Google+ The Bluestocking Firefly: September 2011
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Flashbacks III

It's Taz's turn this time.

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The summer sun beat down on Meridani, making metal burn to the touch and drying sweat as soon as it formed on the skin. A momentary breeze swept across the road, tossing up dust in the faces of the team of horses toiling up the incline. The driver glanced down at the uniformed man walking beside the team, his lips pinching together.

"I can't take them much further," he said. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Not hauling that."

The man squinted up at him, shading his eyes with his hand. "How much farther is it to this mechanic of yours?"

"Not far," the driver said, pointing with his chin. "Just over the rise."

"Can they take it that far?"

The driver settled back in his seat. "You gonna pay me if the horses drop dead?"

The man shrugged, stepping over a pothole. "Suppose so."

The team continued its laborious way up the incline, pulling behind it a space-to-dirt hopper pod on rollers. The man walked beside it, his military jacket slung over his shoulder and his shirt soaked through with sweat.

The farm, when they reached it, did not inspire the man with confidence. The house was a small, ramshackle building clearly patched with whatever materials had come to hand. Smoke curled out of a chimney that appeared to have been made out of conduit pipe. Instead of animal-related paraphernalia, bits and pieces of dismantled equipment lay scattered about the yard; through the barn doors the sound of a drill could be heard.

"There you go," the driver said, releasing the clamps and letting the hopper slide from the rollers onto the cracked dirt. "Best mechanic in town. Good luck."

The man watched as his ride disappeared down the road at a considerably faster pace than he'd arrived and then turned his attention to the barn. Shifting his jacket to the other shoulder, he ventured through the doors and spotted a pair of well-worn boots poking out from beneath a battered skimmer. He nudged one of the boots with his own. The sound of the drill stopped.

"Theodore Dekker?" he called.

The boots shifted and then shot out from under the skimmer, followed by a long, gangly body topped by a surprisingly young face and mussed hair. "Everybody calls me Taz," the boy said, rubbing grease-smudged hands on his trousers. His eyes took in the man's uniform and the jacket over his shoulder. "Who're you?"

"Lieutenant Seamus Brenner," he said. Sweat dripped from his chin.

"You're Commission," Taz said. His voice was neutral. "What's a Commie doing all the way out here?"

"My hopper cut out on me just past town and while I can do patchwork repairs I've got a long flight ahead of me. I don't want her cutting out again mid-flight." Brenner looked Taz up and down, frowning slightly. "I was told you're the best mechanic around."

"Yeah," Taz said. "Got a problem with that?"

"How old are you, son?"

Taz hunched his shoulders and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Does it matter if I can sort out your flight problem?"

"I suppose not."

"Then let's see this bird of yours."

Taz followed Brenner out of the barn and whistled when he saw the hopper, hulking on the rise of the road. "She always look like that?" he asked, circling around the crumbled front end.

"I had to crash her when the engines cut out. Can you fix her?"

Taz dropped to the ground and peered up under the engine casings. "What is she, a Gen. II double-barrel engine?"

Brenner's eyebrows rose. "You know much about Commissioner equipment?"

Taz shot him a withering look. "I'm a mechanic. I take them apart and put them back together again. Yeah. I know a lot about ships and equipment, Commissioner and otherwise." Pulling a rag out of his pocket, he wrapped it around his hand to protect it from the hot metal and flipped open the engine mounts. After a few minutes, he pushed himself out and back up to his feet. "I should be able to fix her," he said, dusting off his trousers. "At least, she'll fly and keep flying. You'll want to take her in for a proper servicing once you're back with your fleet though, somewhere that has the regular parts you need." He scratched his head. "I'll have to cobble something together for you." Seeing Brenner's look of consternation, he added, "I know what I'm doing, Lieutenant. Don't worry about it. As for the rest of her..." He walked back around to the hopper's bow and crouched to examine the damage.

"Once I'm out of the atmosphere it won't be an issue, but that kind of damage is going to cause serious problems in the air," Brenner said. "And I've got to get off-dirt here and I've got to get back dirtside on Idylla."

"I can fix her," Taz said. "But it'll cost you." He looked up at Brenner. "I've got most of the stuff in the barn to fix the engines, but to fix the hull I'll pretty much need to strip her down and rebuild her. I don't have the materials to do that." His mouth twisted, and he said, slowly, "It'll take a few days. If you don't want to wait, you'd be better off getting the ground transport from town to Neradi. There's a twice-daily transport there to the spaceport from city central."

"I'll wait," Brenner said. "There's more forms to fill out if I leave her than if I wait and have her repaired."

"Right then. We'll have to go into town to pick up the metal." He bit his lip, and for the first time since he'd appeared from under the skinner, he looked anxious and very, very young. Brenner watched him silently, curious.

"Just how much is this going to cost me?" Brenner asked.

Taz stood up. "No more than it should, Lieutenant," he said. "You don't trust me, okay. Go someplace else. But ask anyone - I'm the best there is. And I don't do it for me. It's my ma I'm doing it for. And - "

"Easy, son. No need to fire up. I don't know you, remember?" Brenner glanced around. "You got an easy way into town?"


Easy was a relative term, Brenner thought as the wagon jolted over another rut in the road. He glanced sideways at Taz, who was driving the pair of horses; both looked to Brenner as though they ought to be taken out into a field and shot in the name of mercy.

"So it's just you and your mother, then?" he asked.

Taz shrugged. "Dad's long gone."

"No siblings?"

The boy stared straight ahead, his mouth set. "Guess not," he said at last.

"Your mother must be very fond of you."

"Guess so. You got any family, Lieutenant?"

"Two kids," he said, the corner of his mouth turning up. "Annieka and Camryn. Younger than you. They make it all worthwhile." A fleeting look of pain passed over his face. "Whether they know it or not."

Taz glanced sideways at Brenner as he turned the horses into a scrapyard on the edge of town. "This is it," he said, sliding down from the seat and tying the reins around a post. "Yo, Midge! Customer!"

A heavy-set man with a tattooed neck appeared from between the piles of junk. His eyes narrowed when he saw them and he spat in the dirt at Taz's feet. "You still owe me for those cables, Taz," he said.

"I told you," Taz said. "Not my fault if Ryan didn't pay up. Send the hounds after him and leave me alone."

Midge growled something under his breath and looked at Brenner. "What'll it be?"


They were just strapping the last sheet of metal onto the back of the wagon when a cacophony of shrieks and hollers broke out down the street. Taz's head came up as Brenner completed his knot and turned around.

"What the hell is that?" Brenner asked.

"Gang," Taz said. "West Street Scraps."

A beat-up Geo skimmer rattled down the street, so battered and abused that it was by the sheer will of God that it continued to skim at all. Six young men were crammed into it, their arms and heads hanging out the sides; several more young men trotted alongside, banging on the dented metal sides with their pistols. Halfway along the street one of the men started singing and was joined by his mates, only for silence to fall without warning when they spotted Taz.

Taz flattened himself against the wagon as the skimmer started by. His wide eyes met those of the gang leader, who mimed shooting the boy and then nudged the man to his right. A buzz disturbed the air, followed by a sharp crack, and then Taz spun against the wagon, clutching his left shoulder. The gang leader blew him a kiss and then shouted. The skimmer whirred and, leaking oil and expletives, disappeared down the street.

Brenner bolted towards Taz, palming his pistol. "What the hell was that?" he demanded. Then, seeing the blood streaming between Taz's fingers, he said, "They shot you. They
shot you?"

Grunting, Taz sank down to the ground, stretching his legs out in front of him. "Yeah."

Brenner pulled off his shirt and wadded it up. He started to pull Taz's hand away and stopped. "You're bleeding pink."

Taz let his head fall back against the wagon and laughed. "Yeah. They've tagged me." He flinched as Brenner pressed his shirt against the wound. "Means they want me in the gang."

"They shot you."

"You're a quick one, Lieutenant." He winced and shifted position. "Gang decides they want you, you got two choices on Meridani: join up or die. First time they tag you, it's a soft tap, no blood. In blue. Letting you know they want you. Second time it's a hard tap. Non-lethal, in pink. Reminder that you got a choice. You gotta go to them, put your name down. Sell your soul."

"And if you still don't?"

Taz took a deep breath. "Next time they tap you, it's a double-tap to the head or to the heart. Execution-style. You'll never get to make a choice again."

Brenner sat back on his heels. "What are you going to do?"

"Can't join," Taz said, coughing. "Don't want to die. Ma can't make the money to get by without me." He tried to shrug and the colour drained from his face. Closing his eyes, he said, "Don't know what I'll do. But I won't ever join the West Street Scraps. Or anyone else." He opened his eyes, tears glimmering against his eyelashes. "Lied before. Had a sister, Caley. She's gone now." He coughed again. "Got caught midpoint in a gang war. Bled out. Only sister. I won't be someone who's responsible for murdering little girls."

Brenner looked down at him, his face thoughtful. "How do you feel about the Commission, Taz?"

Taz turned his head towards Brenner. "Ma always said if you ever wanted to get off the planet, you had better hope you had some kind of skill. Maybe you'd catch the notice of the Commission. Maybe they'd want you." His eyes drifted closed. "Maybe they'd take you away from the gangs. Maybe they'd save you."

"Tell you what, son," Brenner said. "If you're as good a mechanic as everyone seems to think you are, I'll do that. I'll take you off Meridani. I'll get you a posting with the Commission." He frowned suddenly. "Somewhere dirtside. I'm not sure you're old enough to be posted in space yet." He gently shook Taz's uninjured shoulder. "But first you've got to stay awake for me."

"Sir," Taz said. "You get me off this planet, Lieutenant, and I'll go to hell and back for you."

"I'll settle for a working hopper first, son."

"That too."

* * *

Taz gripped his small bag of belongings tightly and stared at his barn. The doors were closed for the first time in years, the yard clear of the debris that had cluttered it for nearly as long. He had closed up shop, but Brenner promised him that with the right training he'd be a damn fine engineer. And that sure as hell beat waiting to get double-tapped by the Scraps.

Turning, Taz looked down and met the gaze of his mother, already several inches shorter than he was. "You be careful," she said. "I want to see my boy again."

Taz leaned forward and embraced her. "Ma, when I come back, I'll be more than a man," he promised. "I'll be an officer. I'll be someone you can be proud of."

"Theodore, I'd be proud of you even if you never left that barn again," she said, swatting him gently. "You go and show those engineers they don't know everything, boy. I'll be waiting when you come home."

He kissed her cheek and looked up the rise to where Lieutenant Brenner was waiting by his repaired hopper.

"Come on, Taz," Brenner said. "The Commission's waiting."

Theodore 'Taz' Dekker took a deep breath, shouldered his bag, and started towards a new life with the Commission.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quarantine

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


Kate started apologising the moment the top of Grayson’s head appeared at the top of the ladder and continued as he hoisted himself up into the bridge.

“Kate,” he said finally, “my ship is still flying, isn’t she?”

“Um. Yes.”

“We’re all still alive.”

“…yes.”

“Nothing on my ship has broken? There aren’t any giant holes that I should know about?”

She looked at him and then stared at the deck. “There might be a small hole in the chute,” she said in a small voice. “But I think it’s only a small one,” she continued in a rush. “It was only a small piece of rock. It broke off of the asteroid that impacted the hull and then flew off towards the chute and it was still retracting and there wasn’t anything Benji or Taz or I could do and it went straight through the side.” She stopped and gazed at Grayson anxiously.

Grayson pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sure it’s fixable,” he said reassuringly. “Don’t worry about it. Taz and Benji will come up with…something.”

Something on the flight console started to beep as a red light began to flash. Kate spun around and slid back into her seat, her fingers flying over the panel.

“What’s that?” Grayson asked.

“Proximity detector,” Kate said.

“What are we close to?” Amy asked, poking her head up onto the bridge.

“Not sure,” Kate replied, frowning at her sensors. “I’m getting a message from a Commissioner ship informing us to come to a stop.” She looked up at Grayson. “What do you want me to do?”

He shrugged. “We’re not carrying anyone or anything illegal and for the moment it’s in our best interests to cooperate with the Commission. Come to a stop at the requested coordinates and send them a message asking what they want.”

Amy pulled herself up onto the bridge and came up behind Grayson. “What do you think it is?” she asked quietly.

“No idea,” he answered. “Might be a routine inspection. There’s a lot of smugglers operating in this area.”

“Answer back, Captain,” Kate said.

“Put it on the vidscreen.”

Amy moved surreptitiously out of range of the vidscreen, where she could see but not be seen. Grayson noticed but said nothing as the grainy image came up.

This is the Commissioner ship Imperia, Commander Mark Swann speaking. Thank you for halting your vessel.

“Mark,” Grayson said in surprise. “Excuse me — Commander Swann. I see you’ve come up in the world.”

The ginger man on the vidscreen smiled grimly. “
We all make our own way, Morgan. Can I ask what your business is in this sector?

“Salvage,” Grayson said promptly. “Following the winds. Hear rumour of pickings out near Delnai, thought we’d take a look.”

Can’t let you do that, old friend.

“Why not?”

Everything from here outwards along the galactic edge is under quarantine — all of the outlying planets. It’s a nasty business.

Grayson stared. “Quarantine? For what?”

Swann ran a hand through his short hair. “
There’s some nasty, nasty thing that’s hit the outliers, Morgan. It’s ugly. No one knows where’s it’s come from — it’s like it appeared out of nowhere and hit them all at once. And people are dropping like flies.

“What planets, Mark?” Grayson asked quietly. “What planets are they?”

“I’m sorry,” Amy said before Swann could answer, stepping into view. “But can you tell me what it is that they have?”

Swann’s eyes flickered from Grayson to Amy. “
Who are you?

“You don’t want to ask that,” she replied. “Answer the question, please.”

Looking dubious, he said, “
No one knows. Reports say they come down sick like it’s the flu, and then they get sicker and sicker until there’s blood coming out of their eyes and ears. And then they die. I don’t know. It’s just what I’ve heard. Sounds like something made up to me.

Amy turned away from the screen and stepped close to Grayson. “It’s Warner’s Disease,” she murmured. “Although how they’ve duplicated it and spread it across the outliers so quickly, and for what purpose, is beyond me. Grayson?”

She took a step back and discovered that Grayson’s face had gone white. He gripped the back of Kate’s chair tightly with both hands and stared at the vidscreen with haunted eyes.

“Mark,” he whispered.

I’m sorry, Morgan,” Swann said. “It’s spread to Elderia as well.

Grayson’s knees buckled. Amy grabbed at his elbow as he fell, narrowly missing cracking his head on Kate’s console; she sat him on the deck before turning to face Commander Swann.

“What’s on Elderia?” she demanded.

If Morgan wants to tell you, that’s his business,” Swann said. “He’s an old friend. I’m doing him a favour telling him as much as I have. As for your ship — make sure you don’t pass the quarantine line, or you may find you’ll never get back across it. Understood?

“Yeah,” Amy said. “Got it. Invisible line in space. Cross and you’re doomed. Ten-four.” She made a mock salute and looked at Kate. “You know where it is?”

“They sent the coordinates,” she said. “They run from one side of Commission to the other.” She turned teary eyes to Amy. “The outliers are completely cut off.”

Amy’s lips thinned. “We got the message, Commander. Was there anything else?”

That’s it,” Swann said. “Tell Morgan I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Imperia out.

The vidscreen switched off and Amy knelt down next to Grayson. She laid a hand on his cheek and brushed hair off his forehead.

“Grayson?” she said gently. “Grayson, are you okay? What’s on Elderia?”

His eyes stricken, he said, “My daughter. My daughter is on Elderia.”


Previous: Bumps in the road 
Next: Grayson's past

Bumps in the road

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


Grayson crossed his arms. “Out with it, Jones.”

Amy hoisted herself up onto the edge of the counter and sat with her legs dangling. “If someone else had arrived here after you first discovered the
Waratah but before the Sophia returned and had entered the ship, it would have broken the stasis seal. Decomp would have started back up again. Unless they were in a hurry, the natural course of action would be to hit up the bridge first; it’s the easiest place to access the main computer and, if looking for something specific, determine where it is. The Welcome Programme subroutines were probably activated accidentally.”

“You think someone came on board to steal the vaccine and antiviral?” Grayson asked.

de Sara stirred. “There would be no point. Neither has any use if Warner’s Disease is extinct.”

“So someone came for the virus.”

“Well, I’d bet whoever broke the stasis field is the same person who’s responsible for the disappearance of virus et al.,” Amy said. “I think ship’s manifest is a matter of public record, although ‘public record’ is a relative phrase. The number of people with access to those records is limited in any case; graduate students and students with special permission at the University, members of the government, and upper-level military could all have access, but that’s still a pretty limited number, and the list gets even shorter when you consider who’d even be looking at Empire-era ships in the first place.” She leaned forward and rested her elbows on her thighs, hands dangling loosely between her knees. “Empire history gets covered in entry-level courses at the University, but there’s only a few students who do much with it past their first and second years.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever run across anyone in the Commissioner Corps with much of an interest in the Empire,” Grayson said. “Not to say there’s not someone out there.”

“I’d guess we’re looking at someone in the government. Probably upper-level.” As the words left her mouth a thought crossed Amy’s mind and she started to say something else, but before she could, Ramina spoke from her left.

“I think we are overlooking the most important question,” she said. “If someone did come aboard this ship and take the sample of Warner’s Disease, then what we really ought to be asking ourselves is what have they taken it
for?”

The comm crackled. “
Captain, the hopper’s aboard the Sophia and safely stowed,” Taz said. “If you don’t need me for anything I’ll head back over.

“Roger that. See you back on the
Sophia.” Grayson glanced from Amy to Ramina. “We need to come back kitted out in biohazard gear. Wouldn’t hurt to have a team along to deal with body disposal.”

“I know some people,” Amy said. “I can call in some favours. The
Waratah will still be ours. Commission won’t hear a thing about it. And I’ll put some feelers out on the virus while I’m at it.”

Grayson switched on his inter-ship comm. “Kate, how’s it looking over there?”

There’s a category three solar wind storm coming in off Albor,” Kate said, her voice distorted by static. “It’s picking up a lot of spatial debris in its path and at the rate it’s going it’s probably going to hit category four by the time it reaches us. If the chute is still extended when it hits it’s likely to snap, so you’d better make a decision pretty quick as to whether you’re coming home or if you’re staying over there until the storm passes, because we need to retract the chute ASAP.

“Shit,” Grayson said. “We’re on our way back now.” He motioned to Amy and de Sara and headed out of the lab at a jog. “Be prepared to retract the chute as soon as we’re back on board the
Sophia. As soon as it’s secure be ready to flash. I don’t want the Sophia anywhere near that storm when she hits.” He killed the comm and muttered, “We don’t have the credits for the repairs.”

The ride back to the
Sophia was bumpy; turbulence was riding strong in advance of the storm. As soon as their boots touched down in the access port and the ship pressurised around them, Grayson’s helmet was off and he had his finger on the comm on the bulkhead.

“Status, Kate.”

Benji and Taz are pulling the chute in now,” she said. “It’ll be locked in six, Captain.

“How long until the storm hits?”

She hesitated. “
Seven minutes.

“Dammit.” Grayson closed his eyes and rubbed his jaw. “Kate. Four minutes from now, start moving the
Sophia away from the leading edge of the storm. Keep retracting the chute as you go. As soon as it’s locked, flash. I’m not liking our odds. Give me as much time as you can.”

Aye aye, sir.

Grayson released the comm button and turned to Amy. “The
Waratah will be fine in the meantime?”

Amy shrugged and stepped out of her suit. “There’s no reason why she shouldn’t be. She’s been sitting in this region of space for two hundred years and has probably been battered by innumerable storms. The asteroid field makes this a particularly nasty spot, but aside from some bumps and bruises on her hull, the
Waratah seems to have borne up decently well enough.”

The Sophia
shook, knocking Amy against the lockers as she tried to hang her suit and sending de Sara and Grayson crashing into the access hatch.

“The
Sophia, on the other hand, I’d worry about,” Amy said, picking herself up out of the lockers and unhooking her helmet from her foot. “What was that?”

“Kate?”

Asteroid, sir,” Kate said. “Caught us under the port side. Sorry. We’re fine now.

“Kate…”

There was a spark from the comm panel and then Kate’s voice emanated from the speaker, echoing around the ship. “
All hands, this is your pilot speaking. You may want to hold on to something.

The ship began to shake. Amy watched, unnerved, as a bolt in one of the deck plates slowly began to work loose. Before it could fly loose, Grayson’s boot came down on it, trapping it in place. And then as abruptly as it had begun the shaking stopped.

Amy let go of the lockers and looked down at her hands. Her knuckles were white. “Do you often travel that way?” she asked, her voice hoarse.

“Emergency travel only,” Grayson said. “I’m going to my bridge.”


Previous: Solving problems with decomposition 
Next: Quarantine

Friday, September 23, 2011

Updates to sci-fi story

I was originally linking each new post to each of the earlier sections of the story, but it's starting to become rather cumbersome to do so, so all of the links to Amy, Grayson, and the crew of the Sophia's story may be found below. :)

The main story:
Sci-fi strikes again (part one)
Return of the sci-fi (part two)
Sci-fi, again (part three)
And more sci-fi (part four)
Boarding the ERV Waratah (part five)
On board the Waratah (part six)
Aboard the Waratah - an unexpected discovery (part seven)
The Waratah bridge (part eight)
Benji (part nine)
Warner's Disease (part ten)
Missing (part eleven)
Solving problems with decomposition (part twelve)
Bumps in the road (part thirteen)
Quarantine (part fourteen)
Grayson's past (part fifteen)
Plans (part sixteen)
Idylla (part seventeen)
Loopholes (part eighteen)
Leapfrog (part nineteen)
Family matters (part twenty)
Siblings (part twenty-one)
Money and power (part twenty-two)
Distractions (part twenty-three)
Parents, children, and really good muffins (part twenty-four)
Natterby Close (part twenty-five)
Signal boxes (part twenty-six)
Gentlemen prefer blondes (part twenty-seven)
Spies and disguises (part twenty-eight)
Return to Peleteth (part twenty-nine)
Move (part thirty)
Stealing a ship (part thirty-one)
Waiting for Amy (part thirty-two)
Distracting the enemy (part thirty-three)
Captured (part thirty-four)
Blank space (part thirty-five)
C-Prime (part thirty-six)
Hello, Dad (part thirty-seven)
Not a social call (part thirty-eight)
Cadets, pilots, and ships (part thirty-nine)
Research, archival retrieval, hacking...the usual academic stuff... (part forty)
Thinking about the Waratah again (part forty-one)
Power and choice (part forty-two)
Reasons for living (part forty-three)

Sneak peaks into the past:
Flashbacks (Grayson)
Flashbacks II (Amy)
Flashbacks III (Taz)
Flashbacks IV (Sophia)

Solving problems with decomposition

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The three stared at each other for a moment.

“Grayson,” Amy said slowly. “You remember when we first came aboard, how the ship pressurised automatically?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Remember how I said it shouldn’t have done that?”

“Yeah.”

Amy leaned forward and braced her arms on the edge of the counter. “And the Welcome Programmes automatically activated.”

“What does that signify?” Ramina asked.

“The ship should have powered down,” Amy said.

“The crew was sick,” Grayson said. “Dying. You said she should have powered down when the crew abandoned ship, but they never abandoned ship — they just died off. Maybe no one was left to power her down.”

Amy shook her head. “The
Waratah is a Mark IV Isis computer system. She was top of the line then, which means we don’t really have a hope in hell now of understanding how the system actually functions, but it’s an incredibly clever system. It will power down and seal itself if and when the crew abandons ship, but following the same concept, it will also power down and seal itself when there are no longer any life signs aboard. Basically, she becomes a sealed tomb, floating through space. Oh!” She turned around abruptly, her eyes wide. “That’s what’s been bothering me!” She stared at de Sara.

“Oh,” de Sara said, her eyes flickering from Amy’s face to the door and back. “
Oh.”

“Yeah,” said Amy. “You see it too.”

“Someone want to give me a hint?”

“It’s the bodies,” said Ramina. “It’s the state of the bodies.”

Grayson looked blank. “So?”

“Decomposition on a ship like this would probably be fairly slow,” de Sara said. “There’s no insects or heat to speed up the process, no animals to consume the flesh and organs, and the ship’s water and air filtration and purification systems would reduce the amount of bacteria that, dirtside, would move things along more quickly. The body will decompose regardless; it’s a natural process once death occurs and it can’t be stopped.” She took a deep breath. “The disease spread quickly once Monaco was infected; the further it spread, the less detailed the doctors’ notes become, but extrapolating outwards I’d estimate the entire crew was probably dead in about a month. If we autopsied everyone we’d likely find that not everyone died of Warner’s Disease; in every population you have people who are immune or resistant or those whose systems are strong enough for them to fight through and recover. With a disease like this, however, those few probably had no time to recover before they were trying to care for those who were ill, and we’d likely find they died of exhaustion or starvation.”

“You’re getting sidetracked,” Amy said. “Decomp.”

“Oh,” de Sara said. “Yes. If the ship sealed after the entire crew was dead, as Amy says, then the earliest deaths would show more advanced decomposition than the later deaths, as is the nature of such things — ”

Impatient, Amy interrupted, saying, “The thing is, once the ship sealed, all those corpses should have been frozen. Not literally frozen, but — uh — put in stasis. They wouldn’t have continued to decompose. That’s the thing with tomb ships. They keep bodies preserved until someone can find them and put them to rest. Something to do with religious beliefs.” She shrugged. “Not my field. Anyway. You see the problem.”

“Not really.”

“How thick are you?” Amy demanded. “Really? Right. Bodies dead, anywhere from three weeks to a day. The
Waratah powers down and seals herself. We come along and the ship is already powered up and pressurising, the Welcome Programmes are activating, and the bodies are in a state of decomposition more consistent with — ” She looked at Ramina.

“Two to three months,” de Sara said. “Roughly. It could be more; as I said before, the conditions on the ship are likely to promote slow decomposition.”

“Do you see the problem yet?”

“Something broke the stasis seal,” Grayson said.

“He finally gets it,” Amy exclaimed. “Gold star to you.”

“So what could do that?”

“Oh, dammit, I don’t know everything!” Amy cried, turning her back on them and leaning on the counter again. She stared across the room, nibbling on her lower lip. “There is one thing,” she said after a moment. “And it would probably answer all of our questions.” She stood up and faced Grayson and de Sara.

“But I don’t think either of you is going to like it.”


Previous: Missing 
Next: Bumps in the road

Missing

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


“There’s nothing here,” Amy said an hour later, banging a drawer closed.

Ramina glanced up from the console across the lab and said, “The manifest for Monaco’s lab clearly indicates that samples of the virus along with both vaccine and antiviral were kept here.”

“You look then, because I’ve been through every sample drawer twice and I haven’t found a thing.”

de Sara turned and leaned back against the console. “I find it highly unlikely that they simply grew legs and walked out of the lab.”

“You’re the medic,” Amy said peevishly. “You tell me.”

She received an unamused look before de Sara returned her attention to the manifest. Sighing, Amy walked across to the largest of Monaco’s cold-storage units and released the door. “Nothing in here but vials of blood,” she called, tilting her head to read the labels. “Perry…Alexander…Nixon…Clarkson… Must be blood samples from the crew.”

A hand landed on Amy’s shoulder. “So have we found anything?”

Amy’s body jerked in surprise at the unexpected contact. Straightening up, she turned and shot Grayson an annoyed look. “Was that really necessary?”

Not even trying to hide his grin, he replied, “Sorry, did I scare you?”

“Find anything interesting on the flight deck?”

“Hopper pods,” he said. “We’ve got just enough room for one on the
Sophia so I’ve got Taz and Benji masterminding the transfer.”

Amy stared at him. “You’re transferring equipment off the
Waratah?” she squeaked.

“Problem?”

“You should have asked me first! All of this equipment is incredibly rare and — ”

“It’s all in a hell of a lot better condition than anything on the
Sophia,” Grayson cut in, “and having a hopper will mean we have the ability to move from the Sophia dirtside without needing to dock at a spaceport and take a transport down. Not that there’s often occasion for that, but it might come in handy. ” Seeing her expression, he tapped the underside of her helmet with his glove. “Cheer up, Jones. You do remember we’re in the salvage business, right? We’re not here to populate a museum.”

“Yes, but — ”

“So did you find what you were looking for?”

“No sign of anything related to Warner’s Disease,” Ramina said. “I will admit to some bemusement.”

Grayson’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“The manifest clearly indicates that samples of the virus, the vaccine, and the antiviral were all present in small quantities on board the
Waratah, in Monaco’s lab.” de Sara made a sweeping gesture with her hand. “Here. However, we have been unable to locate any of them. Due to the swiftness with which the virus overtook the crew and their apparent failure to identify the disease afflicting them and therefore take appropriate countermeasures with the resources available, I believe it’s fairly unlikely that the vaccine or antiviral would have been moved by members of the crew considering they didn’t know what they were looking for.” She hesitated, and then added, “Of course, as we have not accounted for every member of the crew I suppose it is possible that the healthy crewmembers were vaccinated and abandoned ship with the antiviral?”

“You can rule that out,” Grayson said. “Taz and I did a sweep of the rest of the ship while you and Amy were searching the lab. The rest of the crew’s accounted for. I’m guessing Captain Alexander restricted non-essential personnel to quarters in an attempt to stop the spread, because it looks like most of the crew died in their bunks. There were a few in the labs and a couple in the mess, but we did a headcount and it came out to one hundred and eight.” He looked at Amy.

She shrugged. “That was the number serving on the
Waratah at the time she was listed MIA, so it doesn’t look like anyone made it off the ship alive.”

de Sara made an impatient noise. “I’m sorry, but if no one left the ship, and no one moved anything, then where have the samples pertaining to Warner’s Disease gone?”


Previous: Warner's Disease 
Next: Solving problems with decomposition

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Warner's Disease

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


“A particularly nasty disease,” Ramina said, rejoining the conversation. “According to the notes made by the doctors before they fell ill, the first victim, Terry Monaco, arrived in medical complaining of fever, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and general malaise. Monaco worked in the diseases laboratory on the deck below this one, researching diseases discovered during the course of the Waratah’s travels. Several days after checking into medical, Monaco developed several more severe symptoms, including bloody vomit and diarrhea and a painful rash that made it difficult for him to sit or lay still. At this point four other crew members had come in with the same symptoms with which Monaco had originally presented. Monaco was the first death; his condition worsened to the point at which he had begun to constantly cough up blood and to bleed from his orifices; any attempts by the doctors to administer medicines came back up or caused more bleeding. He died ten days after first checking into medical, of systematic organ failure. At that point fourteen other crew members had arrived in medical with similar symptoms, and despite their best precautions one of the doctors had also fallen ill.”

“But I
know that disease,” Amy said.

“Really?” Grayson said. “Because I hope to God I never do.”

de Sara raised her eyebrows. “I have never heard of it,” she said.

“It’s Warner’s Disease. Except…” Amy frowned. “I mean, it is, all the symptoms are right, except I can’t figure out how it’s transmitting. Also…” She bit her lip. “Also, it
shouldn’t be Warner’s Disease.”

“What’s Warner’s Disease?”

Amy began to pace. “It’s like Ramina said — it’s a really, really nasty disease. A virus. Except it was eradicated over two hundred years ago, years before the
Waratah went missing.” She looked from Ramina to Grayson. “Seriously. The only reason I know anything about it is because it was a huge pain the ass for the Empire for about fifty years out in the rural areas where the hygienic practices weren’t stellar and there wasn’t much in the way of trained medical staff or hospitals, so trying to stop the spread was a nightmare. They figured out a vaccine first and got people vaccinated against it so at least no one else would get sick, but it took ages before they found an antiviral that was successful.” She shrugged. “After that, it was poof, goodbye Warner’s Disease. Not exactly eradicated overnight, but they did get rid of it eventually. So this really shouldn’t be Warner’s Disease. It’s gone. Eliminated. There hasn’t been a case in over two hundred years.” She hesitated and then added, “The other thing is that Warner’s Disease was transmitted through body fluids. That’s why it was so prevalent in rural areas with poor sanitation — people who were infected contaminated the water supplies and then other people got infected through the common water. Correct me if I’m wrong, Ramina, but I don’t really see that happening here. The Waratah uses a water purification system; any contaminants would be filtered out. Even if the system didn’t recognise the specific virus it ought to recognise an unfamiliar contaminant and take it out. So I don’t understand how it was being transmitted.” She sighed. “Much less how it appeared in the first place.”

“Ramina, you said the first victim worked in the diseases lab,” Grayson said. “You don’t suppose they were stupid enough to keep a live sample of an extinct disease, do you?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Ramina said. “We should check. If they did they might have kept the vaccine and antiviral as well.” She glanced at Amy. “If we intend to continue our presence on this ship for any length of time, we should take every precaution. Any exposure to this disease will almost certainly result in our deaths without the benefit of the vaccine beforehand or the quick assistance of the antiviral after.”

Grayson frowned. “If they do have the antiviral, why wouldn’t they have used it? It took Monaco ten days to die. Surely at some point during that time he would have thought to mention which disease he accidentally infected himself with.”

Ramina shook her head. “After the third day he couldn’t talk and he was too weak to write, but his initial symptoms would have resembled influenza - nothing to worry about.”

“The incubation period for Warner’s Disease can be as long as a month,” Amy said. “It can be as short as three days, but even so, whatever Monaco did to infect himself, he probably didn’t realise it at the time, cleaned up, put away, and moved on to another experiment, so even if someone had gone to look into what he’d been doing, his notes in the days around the time he checked himself into medical might not have reflected the experiments he’d been doing when he was infected, and might not have helped. Although you’d think they’d be more familiar with Warner’s than we are, seeing that the last recorded case — which was not on this ship, in case anyone was wondering — was in their lifetimes.”

“Amy, you and Ramina see if you can find the antiviral and vaccine. If you can’t, I want to head out.”

“But — ”

“If I’m going to be working on a ship full of corpses and a potentially still deadly virus — ”

“It’s fairly unlikely it’s still dangerous,” Ramina said. She considered. “Fairly unlikely.”

“ — potentially still dangerous virus,” Grayson reiterated, “then I want to make sure I’m wearing a suit that’s actually meant to deal with biohazards.”

“You have someone you’re planning on getting those suits from?” Amy inquired.

“Not really, no.”

“Great. I do. We’ll talk.”

Grayson sighed and watched as Amy and Ramina walked out the door. “Taz?” he said, activating the comm. “I’m going to the flight deck. Be a mate and join me there. I’ve had about as much estrogen as I can handle for one day.”

Taz laughed. “
Copy that, Skipper. Meet you there.

Grayson looked around at the medical bay of corpses and shivered. Ship full of technology, ship full of corpses. The whole damn thing made his skin crawl.


Previous: Benji 
Next: Missing

Benji

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


More of the blue and orange signs pointed Grayson to the medical bay, where he found Ramina already set up in a facility that far surpassed the hospitals on Commissioner ships and left what the Sophia called medical unworthy of the name.

Ramina nodded at Grayson as he came through the door. “As you can see,” she said, gesturing at the half-circle of beds in the adjacent alcove, “your specimen is appreciated but unnecessary.”

Grayson set Captain Alexander down against the wall and looked into the next room. Each of the stationary beds had an occupant, the blankets collapsed over sunken flesh. Additional beds had been set up in the extra spaces, spilling out of the alcove and into the adjoining laboratory. Despite the overcrowding, care had clearly been taken to keep the patients to one side of the lab in order to keep the workspaces free; one body still sat at its desk, while another had slid from a stool and fallen to the floor.

“There’s at least twenty people in here,” Grayson said, turning back to de Sara. “Plus maybe four or five that might be actual medical staff. That’s about a quarter of the
Waratah’s crew in medical alone.”

de Sara crossed to the lab and removed a corpse from a stool in order to sit down. Observing Grayson’s expression, she said, “You’ve known me long enough by now, Morgan, to know that it isn’t that I don’t care.”

“You’ve known me long enough to know I wish you’d at least show you did.”

She looked down at the counter, a faint frown on her face. “It’s not my way. Ah.” She tapped the blank white workspace and it dissolved beneath her fingers, solidifying again as a counter-wide touch-screen tablet. The right-hand side contained the logbook and notes of the scientist relocated to the floor; the left side contained equations. Noticing a stylus, Ramina picked it up and attempted to write on the screen. She was promptly confronted with a request for a password.

“Will it allow you to simply look through the screen?” Grayson asked. “We don’t want to change or input anything at the moment.”

Ramina shrugged and tapped the screen. The password request vanished, leaving her with a counter-sized notebook. Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, she leaned forward and began to read.

“Oh,” she said after half an hour and several screens.

Grayson lifted his head. “Oh?”

She turned on the stool. “I know what happened. And before we do anything else, Benji needs to get off this ship.”

Grayson tapped the comm open. “Benji. It’s Grayson. Where are you?”

Still in Engineering. Taz has me under the engine leaders. What’s up?

“Ramina’s turned up a cause for the deaths and wants you off the ship.”

There was silence on the other end of the line for an uncomfortably long time. Then: “
Did she say what it was?

“No.”

The sound of Benji swallowing hard could be heard through the static. The fear in his voice came through even more clearly. “
I’ll be off as soon as I can get out from under the engines.

“Let us know when you’re back safe on the
Sophia. And make sure you go through decon twice. Three times, if it’ll make you feel better.”

Yeah…

“Sorry, Benji.”

Catch you later, Captain. And Ramina — thanks.

The comm went dead and from the door Amy said, “I don’t understand. First the Welcome Programme and now this. What’s wrong with Benji?”

Grayson and Ramina looked at her and then at each other.

“I can’t,” Ramina said. “Doctor-patient confidentiality. And if you’re going to talk about it then I can’t listen.” She slid off the stool and went into the alcove.

“Come in, Jones,” Grayson said. “We seem to have discovered the ship of the dead.”

Amy ventured further into medical and stopped with her back to the alcove. Behind her, Ramina bent over one of the corpses on the bed. “Benji?”

Grayson leaned against the counter. “You know the children-in-space laws, right?”

Surprised, Amy said, “Sure. You can’t keep a kid in space for longer than, what, about a month?”

“Yeah. You know why?”

She shrugged. “You hear stories. Too long in space when the body’s still forming, you get distortions. Deformities. Abnormalities. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to travel off-dirt at all.”

“Stories have a nasty habit of having a root in fact,” Grayson said. Amy noted absently that he looked tired. “Benji’s parents had an old freighter, one of those really old clunkers that gets nowhere fast and half the time goes backwards. His mother did her nine dirtside, left Benji with Grandma for eight years, and then pulled him onto the freighter to help out with maintenance in those places it’s hard for full-grown adults to reach. He spent seven years on the freighter before Grandma yanked him back dirtside. Damaged him permanently.”

“Noticed he’s short,” Amy said.

“Least of his problems. At the top of the list are the heart defect, deformed kidneys, and the shitty immune system. The last is the one we’re concerned about here.”

“Wouldn’t he, you know, be safer dirtside?”

Grayson laughed. “Ironically, as it’s space that screwed him over in the first place, space is the safest place for him. Dirtside he’ll breathe in more things that can kill him every second than he’ll breathe in every year out here. The only people he’s ever in contact with out here are us, and we go through decon every time we come onto the ship. And he almost never leaves it except in a suit.” Worry crossed his face. “We don’t usually encounter dead people. And if we do, they’ve usually been killed by unfriendly fire.”

“So what
did kill the Waratah’s crew?”

Previous: The Waratah bridge 
Next: Warner's Disease

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Waratah bridge

Sitting in my room and listening to the rain pattering against my skylight. One should always be able to write to the sound of rain. It's incredibly soothing.


Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The lift opened out at the back of an egg-shaped bridge onto a clear central platform on which stood the captain’s chair and two streamlined consoles; the column of blue and orange postings by the lift indicated one should stop here for navigation and helm control. Directly below, visible through the platform and accessible via a set of spiral stairs near the lift, was the weapons platform; the stairs continued up through the central platform to an upper one containing ship’s operations.

The number of corpses on the bridge reinforced the fact that the
Waratah was not, contrary to expectation, empty after all, although it appeared that the bridge, at least, had been operated by a skeleton crew in the Waratah’s last days. The weapons platform was abandoned, but a body was slumped over helm control, one hand dangling over the edge, the fingers just brushing the deck. Another body lay on the operations platform with its cheek pressed into the deck, several steps away from the main console; Amy glanced up as she walked across the central platform and flinched when she found herself looking up into a staring eye.

“Because this isn’t creepy as all get out,” Grayson said, stepping up behind Amy. “Any thoughts?”

“Yeah,” she said. “There are not supposed to be dead people on my ship.”

“Yeah. Right. Ramina, you still monitoring us?”

I see you’ve found an emergency despite my warning.” de Sara sounded less than amused. “I take it this means you’d like me to suit up.

“Please do. Bring a med pack — I don’t know what the facilities are like on this ship.”

“It’s a scientific research vessel, Grayson,” Amy said. “Her facilities are bound to be state of the art.”

Ignoring her, Grayson repeated, “Bring a med pack, Ramina.” He stared at the helmsman for a moment and then added, “I’ll meet you in the medical bay with one of the bodies.”

Copy that. See you soon.

“What are you doing?”

Amy looked up from the navigation console. “Trying to see where the
Waratah was headed before she got trapped in the asteroid field. Looks like she was headed towards what are now the outliers...” She toggled through a series of starmaps. “These are amazing. Did you know that in ’82, before the first hints of unrest, they were talking about developing the technology to build a bridge from one galaxy to the next? Edward Carter was a visionary.”

“I thought you were interested in the past, not the future.”

She pulled her gaze from the maps and met his eyes, surprised. “I am. Edward Carter’s dreams of a galaxy bridge are the past. I sure as hell don’t see any of the Commission’s scientists following in his footsteps.” Her fingers traced over the constellations. “The past tells us things about our future, Grayson. Why bother looking to the future when it’s clear it’s not going anywhere anytime soon?”

Grayson leaned a hip against the console and folded his arms. “You think we’re stagnant.”

“I think we’re being crushed under a ruinous government with little interest in anything but power and furthering their own interests, and it’s damnation for any who try to swim against the tide. You saw what happened to the rioters on Meridani.”

“That was different. That was suicide.”

“So you’re telling me that you’re happy living in the present?” Amy asked, pulling up another starchart. “That when you look to the future, you see sunshine and clear sailing for years to come, without an anchor in sight?”

He shifted his weight. “Sure.”

“Bullshit.”

Grayson’s brows lifted. “Excuse me?”

Amy gazed steadily at him. “I don’t know what it is that’s back there, Grayson, that spectre in your past, but I know it haunts your footsteps and I know it’s at your door. It’s there when you wake up in the morning and it’s there when you go to bed at night. You see it in the mirror and out of the corner of your eye and it’s never going to stop tying you to the past.” A smile touched her lips. “It’s in your eyes, just like it’s in mine, just like it’s in de Sara’s. There’s no moving forward, not really, no seeing that bright and beautiful future that could be, should be, might be, because all the reality that there is, is tied up somehow in the Commission, and there can’t be a future without getting rid of them.” She stared at him for a moment longer, and then turned and began scrolling rapidly through navigation control’s menu. “That’s why I’m a historian, Grayson. I’d rather look at a brighter past than consider a dismal future.”

There was silence from behind her. Then: “Ramina will be waiting. Let us know if you leave the bridge.”

Amy made a mock salute and kept her position at navigation until the lift doors closed behind Grayson and the body of Captain Alexander. Then she slid to the deck with her back against the console and rested her arms on her knees. She stared across the bridge without seeing anything, her mind thousands of miles away.


Previous: Aboard the Waratah - an unexpected discovery 
Next: Benji

Monday, September 19, 2011

Aboard the Waratah - an unexpected discovery

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The bulkheads dimmed, though they continued to glow, and the lift was silent for several minutes before Amy at last said,

“Well, that was interesting.” She peered overhead and then ran her fingers along the bulkheads. “No obvious evidence of speakers, so they must be built into the bulkheads themselves.”

“Odd sort of welcome for a science ship,” Grayson commented.

“Mmm. Sounded like the kind of welcome you’d get on a pleasure planet.”

“I suppose you’ve spent a lot of time on pleasure planets, then?”

The comm crackled with static and then, through the hissing, came Taz’s voice. “
Yo, you two there? Just had a strange encounter with a Welcome Programme…

Grayson glanced at Amy. “November?”

Great month,” Taz replied. “It has Thanksgiving. What’s not to like? But no, this was Welcome Programme Tango Two. Took a real shine to Benji-boy.

Hah,” said Benji. “Damn thing would have dragged me to the medical bay if it’d had arms.

“What’s the point of having two Welcome Programmes?” Grayson said. “Why not just turn the same one on simultaneously in two places?”

Amy bit the inside of her cheek. “Taz, what did yours say? Was it specific to your destination?” She thought a moment. “Benji, you said something about medical?”

Super polite,” Taz said. “Welcome to the ship, sorry no one greeted you, when you get to the engine room you’ll be welcomed by Chief Roberts. And then there was the thing with Benji.

That thing was not happy about me,” Benji said. “Polite as you like, but it really wanted me to get to medical. Think it thought I was about to drop down dead. Wouldn’t be the first time someone’s thought that.

“The ship must have run medical passes on us when we came aboard,” Amy said. “I guess. And I guess there’s multiple Welcome Programmes for different destinations?” She lifted her hand to run her fingers through her hair and bumped against her helmet. Grimacing, she let it drop back to her side. “You’re not ill, are you, Benji?”

Fit enough, thanks for asking.

She shrugged. “I dunno, I guess we can keep going. I’m surprised the programmes triggered at all, to be honest.” She caught Grayson’s raised eyebrows as she turned to fiddle with the panel and said, “Look, I don’t know everything. There was a lot of data lost in the ’21 Riots, and there’s only so much you can recover from half-destroyed ships.” Poking at the innards of the panel, she added, “That’s why this is such an exciting find. Welcome Programmes are only the beginning.”

The lift came to a smooth halt, the blue light around them brightening as the Welcome Programme came back online.

Welcome to the Waratah bridge,” said the Welcome Programme. “You are advised to refrain from touching instrument panels without permission and to abide at all times by any instructions given by any member of the crew. Please ensure you are not actively blocking any member of the crew at any time. Thank you, and please enjoy your stay.

The glow from the bulkheads faded away entirely and the doors hissed apart. The man who had been propped against the other side fell inwards, his torso angling across Amy’s boots. Amy screamed and leaped backwards into the lift, slamming hard against Grayson as he lunged forward. The body rolled to the right until the door frame forced it to stop, leaving the corpse posed in an unpleasant twisted angle.

Amy and Grayson stood at the back of the lift and stared down at the unexpected discovery. At last Grayson said,

“I don’t think that’s what the Welcome Programme had in mind when he said ‘enjoy your stay’.” He leaned forward as far as he could without stepping towards the body. “I see skin. If this guy’s been dead for two hundred years, shouldn’t he be dust by now? Ashes? Atoms, floating in the proverbial wind?”

Amy smacked his arm. “A little respect,” she said. “Snark isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

Grayson edged nearer and crouched down beside the man, gingerly lifting the hand draped across the left lapel. “Well, the Welcome Programme got one thing right.” He glanced up. “Can’t say we weren’t greeted by Captain Alexander.” Sitting back on his heels, he fixed Amy with an intent look. “You want to explain why there’s a dead person on a ship that’s supposed to be abandoned?”

Grayson? Doc?

Grayson tapped his comm. “Go ahead, Taz.”

Yeah, so I got a funny story to tell you about abandoned ships. Give you a hint — punch line’s got three dead guys and a really antsy salvage man.

“I don’t like this,” Grayson said to Amy, and then, “We’ve got one too, Taz. Tell Benji to keep breathing until we figure out what’s going on.”

Roger that, Skipper. We’ll have a look around and see what we can find.

Amy stepped over the corpse and onto the bridge. “There’s more in here.”


Previous: On board the Waratah 
Next: The Waratah bridge

On board the Waratah

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


Fifty metres into the ship, the passageway split in three and the party came to a halt as Amy consulted her notes.

“We entered the
Waratah at her stern, on the central deck,” she said. Pointing left without looking up, she continued, “Crew quarters are portside — all five decks, more or less. Straight on and down one deck is the engine room. The flight deck is below the engine room. Two decks above us is the bridge deck.” She squinted through her visor at the rough map of the ship, trying to read through a smudge. “Looks like the medical bay and the labs are starboard. On this deck is medical, the mess, the gym…” She lowered the notepad and looked at Grayson. “Where do you fancy starting?”

“I want to take a crack at those engines,” Taz said, rubbing his hands together. “This beaut’s got streamlined engines and I want to see how they’ve run the leaders from the engine room up to her nacelles. They’re half the size of our engines but the
Waratah's twice the size of the Sophia. Either this ship was a slow-ass tugboat, or those babes packed some serious punch.” He looked pleadingly at his captain.

“Get out of here,” Grayson said. “Benji, go with him.”

Taz grinned. “Straight on and down one deck, Doc? Great. Call you if we need anything.” He clapped Amy on the shoulder so hard she was knocked off-balance and strode off down the passageway, Benji trotting behind.

“Don’t turn anything on!” Grayson shouted, muttering as he turned back to Amy, “You might blow us all up.”

She gave him a mischievous smile. “Got the spooks, Grayson?”

“Hate empty ships,” he replied. “This one’s about as empty as I’ve ever seen.”

Amy shrugged. “She’s just a ship. She can’t help it if her crew left.”

“About that — what did happen to the crew of the
Waratah?”

“The records aren’t very clear about that. Did you want to go to the bridge deck, medical, the flight deck…?”

He stood at the cross-section, hands on his hips, and turned in a circle. “Eh,” he said at last. “I’m itching to get my hands on whatever’s down on the flight deck, but it’ll wait.”

“Straight on and up, then,” Amy said, tucking her notepad back into its pocket.

Blue and orange plaques on the bulkheads pointed them down a passageway that dead-ended at a pair of doors labelled ‘Bridge Access’. Grayson stabbed the glowing blue button beside the doors and visibly jumped when they hissed to the side. Amy giggled.

“This is nice,” she said, stepping inside.

“What is it?” Grayson asked suspiciously, still standing in the corridor.

“It’s a lift, Grayson,” she replied, giving him a look. “Get in. It won’t bite.”

He stepped gingerly over the threshold, moving quickly inside as Amy pushed another button to close the doors. “It might fall.”

“Yes, and you might fall off a ladder.” She frowned at him, pressed flat against the bulkhead opposite. “I’d have thought that you’d be fascinated. No one’s been able to duplicate this kind of lift technology since the Empire fell. All we’ve got are those damned pulley-system rattle-boxes, and you won’t see me getting in one of those.” She turned her attention to the panel by the door, adding over her shoulder, “I’d rather hitch a ride in a hopper to the top floor of the Commissionate than risk a rattle-box.” She flicked a switch and stumbled backwards as the lift hummed to life, the bulkheads glowing blue.

Welcome to the ERV Waratah,” said a pleasant, disembodied male voice.

“What the hell is that?” Grayson demanded.

This is Welcome Programme November One. We regret a personal representative of the crew was unable to greet you upon your arrival. We hope that this does not inconvenience your stay upon the Waratah. Upon arrival upon the bridge, your party will be greeted by Captain Alexander. Should you require assistance before this time or later during your stay, this programme may be reactivated by keying WPN1 at any of the access panels located conveniently throughout the ship. We welcome you again to the ERV Waratah, and hope that your stay is both an informative and a restful one.

Previous: Boarding the ERV Waratah 
Next: Aboard the Waratah - an unexpected discovery

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New camera

I have a new camera! Mum and Dad got me a Pentax K-r DSLR for graduation. I am super-excited about this, and although at the moment I don't really know what I'm doing (I have some reading to do...), I took a few pictures of my mother's garden to try the camera out before I left home to come back to England. Nothing too terribly exciting, just me fiddling around with my new toy. ^.^

Bumblebee on flower

Honeybee on flower

Lily

My cat, pretending to be a panther and lurking in the vinca

Strawberry

Pink flower (Mum told me what they were called and now I can't remember)

Sunlit flowers

The lone cosmo in the garden

The moon!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Boarding the ERV Waratah

It seems that lately getting myself to write means staying up late. Goodness knows I wasn't planning on staying up until almost two, but never mind. I kept getting held up trying to find things. Names are hard...

Anyway, here's the next section. Shorter than intended, but at least they're out of the chute and actually into the ship.

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


“Gravity’s still functioning,” Taz said as he stood up and took an experimental step. “You can feel it from the other side of the hull.” He tapped the ship’s shiny surface and frowned. “You said you know how to open this thing?”

Amy regarded the access port with her hands on her hips. “It should respond to a passcode.”

“What, like some kind of algorithm? Some kind of sequential thing?”

Amy laughed. “Well, sure, but I think in this case you might want to think a little less high-tech. Breaking and entering and theft of ships of this size wasn’t a big problem during the Empire.” Awkwardly, she unzipped a pocket of her suit and pulled out a notebook. Ignoring the two men, she thumbed through the pages until she found the page of quickly-scrawled notes on Apollo-class ships. “Apollos are christened with a name and serial number,” she read. “The serial number will open the outer access ports, while the name will open the inner ones.” She looked up. “And wouldn’t you know it, I have both written down. Clever me.”

Grayson stepped back with an elaborate flourish. “Would you care to do the honours, Doctor Jones?”

Amy took a deep breath and stepped up to the sleek box to the left of the door. Flipping open the cover, she keyed in
SV-997 and waited, holding her breath. There was a moment of stillness, and then the chute rumbled beneath their feet as the access port detached inwards and rolled away from the opening. The lights in the space just beyond the hatch flickered and lit up, illuminating a cylindrical area roughly ten feet by fifteen. Another access hatch blocked the far end.

Slinging the strap to the canister over her shoulder and picking up the plastic case, Amy squared her shoulders and stepped through into the passageway. As Grayson and Taz moved to follow, the chute shook and Benji slid out at an angle. Grayson paused with his foot on the lip of the access port and glanced down at Benji as the shorter man got to his feet.

“Come along then, Harris,” he said. “Before Jones blows a blood vessel.”

“If the last one in will hit the blue switch, the hatch should seal behind you,” Amy said as she moved to the end of the passageway and turned her attention to the second access port, setting down the supply case beside the bulkhead. Behind her, Benji punched the blinking blue button; it flashed once and then glowed steadily as the door rolled back across the opening. The floor vibrated, and for a moment there was silence, followed by a gentle hiss that grew steadily louder, until finally Benji said,

“Does anyone else hear that?”

Taz lifted his head and squinted overhead between the lights. “She’s repressurising.”

“Amy, do these ships usually have the kind of resources to keep powered up for hundreds of years?” Grayson asked.

Amy glanced back at him, her gaze troubled. “Not that I’m aware,” she replied. “To the best of my knowledge, she should have powered down once her crew abandoned ship and stayed that way until someone issued a command from the flight deck to power back up. Repressurising violates the power-down command. There’s no need for atmosphere with no crew on board.” She hesitated, and then added, “Although it’ll make our lives easier if we don’t have to bother with the suits while we’re on board.”

“I’d rather keep them until we can ascertain what the atmospheric condition is throughout the ship.” Grayson watched as Amy returned her attention to the control panel beside the inner hatch, and then said, “Any luck?”

“In a moment,” she said. She returned her notepad to its pocket and tapped
ERV Waratah into the keypad.

“What’s the
ERV stand for?” Grayson asked over her shoulder.

“Empire Research Vessel.” Amy stood back as the hatch rolled back. “We’ve got air,” she said, and picked up the supply case again. “Shall we go see what the Empire has left us?”


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