Welcome to Part IV of my little SF Novella, Derelict. You can find part I, part II, and part III as earlier posts, in case you need to catch up. Bear in mind I wrote this in 1994, so some of the implied tech seems a little… quaint.
I searched the body carefully. Like me, he carried a cyberdeck. I connected it to my deck and had Galen search it. Galen found a voice log that the miner kept while exploring the ship. Where I stood was the farthest he had gotten. It had apparently taken him a good twenty hours to get to this point, and he realized he had miscalculated his range and run out of air. He was wearing a reactionpack, which still had enough reaction mass for several hours of low power use, since he wasn’t going anywhere soon. It would make getting around the large ship in zero G much easier. His name was Jenner, and he did leave one useful piece of information.
“Well, whoever finds my corpse – if you’re human – the lock word on the O’Bannon’s log is “Dutchman”. I hope you’ll be decent enough to take the ship back to Ceres, sell it, and forward whatever you get to my niece, Sally, on Juno. She’s a nice kid, and the only family I have, and it would help her get somewhere so she won’t be stuck with some miner like me, or end up a miner like me. I’m gonna vent the suit now, so it’ll be quicker than just letting the ox run out. Tell Sally I love her. Jenner out.”
Poor bastard, I thought. If I get out of here, I would make sure Sally received Jenner’s last will and testament. The log was dated about nine months ago, but except for some depressurization damage, Jenner’s corpse was pretty well preserved.
Which reminded me to check my O2 supply; I still had about two hours before I needed to head back for more tanks. I debated for several minutes, then headed back up the tube. After running into Jenner’s corpse, I decided to be a little more cautious in my approach. I would climb back to the Jimmy and bring it down to the surface of the pyramid so I would have easier access to it and whatever supplies I had left. I would then stage O2 tanks and water along the way as I explored so I wouldn’t have to return all the way to the Jimmy to resupply. I went back out to the outer surface of the pyramid, where I received another in a series of rude shocks. The Jimmy was gone, the tether neatly cut. The end of the tether looked melted and glassified; whatever had cut it had been hot. My netful of supplies was still there, but everything that had been on the Jimmy was gone. I had 72 hours of life left. I began to wonder if maybe Jenner was the lucky one here.
After a few minutes of suicidal thoughts, I found myself getting angry. Not that I exploded, it was more of a slow burn, but this was the last straw. Whatever Fate or God had decided to piss on my parade was going to regret it, I decided.
I made a bundle out of the net that I could tow behind me; the whole thing massed maybe sixty kilos, so it wasn’t too difficult to manage in zero G. I had a couple of comical moments in the gravity elevators, but within an hour I was back in front of Jenner. One of the items I had brought with me was a six-pack of battery-powered EVA transponders. I attached one to Jenner and flicked it on. That way, I could find my way back to him, or at least get a fix on his direction. The derelict was so huge, I definitely needed to keep my bearings straight.
I’m not sure how much time passed – several hours – all I remember was checking out a lot of different rooms. Most of them were some kind of storage, and since none of them looked to be a likely source of air, I didn’t waste time searching them in detail. I finally found cross-corridor that let further into the interior. I couldn’t move too fast, as I pulling my meager supply cache along with me. At one point, I realized it had been twenty hours since I’d slept (well, passed out), so I popped a couple of stimulants. I’d regret it later, but only if I was alive. I hoped I’d live to regret it.
Galen’s face popped up on the helmet HUD. “Uh, boss?”
The construct sounded perplexed. “I’ve been keeping an occasional sensor on the artifact. Every now and then it glows.”
I thumbed the reactionpak and came to a stop. “Glows?”
“Yeah. In the high UV, very faintly. You couldn’t see it.”
“Izzatso?” I thought hard for a moment. “The glow is not continuous?”
I pulled the artifact out of the cache. “Keep a constant scan on it and tell me when it glows.”
I rotated 360 degrees several times in the plane of the corridor, while Galen fed the data to my HUD. “No change, boss.”
“Hmmm.” I took a step down the corridor, then turned around and started in the other direction.
“It just started glowing. It’s very faint, very low power, but my sensors definitely pick it up.”
“Galen, I think it’s telling us where to go. It only seems to glow when I’m facing a particular direction.”
I paused for a moment. “Galen, scan the artifact every… oh, say 10 times a second. Put the result as a little pipper in the HUD when I’m headed in the right direction. We’ll use it as a sort of global positioning system.”
“Right, boss, it’s as good as done.”
I figured there would be more interesting things nearer the core of the cylinder, so I made it a point to explore each level – which seemed to wrap around the cylinder – long enough to move to the middle. The artifact “compass” seemed to concur with that veiwpoint. Then I reached a level where it seemed to want to travel along the axis of the ship. As it turned out, I didn’t really have a choice, because I reached a door I couldn’t open. Instead of three buttons, there was what seemed to be a control panel. I thought that I must have reached the core, and the door might open into the ramjet tube. I wasn’t sure. “Galen, how much cross section have we covered?
“About two kilometers, boss.”
Two klicks? That didn’t seem right. The ramjet tube had only been, maybe three or four hundred meters across, so that left 1500 hundred meters of radius unaccounted for. I moved along this level and found other doors that should lead to the interior, but also with control panels. I was reluctant to begin randomly punching buttons; I’d save that for when my air got really low.
After finding several more of what I’d began calling “vault doors”, I began exploring the level I was on in earnest. After checking out several compartments, I began to understand that I might be on an engineering level, or at least some of the engineering functions were on this deck. There were several rooms that appeared to be control rooms of some kind, but they were quiescent. Panels that looked like they might be MFDs lined the walls, and there were consoles with buttons, sliders and what appeared to be touch-sensitive pads. All of it was labelled in the alien script. I noticed that some of the lettering seemed to be missing from some of the panels. “Galen, is there writing in colors I can’t see on some of these controls?”
“Negative,” returned the construct. “Those appear to be variable display controls.”
Then I stumbled into what must have been the master robotic facility. It was an enormous bay, filled with machinery of various descriptions. There must have been several hundred bays, all with machinery. Most of the machines had legs – two, four and six legged robots were evident. Only a few of the larger ones seemed to have cockpits of some kind. I noticed, too, that a number of the bays were empty. Were some of the maintenence mechs wandering around, I wondered.
“Galen, what’s our location?”
Rather than respond verbally, my construct projected a graphical map on the inside of my helmet. We were nearing what I considered the aft of the ship, where the exhaust of the ship would exit. “Galen, are you picking up any signs of radioactivity?”
“There are some real faint signs of increased activity, but it’s not a lot above background.”
I paused for a moment. “Okay, but if you see any large percentage increase – say, more than 50% in a few minutes – let me know, even if the net amount is still small.”
I moved further down the corridor towards the aft end of the ship. It had been nearly six hours since I left Jenner, and I’d already switched one O2 bottle. I optimistically stashed the empty in the net I was towing, thinking I might find a source along the way. Of course, whoever built this ship might not be oxygen breathers, or might have something in their atmosphere that would kill me outright. Did I say I was an optimist?
The ambient light was getting a little dimmer, too, although not bad. I wondered what the actual source of the light was; it was the only indication that there was some power source somewhere. Ahead, the corridor made a ninety degree turn. The corridor widened to double the original width as I rounded the bend and came to a dead stop.
I had found one of the missing robots. It was one of the four-legged variety, and had apparently been carrying some kind of cutting torch. It lay on the floor, its legs splayed out at odd angles. Two of the legs had clearly been severed, apparently by something hot, like another torch. Blobs of metal and plastic lay on the floor near the severed legs, and scorch marks were clearly evident. Something had clearly acted in a hostile manner. The robot was big, about twice my physical size, including the EVA suit.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t see who or what it was. Just ahead of the dead robot was a large set of double doors, as wide as the corridor and just as high. On the wall towards the nose of the ship were the usual three touchpads. I pondered the situation for several moments. I had no idea how long ago this battle – if that’s what it had been – had occured. There was the likelihood that if I opened the door, something unpleasant might take a pot shot at me. It had made short work of something a lot bigger than me, and armed better to boot. I reached into my supply cache and pulled out a portable cablegun.
The portable cablegun worked much like the big one on the Jimmy, but was small enough for a human being to handle. “Portable” was the operative word; it was still large and bulky. It held enough charges for about a dozen firings. I fired up the current and molded the now-tacky polymer to a cylindrical shape. I then ducked behind the disabled robot, carefully aimed the gun at the door switch, and pulled the trigger.
I was lucky; my first shot hit the “open” switch. Even though I was only a couple of meters from the switch, the cablegun is not exactly a precision instrument, so it was as much luck as skill that I hid my intended target. It struck with just enough force to depress the switch.
The doors slowly slid open. I noticed curiously that these seemed like normal doors, as they slid into recesses, rather than the odd, liquid-appearing doors I’d become accustomed to.
Then things happened very quickly. I heard a trilling voice come over my main comlink, but there were no recognizable words.. Then, abruptly, it adjusted to become a human voice, a woman’s voice, almost sultry, except that the voice’s pitch kept changing crazily. And what it said wasn’t pleasant, and it kept repeating it, over and over.
“Pardon me while I kill you. Pardon me while I kill you. Pardon me while I kill you.”