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USD: ~Five weeks after awakening

Location: Unknown Yellow Dwarf, L4 Lagrange Point


 

The occasional light ping or scraping of debris impacting the hull vibrated through the Gunship. Alex had long put it out of her mind as she focused on stripping the vessel. She'd put Beeper and Booper to tag-teaming pallets back to the Shrike's primary storage while she worked on disconnecting things.

Displays, wiring harnesses, and accessway door panels were prime targets. She'd made her way to the ship's Engineering and flipped the disconnects on all the storage tanks. The ones that hadn't been ruptured, at least. The Gunship's tanks were smaller and not self-sealing. Instead, it had several arrays of smaller redundant tanks.

Something like that was something she should have expected on the smaller vessel. It was cheaper and less sophisticated, but as she saw, it worked well enough that at least half of the containers were still pressurized and sealed.

However, cutting them out and moving them over to the Shrike would be an ordeal to deal with later. Instead, she double-checked that they had been disconnected from the system, purged the flow lines, then started cutting the plumbing out and adding it to the cargo bots' loads.

The Shrike's guts had been in bad shape, and by repurposing the Gunship's internals, she would save time manufacturing new ones.

The spare reactor rods weren't forgotten either. After the first load was ready for the bots, she carried them back to the Shrike's engineering herself. Unlike the Gunship, the reactor rod storage on the corvette was destroyed. That made the choice to load the rods directly into the reactor simple.

 

||| FUEL RODS NOMINAL |||

||| R1: 52.5 | R2: 98.5 | R3: 98.5 |||

|PRIORTIZE NEWER RODS? Y/N|

|N|

|STANDARD LOAD BALANCE? Y/N|

|Y|

||CONFIGURATION CONFIRMED||

||REACTOR OPERATION: 100%||

||CURRENT LOAD: 12%||

||CURRENT AMBIENT DRAIN IS: HIGH||

||RUN DIAGNOSTICS? Y/N||

|N|

 

[Notice: Avatar utilization of manual reactor controls is highly inefficient.]

"Shut it. It's not like you could plug the damn things in, and I might as well make sure things are running."

[Warning: Possible user error detected; Load Balance settings will result in premature exhaustion of R1, resulting in less maximum power available at that time.]

"Maybe that's the idea, big brains. Did you forget about the rod inside the gunship reactor? We'll have another low power rod when I go shut it off and we'll plug it in the R1 slot when the current one dies."

[Concurrence: Probability estimates confirm this plan has a high chance of extending remaining maximum power duration.]

[Notice: Estimated rate of repair, with calculated reactor time remaining shows ship maneuverability will be restored before reactor failure.]

Alex frowned. She hadn't even started work on the thrusters. The Shrike's odd design meant there were 32 variable thrusters with a total of 128 ports dedicated to maneuvering. It was a bit excessive, but from what she understood, the main drive could also divert thrust to the maneuvering ports, allowing the starship full atmospheric flight and hovering.

Anything larger than the Shrike was inevitably bound to stay in space, so the engineering involved in those thrusters had to be… extreme, and Alex doubted she'd be able to fix it enough to be landing anywhere anytime soon. But… hopefully, she'd be able to connect enough thrusters to propellant and energy flow lines to restore some basic navigation. It wouldn't take a lot to nudge them out of the way of the debris storms. Then she could swoop in and salvage at her leisure. The sensors had detected dozens of energy signatures, and some of those would contain more fuel rods, and all of them would have usable resources.

Hell, the fabricator was fully capable of producing photovoltaic panels, so even if the reactor fuel ran low eventually, a month or two of stringing out a few kilometers of panels would likely be enough to power the ship, at least if it wasn't located in a debris cloud.

"Beep-Beep-Booooop-Beep!"

"What?"

"Beeep! Beeeep!"

"Can I get a translation?"

[Notice: Visual Indications and Drone 'Beeper' telemetry indicates Drone #3132 has become lodged in an airlock. Manual Intervention required.]

Alex rolled her eyes, before heading back to the drone.

"I'll be there in a minute Beeper, just sit tight."

"Beep! Beep-Beeeeep!"

"I said wait!"

Alex checked her suit's energy and propellant levels, saw they were still green, and exited via the massive breach still in Engineering. She had barely even begun to reinforce and repair it, despite it being near the heart of the ship. Part of that was because the gash had become so convenient to get in and out of the Shrike if she wasn't in the workshop/cargo area.

It certainly saved her several minutes in rushing back to Beeper.

Alex passed Booper on the way to the Gunship and gave it an order to finish delivering the pallet it had grabbed, then wait for further orders. She didn't need another trapped robot to rescue. It gave her a confirmation Boop, but she focused more on weaving herself through the hull breach and vectoring to the entry point nearest Beeper.

That turned out to be the airlock she had cut out, and she had to slow down not to snag herself on any jagged edges.

As she came around a corner near the ship's central bulkhead, the cargo bot came into view, and Alex immediately began to reconsider her choice to send Booper on and deal with the accident herself. The cause of the commotion was readily apparent; the wall had buckled inward, liquid and vapor spewing into the corridor before temporarily turning into ice and then sublimating into gas. It floated and swirled in the air as the A-Grav had cut off at some point. That added the complication of micro-gravity navigation as well.

"Beeeeeeeeeep!"

"I see it!"

She was at a slight loss as to what to do. The inner wall's thin sheet metal had curled outward from the pressure, clamping down on one edge of the bot like a vise, pinning its arm against the bulkhead. The bot was flailing about trying to free itself, but it wasn't having any luck.

Hadn't she closed all the storage tank valves when she had started stripping the piping? The tanks were all located near the aft, so where was all the vapor coming from?

Prying the wall off with a crowbar of some kind might have worked, but the best option was probably using her laser cutter to slice into and remove a section of the sheet metal around the arm. That wasn't going to be safe or easy while the tank was still spewing into the corridor. She assumed it was water or some type of coolant.

"Just wait a minute for the tank to empty, and then I'll come cut you loose!"

"Beeep!"

[Warning: Structural Analysis reveals multiple tanks in semi-compromised states. Further investigation reveals escaping content to be LN2. In the event of further damage to tanks, a loss of containment could result in a gas expansion explosion.]

[Recommendation: Abandon compromised cargo drone; Evacuate ship and return to Shrike immediately.]

Why were there multiple tanks of liquid nitrogen in the middle of the ship? Alex shook her head in frustration; Why didn't matter right then.

Nameless suggested retreating, and she agreed that it was the sensible thing to do in the situation. Depending on the size and amount of LN2 stored in the tanks, a fast enough release of the liquid would possibly expand into gas with enough force to rupture the inner hull like an overfilled balloon.

If the tanks didn't simply blow out of the ships like missiles. She just didn't have a clear idea of what she was dealing with to estimate which scenario was likely, but either was bad enough to vacate the area.

So why was the thought of abandoning Beeper and moving to safety suddenly so impossible?

The gas spewing out of the wall didn't abate, and visibility died in a few seconds as the gas cloud filled the corridor.

"Shit! Beeper, hold still, I'm coming!"

"Beeeeeep!"

Alex held her hand in front of her as she pushed through the corridor slowly, completely unable to see anything a hand's width ahead of her. The magnetic clamps on her feet turned her sprint into a hurried comical waddle forward.

Suddenly her vision changed, a small indicator in the corner reading "IR" the color flying through the rainbow as it flipped to different wavelengths. Then it changed to RADAR which was a useless cloud of gray, before settling on ACOUCRI, an acronym she didn't even try to decipher.

It resulted in her being able to see again, but everything looked like it was on a cel-shaded raised relief map, colors ranging from the white walls to the colorful rendition of Beeper in orange. The hissing gas escaping through the wall was painted in red.

It was extremely helpful as she did her best to hurry toward the robot, but the problem she had with it was that it wasn't a function of her EVA helmet. Before she could demand what was going on, Nameless chimed in.

[Notice: Visual Enhancement in effect, co-relating known physical geometry, self-generated schematics, and acoustic co-locators and simulating them into Avatar visual cortex.]

She translated that to: 'Turning Sonar into vision while transmitting things directly into your brain without permission.'

"Beeper, don't move!"

The bot was obviously distressed, but it settled down on her command this time as she closed the distance, which was fortunate because passing through the streaming gas wasn't pleasant. Despite the insulation the skinsuit provided, she could feel the cold, and she was sure she was going to look like a frosted-over icicle when they got back to the Shrike.

She pulled her laser cutter off her chest, took her best guess aim, and pulled the trigger. It clicked without any result.

"Fuck!"

She pulled the power cord off the pack on her front and plugged it into the back of the laser cutter head, then tried again. She didn't have any visual indication of it working, but she could feel the hum of the tool in her hand, so she knew it was doing something.

'Don't worry, no one ever gave warnings about laser cutting with your eyes closed… probably because they figured no one was stupid enough to try.'

She worked the head over her intended cut slowly, hoping she didn't break the cut somewhere. If it didn't work, her only other option was to cut off Beeper's arm, and that would…

Suddenly a small panel of metal slammed into her front, and the laser head cut off as it flew out of her hand. She yelped in surprise as she fell backward, but a sudden metal hand grabbed her by the arm, and then she was being dragged down the corridor in an explosive hurry.

“Brrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeep!”

Beeper was now pulling her out, his small thruster flaring as he launched them toward the airlock. That was a good thing because she suddenly heard the screeching of steel, and the indicator on her suit was reading pressure, both of which were things that shouldn't have been happening in a vacuum.


 

She had changed out into a new skinsuit, replaced her flight pack with one that hadn't been subjected to cryogenic temperatures. She'd also had a hot shower and generated plenty of work for the recyclers just soaking in the flowing water. That was probably a bit wasteful, but it did make her feel better, despite the multiple prickles by Nameless for 'Irrational waste of time.'

"Ok, Beeper. Let's see why the fuck they had multiple Class-A tanks full of LN2 in the middle of the ship."

It had taken several hours for the cloud to dissipate, but the limitless vacuum of space had managed to suck out all the gas. That was good because she really didn't want to experience the headache that had followed her brief dive into computer-generated acoustic imagery.

The ship had survived the depressurization of the cryogenic tanks, but the corridor Beeper had been stuck in had not, the wall having peeled out violently, crushing and sealing the bulkhead completely while carving gashes into the floor and ceiling.

The resulting hole was large enough for her and the cargo bot to float through.

"Not sure why the ship has a bunch of tanks inside the Inner Hull like this. Nameless, can't you download the ship schematic or something?"

[Notice: Hound gunship Schematics are being rebuilt using real-time data acquisition. No complete stored schematic was found. Recommend full ship traversal for accurate database entry.]

"Right."

A steel-framed catwalk was slightly ajar but still attached to the tanks. More importantly, it led to a lit-up door.

"I guess there is only one way to find out, eh?"

It didn't open as she reached it, and she didn't want to bother trying to fiddle with the controls, so she moved out of the way and gestured for Beeper to work on it.

The floating orb with arms complied happily, moving forward and then punching its hydraulic-powered fingers into the soft-skinned non-bulkhead door. Then Beeper pulled the door apart. The thin metal yielded without much protest, and then Beeper moved into the gap and shoved the panels the rest of the way into the wall.

It was almost like the ship had an inner hull inside the inner hull, and the inside of the room was pristine and undamaged. Whatever had punched through to rupture the Cryogenic tanks had completely missed it. Large laminate tanks bubbled with some type of dark liquid inside of them.

Alex walked halfway down the hall, Beeper following close behind. She wasn't sure what the tanks held and was determined to reach the next room to see if there were more answers there when Nameless interrupted.

[Alert! Warning: A major piece of debris has been detected on a collision course—88% chance of impact with gunship. Resulting collision will likely result in dislodgement of gunship from Shrike hull. ETA: 28:09]

"Fuck. Well, time to pack it up. We should pull the reactor rod on the way out, Beeper."

"Brooop."

"Don't be like that."

"Beep."

As she started to turn around, the liquid in the tank beside her cleared momentarily, and Alex froze before putting her hands on the glass and leaning forward, staring with horror in her eyes.

The sleeping face of a red-haired woman with a rebreather mask on disappeared into darkening blue.

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Erios909

  • West Virginia, USA
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Bio: Still alive, yes.

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