Thursday, February 4, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (12)

Apologies for the delay in a new installment.  I had a court appearance (SSI) last week and spent most of this week recovering.  I don't do well under stress - the reason for the hearing in the first place.  But things maybe improving now; we got a dog.  The change in my mood and outlook has apparently been dramatic.

Anyway, this should be the second-to-last installment.  Enjoy!


In the cockpit of the Gentleman Scoundrel, Medic Canto Kura was frantically trying to get feedback from the remote medical sensors on the missing crewman Sagkal.  The Ship’s Master, Aru Vakh, wasn’t about to let Kura work in peace, however.
“What in Hell happened, Kura?  How can the two of you lose an entire Sloak?”
The other person Vakh refered to was Navigator Ruku Mat, who was at that moment on the stricken Patrol Cutter with Sagkal, in a vac suit, desperately trying not to panic.
“Okay, okay, okay….breathe.  Just breathe.  I can do that...”  It was becoming a chore to breathe deeply for Ruku, as the urge to pant began to become irresistible.  She was sweating profusely - which was to be expected, the temperature this close to a star was in exess of sixty-five Celsius.  But for a Giru, such as Mat, sixty-five was about the noontime temperature of home in the summer.  She let her overhanging curls and bushy eyebrows soak up the moisture without thinking about it.
The important thing, Ruku knew, was not to panic.  She quickly typed in the commands needed to fuel the Patrol Cutter’s Launch.  NegMat flowed from the forward holding tanks into the tiny craft, making the gravity shift sightly in the Computer Room where Ruku Mat was working.  The forward tank was balanced against the after tanks and the mass of  the Cutter itself, keeping the spacecraft at rest reletive to its vector.  But this could not last.  The incredible amount of heat pouring into the Cutter was degrading the NegMat containment.  It would only last another hour or two before failing and turning the Cutter into a cloud of debris.  Sagkal, incommunicado, might not have an hour.  It was up to Ruku to prevent the debris, rescue Sagkal, and get out on the Launch.
Impossible.
It would take both Ruku and Sagkal to save the Cutter.  Unless the two released the forward and aft holding tanks simultaneously, the Cutter would streak off in the opposite direction of -
“-No...it can’t be that easy, can it?”
“What’s that Ruku?” Canto asked, “What’s easy?”
In spite of her fear, Ruku laughed out loud. “I can get us out!  And execute the five-one-five!”
Vakh came on the circuit “What are you on about, Mat?”
“Put the Scoundrel in a higher orbit.  We’ll be their shortly”
In the cockpit of the Merchant ship, Vakh snapped at his Medic.  “She’s gone mad!”
“Could be,” said Canto Kura, “but buggered if I can think of what she could do differently.”
    Cockpit, Zag:” This was Zag Essuru, the Gentleman Scoundrel’s pilot, from the Quarterdeck.  “Cutter has come about Y-plus 26 degrees and increasing.  Confirm.”
    Aru Vakh found the appropriate radar scope and confirmed that the Cutter had indeed turned to its starboard and for an unknown reason.
    Cockpit, Ipa:” This from Engineering, where the frantic Ipa Sam said, “If the Cutter turns broadside, she’ll breakup from thermal shock!”
    Canto answered, “We know Ipa!  It’s not like we can stop her!”
    “Look!”
    Aru Vakh pointed at the scope. Ruku Mat had scrammed the forward NegMat reservoir.  The energized fluid instantly converted to endlessly amplified light and radiation, and just as instantly decayed into oblivion.  The remains were a gamma ray burst, aimed not at the hapless cutter nor the dilapidated trader, but at the star itself.  It dissipated harmlessly as the Patrol Cutter shot forward at two gravities.
    “I’ll be damned,” Aru Vakh said. “She has indeed gone mad.  And it has given her courage.”
    “Her vector will take her into the sun, “ Said Kura.  “She’s scuttling the Cutter.”
“And the rest of the NegMat with it.  Where it will do not harm, while she gets Sagkal and escapes in the Launch.”  Vakh keyed the intercom.  “Sam, ready the drive.  Essuru, get up here; I need you at the helm to follow our mad Navigator.”
“Hell, yeah.”

Friday, January 29, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (11)

The lift tube felt like a chimney to Ruku Mat, opressively tight in her vacuum suit and a blistering eighty degrees.  By comparison, the Command Deck was a relatively cool sixty-five.  In order to comply with Aru Vakh’s orders to fuel and prep the Patrol Cutter’s Launch, Ruku still had to start in the Computer Room.
The lift tube opened just off the hatch to the Navigation Bridge.  There were two gastights and a security lock between Ruku and the Bridge, but with the code five-one-five access, it was simply a matter of pushing buttons and opening hatches.
Like the rest of the Cutte’s interior, the Navigation Bridge was green and dark in the way only spacecraft can get.  The panoramic viewports that wrapped around the front of the compartment were tightly shuttered with rad-armor and the various monitors and stations were dark.  The only light was from the wan glow of tritium bulbs scattered around in strategic places. Wherever that dim light shown, Ruku could see bodies.
“They’re here, they’re dead.  Very dead - oh, so very dead…”
Deep breaths, Ruku,” Canto Kura, the crew’s medic, commanded in his smooth voice. “Your blood pressure will thank you.  Can you take a radiation reading, please?”
Ruku attempted the prescribed deep breaths, with limited success.  She took a paper swab from her utility pouch and and wiped it on one of the consoles, carefully ignoring the corpse on station.  The rad counter, like all the tell-tale dials on her spacesuit, was mounted on the front of her chest.  She used the mirror on the inside of her left arm to read the dials.  For a moment, Ruku began to panic as none of the dials made sense.
Deep breaths.”  
Ruku tried to calm herself.  Finally, she remembered that everything was backward - reversed in the mirror’s image.
“Uh... reading the gauge .... 0.46 Gray - DPM of 98.”
That's on the border-line. I want you two out of there soonest.”
“ Roger that.  I’m trying to get to the Computer Room now.  Could have problems - everything is offline.”
    Ruku, Ipa.” The Engineer came back on the comm.  “The electronics were problably wiped by an EM pulse.  See if you can find the back-up master tapes.”
    Uh, roger…”  Guided only by the pale cone coming from her head-lamp, She used the passkey on the locked hatch to the Computer Room.
Unlike a Merchant like Gentleman Scoundrel, the military-grade computers on the patrol craft were state-of-the-art.  Instead of racks and racks of magnetic tape, there was two columns of stacked and networked servers, and a single shelf of slim, square plastic folders.  There were two stations in the compartment, and unfortunately for Ruku Mat, both were occupied.  
“I’m… not sure I can do this,”
“Sure you can,” Kura’s smooth voice was back in her ear.  “They can’t hurt you, Ruku.  I know this is unpleasant, but you can do it.”
“I - I can’t get to the consoles.”
“Then you’ll have to move the bodies.”
“Oh, oh no… no way -”
Ruku!  Ruku listen to me.”  Hearing Canto Kura’s voice helped a little.  It was at that moment her only anchor.  “You can do this.  Concentrate on your gloves.  The feel of the inside of your gloves on your hands.  The pain in your fingernails - they’re starting to hurt, aren’t they?”
“Ye - yeah…” Ruku’s fingers did indeed hurt.  The metal thimbles on the tips of the spacesuit’s gloves were notorious for buising fingers and peeling nails.  Ruku focused her fingertips as she reached for the first body.  The pain in her fingers intenseified as she grippd the first body by its coverall.  The tiny woman used the mass of her suit to leverage the body out of it’s chair.
Try to stay calm, Ruku.”
I am trying!”  She took a moment to practice deep breaths again.  “Look, just - just keep talking to me, okay?”
“Of course.  Did you know that I’m a concert tenor?”
“Wait - what?  Really?”
“No, actually.  I can’t sing a note.  Well, I can but I’ve been ordered by Dioces High Command never to do so except in the face of hostile invasion.”
In spite of her rising panic, Ruku tittered a short laugh.  “That bad, huh?”
“Well, I don’t think so, but I was outvoted.  Like with the onion pie.  I made that once for a date - in retrospect, not the wisest of actions…”
Ruku continued to listen as Canto recounted the details of the ill-fated dinner.  She focused on the sound of his voice, the rich tone that certainly couldn’t belong to a bad singer, and looked forward to the puns and punchlines Canto peppered his story with. By the time he was serving dessert to his foul-breathed date, Ruku had moved the bodies into the Bridge and shut the hatch behind her.
“Remind me not to ask you to cater my wedding.” Ruku was even able to quip.
I will.  Are you alright now, Ruku?”
“Thank you.  I need Ipa, please.”
“Right here, Ruku.”  The Engineer’s voice replaced Canto’s.  “See if you can find the master tapes.”
Ruku took one of the plastic folders out of its slot and opened it carefully. She had been expecting a thin spool of tape, but what she found confounded her.  It was a flat, plastic disk, with a gooved surface that refracted the light from her head lamps into a rainbow spray of color.
Ruku described what she had found. “I have no idea what this is…”
Ipa’s answered back, “I don’t either.  Kura?  You served with the Janoi, what the Hell is all this?”
Canto answered.  “It’s a laser-disc.  That kind of tech is right on the edge of what you can move through a Janus. I’m surprised their computer’s that advanced.  Is the back-up computer marked?”
“How could you fit a backup computer in here?  It not that big a room…”
If they’re using laser-discs, the computers are small enough to fit a backup in there.  Try above the monitors.”
Ruku searched, thick fingered, for the impossibly small computer Canto assumed was in the compartment.  The componants of the Cutter’s data system were mostly unfamiliar to her.  She didn’t see a printer, the monitors were couriously flat, and there didn’t seem to be nearly enough hardware to run a decent sized lifeboat, much less a two kiloton-plus military starship.
 “There!” Canto startled Ruku. “The flat box with the long, shallow lid on the front?  Open that.”
The box was only a couple of centimeters deep - far too small to hold a computer. It’s corners were covered in rubberized shock-proofing and when Ruku picked the unlikely box up it was surprizingly heavy.  Even more unlikely was what she found when she opened the front lid.  The lid swung down on hinges to reveal a keyboard on the inside,  the exposed interior of the box had a small screen and a pair of thin slits mounted within.
Slide the disc into the top slot.”
This is a computer?  Just this?”  Despite Ruku’s disbelief, she did what she was told.  To her surprize, the screen glowed blue and a series of white characters began to scroll.
If you type in the five-one-five code, you should be able to access the system.”
Ruku entered the passkey and brought up the main menu.  The small terminal could only perform a few functions, but Ruku was amazed enough that this briefcase was a computer at all. She managed to find the commands to fuel the Launch with a little trouble, and then readied the sequence for scraming the NegMat reservoir.
“Okay, I think that’s got it.  Sagkal, are you in position?  We need to scram both containment vessels together.”
Silence.
“Uh, Canto?  I’m not getting Sagkal. Can you raise him?”
“I can’t.” The smooth voice was now edged with intensity.  “His temperature is reading dangerously high.  I don’t think he’s even made to Engineering.”
Ruku swore to herself.  She had been so focused on he own fear, had taken up so much of Canto’s attention with her panic, that Sagkal had run into trouble without anyone knowing.  Without the help of the Sloak, Ruku couldn’t jettison the NegMat.  None of the others would be able to tolerate the heat in the Cutter better than Sagkal did, and even if they could, by the time they went through pre-breathing and suited up, time would have run out.  
         Ruku was out of options.  The Cutter was doomed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Genleman's Duty (10)

   
   The Cockpit of the Gentleman Scoundrel boomed with Sagkal’s laughter at Ruku Mat’s expense.  Canto Kura could hear the avalanche of noise well before reaching the hatch.  He could also hear Aru Vakh’s typically testy response.
    “That will be quite enough, Sagkal.  I want you to make a brief visual inspection of the exterior before preceding inside.  We haven’t much time.”
    “We? What’s he mean ‘we’?”
    “I heard that, Sagkal.”
    Somewhat predictably, Canto grinned at the exchange.  He moved to stand beside Master Vakh, who was sitting at the Navigation station.  The multiple monitors that covered that entire wall of the cockpit displayed several exterior views of the Scoundrel, helmet cams from both Sagkal and Ruku, and telemetry data showing the temperature, radiation and behavior of the red dwarf star hanging below them.
    Hey, Gents?  You seein’ this Cutter’s tail feathers?” Sagkal said.  “I can’t get much closer; the ferromag plates are only around the airlock.”
    Even from Sagkal’s shallow angle of view, the damage to the Cutter’s radiators was easy to see.  The diamonoid panels ended only a few meters from the hull.  They did not look burnt or damaged in any way - they simply ended prematurely, with a faint trail of vaporized lithium pluming from the exposed ends.
“Now that is an unlikely sight.”  Vakh taped the monitor glass.  “Have you ever seen that before, Kura?”
“Only in simulations.  The Rabbithole closed prematurely, didn’t it?”
“It did Indeed.” Vakh was grim. He keyed the comm switch. “Go ahead inside, both of you.”

“Roger that.” Sagkal keyed off and turned to Ruku Mat, who had righted herself and was waiting.  “Go ahead, Mat.”
Ruku opened the outer hatch tot he DC airlock.  Normally, opening the exterior hatch on a naval ship uninvited would be impossible without excessive force, but under certain conditions, this was not the case.  The declaration of a Code 515 gave the Scoundrel an access passkey that bypassed the Cutter’s security.  Ruku had written the passkey in vacuum pencil on the back of one suit glove, and clumsily keyed the lock.  The hatch swung outward.
“Aw, its a quick-lock…”  Ruku whined as she contemplated the coffin-sized compartment.
“You go first.” Sagkal said.  “It may be a chore for me to wriggle through.”
Ruku snuggled into the tiny chamber, closed the hatch, and cycled.  In less than a minute, the pressure equalized and she was through.
“Gents, Mat: I’m in the DC vestibule.”
“Glad to hear it.” It was Canto Kura’s rich, amused voice on the other end, vastly preferable to Master Vakh.  “Can you give me a pressure reading, Ruku?”
“Uh...sure.  Just a sec…”
Sagkal voice filled her ears, startling the small woman. “Ruku!  Close the inner hatch!”
“Oh! Sorry…”
Ruku shut the inner hatch and fumbled with the barometer, trying not to get flustered.
“Okay...pressure is… one fifty-nine kilopascals. Temp is sixty-one.”
I was afraid of that.”  Kura said over the com. “The heat’s increasing the air pressure.  I know it’s not too hot for you two, but stay in your suits.”
Sagkal, who had finally squeezed out of the quick-lock and was in the process of raising his hands to his helmet. “Really?  Come on, Kura!”
“Really.  The heat’s made the Cutter’s air mix off balance and the pressure’s nearly twice as high as standard.  You’d be in danger of isobaric counter diffusion.”
“Iso-what?”
Kura’s sigh was audible over the speakers. “The Bends, Sagkal.  Stay in the suits.”
“May we get to work now?” Aru Vakhs voice came over the com. “You’ve only about three hours left.”
“Uh, yes!  Yessir… Ipa?  What do we need to do?”
Ipa’s voice joined the conference from the Pump House. “Your first priority is the five-one-five.  One of you needs to go to the Computer Room, the other to Engineering, and scram the NegMat. That needs to be done before anything -”
“Belay that,” Vakh said, “I want the Cutter’s Launch fueled and prepared for release before you jettison the NegMat.”
There was silence over the com.  Ruku could only imagine the argument going on between The Scoundrel’s Engineer and his Master.  The voice that finally came back on the com was Cato Kura’s.
You two should go ahead and get moving. While there’s time.”
          Sagkal and Ruku Mat exchanged a look.  After double-checking their suits and comms one more time, they parted ways - Ruku up the lift tube to the Launch and cockpit, Sagkal to the Pump House below.
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