A Sea of Stars - Ch. 22 - Reboot

                   the
modern
computer is nothing short
short of a miracle
with    billions
of tiny    circuits

and                role
billions           to play
of lines of code  and each important
each  having        in     its
their      own      own      way


Once back out into space, Lillian settled down to try to figure out how this was even going to work. They’d loaded dozens of metallic panels into the back of the shuttle, all carefully stacked. They were rather heavy now, but that wouldn’t be a problem when they got there–Watkins could just shut the gravity plating off.

She pulled out the tools she’d collected and arranged them neatly on the floor. Most of them she wouldn’t need and there was only limited options. Mostly it was soothing. Organizing things always helped to calm her nerves. It took up most of the time on the short flight back out to the damage and by the time she got there, she was completely calm. Ready.

Except there was Adrian. That wasn’t exactly calm-inducing.

Once she floated out into the void, all of her worries floated away. It was hard to be worried in zero gravity. Particularly when there wasn’t a trace of Adrian to be seen. It was entirely possible that he was floating somewhere nearby–with that black jumpsuit, he’d be nigh impossible to see–but if he was, he wasn’t doing anything to draw attention to himself. And that was the way Lillian liked it.

What was more, Jacobs had apparently been working on the damage while she’d been gone. An entire side of the gash had been trimmed of all of debris and sharp edges. The shrapnel he’d managed to cut free, he’d magnetized and stuck to a growing pile a meter or so from the edge. There were a few minor shards that he’d missed, but for the most part, he’d done an impressive job.

“Nice,” she called out over the comms.

He replied almost immediately. “Why thank you.” As she watched, he brought the shuttle’s arms in and bobbed it up and down in a clear bow. Lillian couldn’t help but giggle. “I left the smoothing and most of the welding for you.”

“How kind of you.”

He made the shuttle’s arms shrug. “I would have if I could. Have at it.”

She set to work. The work went quickly, first smoothing off the surfaces that Jacobs had left on the first side then moving to the other once he’d finished. While she worked, he moved the scraps further away, them to Watkins’ shuttle so they could unload them later and not have them floating about in space with them for the rest of the trip.

The welding was a little more troublesome. She had all of the tools to weld them on, but she had to make sure that they would be able to survive at least close to a full atmosphere of pressure. If they couldn’t and they blew out while they were getting people out of their rooms… It didn’t bear thinking about.

So she was absolutely meticulous about the welds, double and triple checking each panel as she added it. It took longer that way, but better safe than sorry.

Overall, it took the better part of two hours to finish everything. By the end, she was worrying that the people in their rooms would have enough air to make it through. Madeline assured her that they people they had contact with–those nearest the undamaged sections–were still doing fine and had at least another hour. Although she did suggest that Lillian hurry.

Finally, they were ready to try turning everything back on.

Only there was one little problem.

“Um. Guys? How are we going to turn everything back on?”

Jacobs voice came over the comms almost instantly. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that we just sealed ourselves out of the section.”

“Wasn’t that kind of the point?”

“But now we can’t turn the air back on.”

“We’ll just go in an …” She could almost hear the light bulb blinking on over his head.

“Exactly. Oh, and the emergency power controls got smashed anyways.”

His voice rose. “Say what?”

“Someone–I’m guessing Adrian–smashed up all the computers and other systems before we got there. It’d be a pain and a half to get everything up and running again. If we could even get to it.”

“You might have mentioned this before now.”

“I might have.”

“But you didn’t.”

“Details details. The point’s still moot if we can’t get back in.”

Madeline’s voice suddenly chimed in. “We could just open the blast doors.”

Lillian and Jacobs responded almost simultaneously. “What?”

“Just open the blast doors. We could force the computers to over pressurize the three sections we have access to–just slightly. Then open the doors and use the three sections to repressurize the living quarters.”

“That sounds awfully risky…” Lillian started.

Jacobs continued right over the top of her, “What about the winds, things will be flying all over the place.”

“We’ve already cleaned up most of the things that were flung about when we got gravity back online, but we could do another run through and bolt down anything else.”

Lillian took over. “What if the patch doesn’t hold?”

Both of them went completely silent. After a moment, Madeline said. “We’ll have to disable the systems that close the blast doors in the first place to get them open. But I bet we could manually close them.”

“How quickly? If it manages to blow out the entire thing, you won’t have much time to close it.”

“Well, you’ll just have to make sure that your welds hold.”

Lillian sighed. “No pressure then?”

“None at all,” Madeline replied and Lillian could hear the smile in her voice. She was trying to help. “If it makes you feel better, if the seal does break, you’ll be among the last to have to deal with it.”

“No, that really doesn’t make me feel better. But it’s not like we have a better option. How long?”

“Well, that might be a problem. The easiest way to over pressure the ship would be if we have the computers back. And she’s still working on that.”

“Who’s still working on that?” Jacobs cut in.

“Later,” both Madeline and Lillian hissed at him.

“You keep saying that…”

“And we really do mean it,” Madeline started.

“But things just keep getting complicated,” Lillian finished.

“Isn’t that the truth.”

Lillian shook her head and went back to the topic on hand. “But you can do it manually?”

Madeline hesitated. “Sure. I’ll see what support I can round up. Give me 15 minutes.”

“In the meantime,” Jacobs said. She could hear the questions in his voice already. “Now would be a good later.”

“It’s a long story…”

“All the best ones are. Here, I’ll pick you up. You can sit in the shuttle while they wait. Watkins, you okay with that?”

Lillian couldn’t see the front of her shuttle, only the back. Unsurprisingly, there was no spoken response, but Jacobs flew over beside her, so she must have nodded to him.

As she landed with a dull clang in the shuttle and the door shut behind her, she sighed. This was going to be an interesting conversation.

It was.

“An AI. A real, honest to goodness AI.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying.”

He shook his head. “This is crazy.”

“You’re telling me.”

“And your dad had her the whole time?”

“As far as I can tell, yes.”

“How did he get hold of her?”

“I’m not really sure. The only person that probably knows that is Eve herself and we haven’t exactly had that much time to talk it over.”

“True enough. And now it’s…”

“She. You’ll see when you meet her.”

“And now she’s working on fixing the ship. Fighting against other alien technology.”

“Yup.”

“Ten minutes ago, I didn’t even know that aliens existed. Now you’re telling me that we not only have an alien AI about, but also that Adrian probably has access to at least some alien technology?”

“Pretty much.”

“Well, that’d at least potentially explain why we couldn’t see him.”

“You’re thinking he can cloak?”

“You said that Eve could, right? And it’d explain a lot of things. Like how him and Jenkins managed to set all of those panels without being seen. And how he got to all of the emergency power systems.”

“And that’s what makes him so dangerous. I’m guessing the only reason that he hasn’t just started killing people off now is because most of the crew doesn’t believe that he’s actually the bad guy.”

“Lillian, if it wasn’t you telling me, I’m not sure that I’d believe it.”

She smiled. As she did, Madeline’s voice came over the comms. “Good news.”

“We’re ready to go?” Lillian replied.

“Better. We’ve got the computers back. They’re still a little fiddly, but even that’s fading away.”

“Awesome. I was just talking to Jacobs here, but I can head back out to keep an eye on the welds.”

“That’s probably for the best. But Lillian?”

“Yes?”

“Take care of yourself. If it starts going too fast for you to fix, get away from there.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t feel like getting hit in the face by flying steel any more than you do. Give me ten minutes to get back into position.”

“Done. We’ll need the same to get everything ready here anyways.”

“Good luck.”

“Likewise.”

She stepped back into the back of the craft and reattached her helmet, checking herself over. Her heart was racing again, but she was ready.

Standing right beside her welds, Lillian couldn’t see the progress in the ship, but she could hear the chatter over the public comms as everyone got into position. There were people standing by at each door, ready to rush in and get people out of their rooms as quickly as possible. They wouldn’t have gravity once they crossed over the into the living quarters, which was both a blessing and a curse. They would be able to maneuver more freely but many of the people trapped didn’t have extensive training for dealing with zero gravity. And there would likely be people hurt; people that might not be able to move themselves. All in all, it was likely to get complicated. And Lillian was sitting outside the ship, unable to even see anything.

Finally, everyone reported ready to go. They’d decided that there would be no count down. Once everyone was ready, Madeline–with Eve’s help, although very few knew that–would instruct the computer to override and open the blast doors. That was all the warning the crews at the doors would need. Everyone else was holding on to whatever solid pieces of equipment they could find. The wind would lessen significantly the further one got from the living quarters, but there was still bound to be some repercussions.

While she was waiting, Lillian noticed Watkins’ shuttle drifting away from them. The engines weren’t powered up, or if they were they were operating at such a minimal power that they weren’t even faintly glowing, but nevertheless it was getting further away.

“Watkins, where are you going?”

No response.

“Jacobs, can you see Watkins?”

“Not from here. Why?”

“Her shuttle is drifting. Can you take a look?”

“Sure, just a second.” He keyed up his own engines to lower power and started strafing across the hull of the Borealis, so that the two shuttles would face each other.

As he did, Madeline’s voice came over the comms. “It’s done. Hang on everyone.”

At first, Lillian didn’t feel a thing, but after a few moments she felt a rushing sensation–like a the faint sound of a far away river–passing through the hull and her boots and into her feet.

Watkins’ shuttle continued to drift away as Jacobs flew to meet it. He must have misjudged its initial velocity because he had to make a sudden burn to back away from it to avoid a collision. As he did, she could hear his voice coming over the comms.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa…”

“What? What is it?”

There was a sudden flash of light coming from Jacobs’ engines. It was bright enough that Lillian’s faceplate automatically went black to protect her vision. As she struggled to return transparent, she could feel the air rushing under her feet growing louder. There was a sharp report from right beside her like the snapping of a branch.

“Crap!” she cried out, fumbling even more desperately with her face plate, dropping to one knee on the hull of the ship. As it finally faded from completely black back into at least partial transparency, she could see what had caused the report. One of her welds had given away and a thin stream of air was pushing through it. “Double crap.” She slid forward across the hull, pulling out her plasma torch. Hopefully the air wasn’t oxygen rich to ignite–shouldn’t, it’s the same mix we always breath. She lit the torch and started welding the two pieces back together. She knew it wouldn’t likely hold forever, but hopefully long enough. A few seconds worth of work and it was closed, but she could see another point where a few bubbles had leaked out just a bit further down.

“Lillian, watch out!” Jacobs yelled. She looked up just in time to see Watkins’ shuttle bearing down on her. Now that it was facing her, she could see into the cockpit–or rather what was left of it. A large chunk of the front window had been cut out, along with a good portion of the pilot’s chair. Watkins’ lay sprawled across the control console, obviously dead. The shuttle was in a long arcing trajectory, coming at her in a half sideways slide and coming fast.

She had only moments to react, so immediately went to the first thing she had thought of. Get out of the way. She clicked off her boots and launched herself away from the Borealis. Hours and hours of training exercises screamed at her as she did–Never push off into spaceAlways keep at least one point on the surface–but it worked. She managed to pass over the top of Watkins’ shuttle by mere centimeters. It coasted under her, the engines still not lit, and smashed into the hull of the Borealis.

To Lillian, it was completely silent. No longer in contact with the ship’s hull, she didn’t have a medium through which sound could reach her ears. But it definitely looked loud enough. She could see the hull of both the shuttle and the ship buckling slightly under the impact–the shuttle’s more so than the ship’s–and winced as another of her welds gave way under the strain. Air started leaking out along several points.

“Lillian, what’s going on?” She could hear Madeline’s worried voice quite clearly.

“Watkins is dead. Her shuttle just crashed into the Borealis.”

“How?”

“Not sure. We’ve got problems though. We lost one of the welds in the collision.”

“So weld it back together.”

“Love to. I’m not exactly on the ship any more though.”

“Say what?”

“Never you mind,” Jacobs voice interrupted. Lillian’s upward momentum was abruptly halted as she collided with the smooth underside of Jacobs’ shuttle. He’d done a good job matching her velocity so she barely even felt the collision. “Got you.”

Lillian let out her breath in a rush of air. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear that right now.”

“What’s going on?” Madeline’s voice was conflicted. She sounded both confused and relived.

“Nothing to worry about. We’ll get it fixed.” By now, Watkins’ shuttle was a good way away from the ship, still sliding in an odd half sideways motion off into Borealis’ wake. It wasn’t going terribly quickly, but in all likelihood they would never see it again. With one final glance at the departing shuttle, Lillian braced her legs and hopped back down to the Borealis.

This time, the impact was rather more jarring as her boots locked back on to hull. She almost fell, but caught herself and walked over to the new damage. The shuttle hadn’t managed to knock any new holes in the hull and for that Lillian was grateful. She wasn’t sure that they ship could have taken it. But the broken welds were getting worse. Not more then she could handle though. A few minute’s work and she had it sealed up tight.

As she worked, she heard Jacobs reporting back on what had happened with Watkins. There were murmurs among the crew, but a few people had seen the shuttle almost take Lillian with it and her quick work in saving the rest of the crew. Tides were beginning to turn to believing her.

Later, both she and Jacobs talked with Madeline about how the evacuation was going. From the sound of it, almost everyone that had been in their quarters when the damage had occurred was fine. There were some reports of lightheadedness and a few cuts and bruises, but on the whole everyone was better than they’d even expected.

Miraculously, one of the people they found was the Commander. He was unconscious, with a nasty gash on his head where something must have struck him. The medics were worried that he was still unconscious after all that time, but that it might actually have saved his life. His room hadn’t sealed perfectly and had lost more than half of its atmosphere by the time they’d gotten to him. They weren’t guarantying anything, but there was still a chance.

All together, there were two people unaccounted for when they finished clearing the section. The first was the remaining ship’s cook–Seymour Biggs. His room had been one of the three that had been opened to space by the gash and everyone expected that he’d been blown out into space with his room’s atmosphere. Lillian looked again–although she wasn’t sure she’d actually want to find him at this point–but there wasn’t a sign of him floating in the wreckage. But it was entirely possible that he’d had enough velocity to get away from the ship before they came looking.

The other missing person was Adrian. There were murmurs about that, even over the comms where they must have known Lillian could hear them. The crew seemed divided. The first group between those who were starting to believe that maybe Lillian was telling the truth. Maybe Adrian was responsible after all. The rest thought that maybe Lillian had killed him while they were in that part of the ship and hidden the body so that she’d have someone to blame. Neither group went so far as to accuse her, but she could hear them talking.

“We’ve got everyone,” Madeline called out over the comms, breaking into Lillian’s thoughts. “How are the welds holding?”

“Holding great. I think they’ve got a few hours in them at least.”

“Long enough to reconfigure the gate and get an emergency connection off?”

“Sure, if you’ve got a good hand working the computers.”

“About that… we could use your help with that.” There was a particular force to her words that made Lillian think she didn’t want to contradict her. Was something up with Eve? Without Eve it could take a day or more to reconfigure the gate to work with only seven generators. “Why don’t you head back with Jacobs.”

“On my way.”

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