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A Catastrophic Disruption - Part 2

After finally getting into the station James wasn’t sure what to make of it. There was far more structural damage than he had expected and multiple scorch marks all over the place. Furthermore, the station was in zero-g and full lockdown. The only reason he and Sam managed to get in was because the integrity had weakened enough to let them break open a few doors. Richard was locked inside one of the few still operational cryopods of the Life Support module. He looked like he’d been through hell. His suit was in shambles, multiple lacerations and punctures. It all looked like it was held by internal seals alone. At a glance James could identify several serious injuries. Punctured lung, broken leg and several broken ribs, judging by the suit damage. Still what made him pause was Richard’s right arm, scorched all the way to the elbow seals, his charred fingers still clenched around a small black object.

 

‘‘What the hell happened here Sam?’

‘I’m not sure…This, this is just insane.’

‘Any way we can get him out?’

‘I don’t think so’, Sam said with a sigh. ‘That cryo is the only thing keeping him alive. If we open it’, there was a pause in her voice. ‘He’d be dead in minutes…’

‘So, we need think of something else...’

 

A violent shudder shook the entire station and James had to grab onto an exposed girder to avoid being thrown away. He could feel the steel structure straining beneath his fingers as several large cracks appeared before his eyes. He looked over at Sam who likewise held on to a nearby wall and used thrusters to stabilize herself.

 

‘Jim, the entire place is about to fall apart. We need to get him out of here.’

‘I know, give me a second.’ James’ eyes turned to one of the still working monitors. ‘Integrity is failing. No way we can tow him with us.’ His eyes darted back and forth across the room. ‘Is there a chance we can cut him out?’

‘The cryo? I don’t know, maybe. But without power and life support it won’t work.’

‘There’s got to be something we can try’, James let go of the girder. ‘I’ll head to command and see if there’s something I can do about the lockdown. You go outside and see if there’s anything we can use.’

‘Alright just be careful! I have a bad feeling about this!’

‘You and me both, Sam. You and me both.’

 

Getting to command module proved to be a lot more difficult than James originally thought. The entire station was locked, but he couldn’t find any emergency protocols in effect. Override codes weren’t working, even the ones Richard set just two days ago. Too many things just don’t add up! Excessive structural damage, the bloody lockdown, what happened to the failsafes?, he was furious! Then as he passed through one of the shrapnel riddled corridors he noticed that the ceiling was in ruins. Panels looked blown off and most were either shattered or melted. Did the engine blast do this? The question stayed on his mind as he tried to clear the rubble that was barring access to the command module’s upper deck.

 

As expected, the place was a complete mess. Broken windows, fried consoles and shattered panels everywhere he looked. Most of the damage was caused by the outside explosion, but just like in the corridors there was damage along the walls and ceiling that made little or no sense. But the real issue was the central console that somehow still had power. A full system wipe?! What the hell Richard? He entered the mainframe room and a million questions sprang up in his mind.

 

‘‘Sam? Do you read?’

‘Kind of. Go ahead!’, her voice was almost lost in static.

‘Can you check the external RCS?’

‘Alright. What am I looking for?’

‘If I’m right. You’ll notice at once! Meet me inside when you’re done.’

 

It took 10 minutes for James to get back to the life support module. By now the place was full of dust that was getting in through the massive hull breach that had effectively split the module in half. When Sam arrived she didn’t even bother with the door and got in straight through the rupture.

 

‘How was it?’, James turned as she floated in.

‘You were right’. So I also checked the fuel lines. All gone.’

‘And there I hoped I would be wrong’, he said with a sigh.

‘I think I’m starting to get the picture.’

 

After James was done recounting what he had seen on his way to the mainframe, they both remained silent for a bit.

 

‘So you are saying that Richard deliberately wrecked the system?’

‘I think so.’

‘But why? What reason could he have for something like that? It makes little sense!’

‘I know, I know. On its own it doesn’t, but I think that core he’s holding is the key to everything.’

‘You know that sounds a bit crazy. Right?’

James waved his hand at Richard’s pod.‘For crying out loud Sam! He ripped the mainframe core out with his bare hands! Can you imagine a guy who never does anything without a reason do something like that?!’

‘Calm down James, I believe you!’, she floated over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. ‘I know what you saw. I just can’t wrap my mind around it.’

‘I’m sorry’, he lowered his voice and took her by the hand. ‘But I don’t have a better explanation. Something went wrong during ignition. He tried to stop the sequence, realized he couldn’t and did the only thing he could which was to...’

‘Physically take out the core’, Samantha finished for him. ‘That explains the lockdown, but it would have shut down the engine not blow it up?’

‘Remember his arm? The mainframe was torched from the inside out by an electric surge.’ James looked at her. ‘That’s how his arm got burned.’

‘But if that also ignited the fuel it would mean…’

James looked at her with a grim expression. ‘That every safety mechanism in this installation failed to activate...’

 

To any outsider his words wouldn’t sound that strange. After all systems can fail and accidents happen. But to any AltCorp engineer it just sounded wrong. They all knew how their equipment was built and how many different safeties and redundancies existed in each of their systems. He looked over at Samantha and the look on her face gave him all the confirmation he needed. They were thinking the same thing. Whatever happened here was deliberate!

 

After about a minute, Sam finally lifted her head and let go of his arm. ‘I think I have a plan Jim. One that will get all of us out of here’, her voice was calm and confident.

 

Had someone told a few days ago that he would be glad that he was not piloting Arges, he would have just laughed. Now, he was no longer sure. Steropes was at the core of Sam’s plan and the reason why James believed they could pull it off. It was also the only chance they had to get Richard out of this place in one piece. Unlike its big brother, Steropes’ had a flexible design. It was the ship built for easy field deployment and that meant its systems weren’t as hardwired or complex as the ones on Arges. Sure it didn’t have a fusion reactor, but it didn’t really need one. The amount of power its triple capacitor banks could store, enhanced by the added core containment units Sam salvaged, were more than enough. They just had to charge them! He looked over through the cockpit and noticed Sam’s flashlight closing from the dust cloud. Now to see if they actually fit!

 

Her plan was simple. With base’s systems compromised they couldn’t rely on any of them and since the place was doomed anyway they would just take any parts they needed and use them to make an interface to keep Richard’s cryopod working long enough for them to reach the nearest habitat. For that, they needed power and that’s why Sam spent the last 20 minutes dismantling the station’s solar array. James went out the airlock and began welding the panels in place. She waved at him and went back into the dust cloud to start working on life support.

 

Once the last panel was in place he started cutting through the hull. Steropes’ systems may have been “loosely” wired, but the ship wasn’t exactly designed for what they were doing. He still had to tear the hull open to expose the conduits that brought power to the RCS thrusters, then rewire the internal components to feed power back to the capacitor. After he was finished, the ship would have all the maneuverability of a brick. If anything was to go wrong... the thought crossed his mind as he was looking at the first set of cables and he hesitated.

 

He looked over his shoulder towards the asteroid. It was steadily losing mass for the past 2 hours and as a result kept accelerating, spinning faster and faster with each chunk of ice and rock that it flung into space. At this point they had to hold on to the surfaces to avoid being tossed around as their jetpack thrusters were starting to have trouble countering the rotation. He knew full well what was happening. The asteroid was getting dangerously close to the breaking point. Then his eyes caught a series of faint flashes coming from the shifting dust cloud that by now covered the entire station. Sam’s cutter, he smiled. She’s still down in that mess. He turned around and started cutting. At best they had two more hours, give or take, before everything went to hell.

 

‘I think that’s it Jim!’, Sam said as she welded the final part in place.

‘Alright, gimme a sec. This damn thing better be working…’

‘It will.’, her voice was tired and her breathing was heavy. ‘It has to!’

 

They’ve both spent the last hour and a half trying to get the backup life support that Sam cut out of the station jury-rigged onto the ship. Systems room that housed their capacitor banks, air tank, RCS control and warp drive was now a total mess. They had to rip out most wall panels and rewire everything. Everything, except the ship’s warp drive, since none of them dared touch it.

 

James crawled from under a pile of cables and looked at one of the crudely wired access panels lying next to him. He breathed a sigh of relief when it finally activated and displayed their makeshift life support unit as “online”.

 

‘It’s working Sam! It’s actually working!’

‘Finally!’, he heard her say. ‘Ok, once you get us close I’ll go pick him up!’

‘Roger, I’ll have us there in a sec!’

 

Back behind the controls, he swung the ship around and moved it closer to the surface. He was definitely missing those thrusters he had to dismantle. The ship felt heavy and sluggish and it took a lot more effort to maintain position, especially since the asteroids rotation was getting worse. The only good thing about their situation was that most of the dust was gone by now so he could clearly see the life support module, or what was left of it. He brought them as close as he could and did his best to keep the ship leveled with the surface while Sam linked Richard’s cryopod to the improvised towing cables. Once he saw her ok signal he began gently pulling away from the asteroid until they were far enough to stabilize. He left the ship to drift away from the asteroid and went outside to help her. As they struggled to get the cryopod into the ship, James looked behind them at the spinning asteroid. There were no rocks flying towards them any more, no ice chunks, no nothing. A calm before the storm, he thought. Whether or not the asteroid finally reached an equilibrium he couldn’t say, but he wasn’t planning to stay long enough to find out. He helped Sam get the chamber into the ship, even in zero-g it still felt heavy and since both the chamber and its occupant were in bad condition, they couldn’t risk hitting any of the walls. They set it down in the corridor, just outside of the system room and connected it to the makeshift life support unit. It wasn’t perfect but it was the best they could do. Now to get us out of here!

 

James set a course for Eridil. At best speed they could reach the habitat in 35-40 minutes, but first they had to wait until their capacitor was charged up. Lucky that Steropes has three separate capacitor banks, he thought. Had it been just one that first hit would have left us completely stranded. He increased forward thrust to make more distance between them and the asteroid. Just five more minutes…

 

‘How’s he doing Sam?’

‘I’m not sure.’, she sounded worried. ‘His vitals are really low. Even with the chamber it’s bad.’

‘We’ll be at habitat in 40 minutes! Let’s pray he can hold out that long!

 

Finally they were ready and James started the countdown. One more minute and we’re out of here! As the timer reached 15, his entire screen went white. He closed his eyes and when he opened them the asteroid and Post 6 were gone. All that was left was an expanding cloud of rubble and smoke. Not this time you don’t! This time they were far enough away so he slowly aligned the ship to the warp coordinates and activated the ship’s warp drive! He could not remember the last time he was this glad to see that bright blue glow envelop the ship. He started pressurizing the rooms and got out of his seat.

Posted by Zero Gravity team