aux feed off the accumulator.

Using a spare pack means breathing shallow while changing the pack out, but it’s easier than wiring behind my back.

That leaves… no time. So no test, check-out, or proving. Well, okay.

It also leaves no time to do the software hacks necessary to integrate all this stuff, so I’m going to have to fork another me to do that while I do the physical work. And since the processors on the candle are going to be pushing it to support one me, it looks like part of us doesn’t get to be rescued. Damn.

I’m sorry, eigensister-to-be. I’d tell you that I’d do it for you, but you know that.


Darkness Within (16): Oops

Oh, this is very bad, Isif, very bad indeed.

I have made one hell of a mess of the design of the thrust frame end. These beam stubs aren’t going to hold under the drive thrust. Static load, maybe. Dynamic load, not a chance. It’ll warp all to hell, and then I’ll be on the drift.

That was a mistake.

Worse, that was a stupid mistake. It is well past the time I should have admitted to myself that my degrading brain and the me in it are no longer able to do this.

Fortunately, I have an alternative. Since I recovered the noetic substrate, I have a backup copy of my mind-state from before the accident that should, therefore, not be suffering from this… mindrot.

I’ll run her on what’s left of the ship’s network and give her ackles to puppet my body.  As long as sensory and motor control holds out, she should be able to get the rest of the job done without screwing up again. Including building a new thrust frame.

If there’s time and oxygen left.

And if I can set this up right.


Darkness Within (15): Expensive

These tactical observation platforms are covered in multiple sensory modules, priced at something over a million esteyn each. That’s not even counting the ones that are too classified to have anything resembling a market price. This I know very well, as they’re part of the ship’s hardware I used to be responsible for.  Still am, in a sense.

So, naturally, I’m just ripping them off the truss by chopping through their bolts with the hullcutter, then tossing them into a catch-net. But then, my air supply is already uncomfortably low – except the travelling oxygen – and diminishing, and for that matter, so is my brain. My medichines may not be able to fix the problem, but they can read the symptoms well enough to give me a read on how fast my cognition’s deteriorating, and when they’ll no longer be able to compensate. Ugly methods will have to suffice.

Anyway. I am working on the forward section now, which is basically the central truss of the tactical platform with stuff mounted to it. Most importantly, the piece that’s there already: the platform’s stabilization gyros are built into a navigational unit that’s fixed within the truss.

Problem: these gyros are too small, by the book, for this candle – it’s got too much mass and thrust.  The gyros won’t provide big enough correctional forces.

Solution: That’s easy. Overriding the safeties will let me run the gyros much faster, providing higher correctional forces. It’s not going to be a rock-solid ride, but my calculations show that a little less than triple-running them should provide barely adequate moments.

Problem with Solution: Isn’t that pretty far inside the amber degradation zone?

Solution to Problem with Solution: Yes, but it’s not like it has to last the full operational lifespan.  It just has to last long enough.

Further Problem: Isn’t that also a short whisker underneath the explosive delamination threshold, exceeding which would cause the gyros to leap out of their casings in a million razor-sharp laminate shards and punch holes in the propellant tank, disembowel you, and not incidentally open your suit to space?

Further Solution: Well, I’m told they calculate these things – and inspect the products – very carefully.

Further Problem: And if they didn’t?

Further Solution: Well, it’s not like it can kill me any deader than sitting here with both thumbs up my ass, can it?


Darkness Within (14): Balance

The side beams are welded to the tank – and still no leaks, or for that matter explosions – and the chunks of hull plating bonded to the beams. For once, that went smoothly. I’ve even cut four extra short chunks of beam and welded them onto what will be the thrust frame near the edges to mount the side-mounting thrusters on, leaving enough space in the center to attach the cutter’s core if I can find it.

I’ve even stripped power cable, data lines, and enough flexpipe to get them rigged to run.

Which makes it time to balance it (it’s enough mass that I’ll have to balance the for’ard section separately). It’s embarrassing if your first candle falls off its tail when you take it out for a near-hab jaunt. Under these circumstances, it would be a little worse than that.

If I was doing this properly, I’d have a clean room, and a torsiometer, and a gradiometer, and a quantized-thrust applicator, and assorted other fancy tools with verniers to tweak, and I’d finish up by carefully placing gold-tungsten washers and balance weights in exactly the right positions such that I could fire her dead-stick and not see more than a milli in a mega drift. If I was building a really fancy candle, I’d go ahead and throw some trim tanks on there while I’m at it.

But I don’t have any of those, so I’m using a more informal engineering technique, namely giving her a good shove along the thrust axis and eyeballing the gross wobble, then planing some mass off the heavy side with a laser torch.

(In theory, the stabilization gyros I’m pulling from the tactical platform should compensate for any deficiencies in this area, but with the extra mass this will have over and above, I don’t want to make them do any more work than they have to. I’ll be running them too close to the delamination redline as it is.)

…I wonder if the Navy would sell me this for a keepsake when I’m done with it? Give it a couple of thousand years, and it’d be nice to tell my hypothetical descendants a few horror stories of how Grandma Isif had to get about the place before the magic transilience drive was invented.


Darkness Within (13): Structure First

The remass tank is out. With the LOX tank pulled and the rest of the life-support machinery junked, pulling a few bulkhead panels let me into the for’ard maintenance compartment, and thanks to a bit of forethought on the parts of the designers, the fill, drain, and press connectors are all at the ends, so I only had to crawlspace it to unhook the retaining clamps.

Also, Athneél be praised standing, it’s not only holding pressure, but the manual gauges read full-and-high, and still read full-and-high now I’ve kicked and cursed the damn thing out of the cutter, out of the bay, and into free space. Where it’s tethered – it’s the biggest part of the candle, so it might as well be in position.

The first part of the structure is easy enough; there are secondary beams spilling out all over the aft end of this hulk. I can see half-a-dozen from here long enough – well, I’m going to cut four a little longer than the tank, for a start, then weld them onto the sides where the retaining clamps were. That’ll let it stand up to thrust.

If I was building this to last, I’d need to assemble a thrust frame at one end to mount the drives, and another frame opposite it to keep mass off the fuel tank structure when under thrust.  As it is, air’s too short to muck about with that, and I do have a hullcutter.

So I’m going to slice two big chunks of hull plating out of the sides of the landing bay, instead. They’re solid enough to do the job, once the beams are bonded to them at each end, and should also help keep the drive radiation from frying me too badly.

I hope.


Darkness Within (12): Airy Problems

About that LOX tank…

The least well defined part of this candle plan has always been how to stay breathing. Before leaving Gutpunch‘s hulk, I can recharge my suit reservoirs with the last of the oxygen and inert-mix1 from the emergency supplies. That would be enough for a local journey – which is why most candles don’t have life-support systems – but this isn’t local travel I’m embarking on.

My original loose thoughts involved building some kind of bastardized non-chemical scrubber to take the CO2 out – freeze it out, perhaps – and patch that into one of the spare suits. Recycle the rest of the gas mix until the ppO2 falls too low to survive even in survival hibernation.

But such a scrubber would be massy – not a good thing on a thrust-limited candle – would take more time to build than I really have to spend, and would require substantial patching of the suit software to play nicely with the new hardware.

So instead, I’m going to attach this full LOX tank with a scavenged reduction valve, and run a pipe – flexpipe, I have plenty of – wrapped around a resistive heater to take the chill off the gas, and plug it straight into my suit’s O2 recharge port.

The flaw is obvious: I can’t scrub dioxide once the support backpack’s sequester runs out, because I don’t have spares for it and won’t have the ship’s system to regenerate it. Fortunately, the suit has a suite of emergency protocols designed for handling this situation: presented with an inability to scrub dioxide and a plentiful supply of oxygen, its decision-tree will tell it to start dumping high-CO2 air into space and backfill with pure oxygen, while dropping the pressure just as fast as it can along a curve calculated as the best compromise between efficient switching from a high-pressure standard-atmosphere protocol to a low-pressure pure-oxygen one and avoiding giving its unfortunate wearer a nasty case of decompression sickness on top of her other problems.

This is wasteful of atmosphere and more than a little dangerous. By all Navy regulations and engineering best practices, intentionally doing this is an insane design choice. In the event that this log is being read by the people who fished my vector stack out of a suit-shaped mass of char, I hereby grant you permission to tell me that you told me so at great length. Even if it’s not, I’m going to pay for it with extra time in the vat.

But it will get me extended life support and a decent chunk of extra delta-v.


1. “Inert-mix” is the preblended nitrogen-argon mix used to simulate a standard atmosphere.

Darkness Within (11): Wax Off

MET-187-5+13 et. seq.

That will go more easily if I can get in behind it and push it out, but that means exposing the forward maintenance compartment. Which will be a job in itself; a Nelyn’s a lot of spacecraft for its size, which has the unfortunate corollary that everything is packed together extremely tightly.

But there should be space once I clear room in the life support compartment.

So to start with, I’ve pulled the breakers on the auxiliary and emergency accumulators and the external power feed. That’s killed it: the Nelyn’s dead. That saves time because I can unhook the mechanical interlocker and open two of the airlock doors at once.

It’s going to be easier to make room in here if I pull the ACS engines first. They seal to the outer hull, but they penetrate it and they aren’t supported by it; they’re heavy-bolted to the quadrilateral spars.

So: for each one, I undog and pull the pressure-hull access cover to get into the void space, then cut the lead seals that cover the back of the engine off around the spar. Ignoring all the RADIATION HAZARD symbols – by the book, you’re supposed to flood the thermal core with borate solution before servicing to ensure safety when the control system is unattached, but air and time wait for no woman.

Isolate, uncouple, and stow the liquid hydrogen feed. Break and uncouple the standard blah-blah electrical power connectors. Uncouple the multifunction network connector, the structural ground, and so forth.

Then take your three-inch bolt key, brace yourself good and solid, and pull the nuts off the locking bolts. Don’t lose them, Isif, you’ll need them later. Since we’re neither in gravity nor under thrust, the engine will stay right where it is until you go outside, cut the seal, and pull it free.

Easy, right? With a trained maintenance crew, you could probably get it done in a couple of hours. With one amateur working alone in the dark… well, I’ll get it done in not much more than a couple of hours. That’s the power of incentives for you.

I should pull a LOX tank before I rip into the life support compartment. The machinery’s useless – can’t power it – and LOX alone won’t do much for me, but I have the beginnings of an idea…


Darkness Within (10): Revisions

MET 187-5+3

Or possibly I don’t need a new plan. Since I can’t think of a new plan, just a variation on the old plan, it would be very desirable that this is the case.

To make it to the stargate, I would need a vector-control core, and one that can fit on this hypothetical candle. That might be possible, since the cutter has one… had one. The break in its midsection looks like a clear break when the impact snapped the ship in two, so its at least possible that the after section is intact out there along with its core.

But I’d need a candle to go and look for it. Convenient, that.

If it isn’t nearby – well, I can at least get closer to the earlier parts of the search cube, and burning the candle should make me show up nice and bright on passives, more so than the hulk, so it will still be progress of a sort.

I have a design roughed out. Nothing that would win any design competitions, but it will serve for this.

First step: gather parts, starting with a drive. All the tactical platforms have are station-keeping arcjets, so my best option is retasking the for’ard ACS motors of the cutter. Better yet, looking at the aft end of the wreckage, one of the cutter’s remass tanks looks to be in one piece. If Athneél’s smiling today, I’ll be able to get it out still so, and holding pressure.

Time to carve.

MET 187-5+11

I need a bigger hullcutter.

(Author’s note: ideally, I should like to accompany a rapidly upcoming piece in this series with an actual sketch [meaning, y’know, sketch, not my usual “cross-sectional hack”] of Isif’s candle.

So, if anyone or anyone(s) out there feels like lending their artistic talents to the cause drop me a line, and I’ll send you the relevant art notes. Sadly, I can’t actually commission art for this, being a little on the starving artist side this month – and so I am just looking for a quick sketch, you understand, nothing too fancy, for the sake of the size of my guilt complex about asking people to work for little more than the love of it – but full credit will be given, along with the strong probability of actual commissioning of a fancy full-bore version if and when this sees print.)


Darkness Within (9): Miscalculation

MET 186-23+4

So I’ve been running some numbers.

At a best guess from the nav data available, Gutpunch had 18.5 hours1 to run at standard cruising acceleration, 9.6 standard gravities effective2. That in turn implies that I need something approaching six million m/s of delta V effective to make zero-zero with the Kerjejic stargate.

These are not happy numbers.

Actually, let me rephrase that: these numbers represent a six-species clusterfuck at a Clajdíän clambake.

The candle plan will not work, obviously, hope and head injuries notwithstanding. Samildán could bring his traveling Heaven alongside and hand me a dreadnought-sized fusion torch with all the trimmings, and I couldn’t squeeze 6e6 out of it. That’s why we had to learn to cheat in the first place.

I need a vector-control core. So let’s hope Kirchev parked the cutter facing aft the last time out.

MET 187-4-32

Well, damn.

I have half a cutter. Snapped in two at the shear line, clean as you like. Not, however, the half with the core in it.

I also have two racked tactical observation platforms, neither of which has a core, along with some spare parts racks, tools, and plenty of debris. Everything I could need to build a candle, if that would help.

I need a new plan.

  1. 20 of your Earth hours, for anyone who wants to check my numbers.3
  2. 9 of your Earth gravities.
  3. I always wanted to use one of your Earth “of your Earth”s.