We return once again to our protagonist, who has just encountered a polite robot. It’s a killer robot, but still very polite. (You can find parts I-V here).
I looked past the entrance and saw a oblong-shaped robot slowly float. It had some kind of gun or torch mounted in a ball socket on the nose. It was maybe three meters high, and it was clearly looking for me. It apparently hadn’t seen me yet, though what it must have known it was dealing with a human somehow because it was transmitting in my language. Great, I thought to myself. I’m about to be incinerated by a polite robot.
I had to move fast, but what to do. I glanced down at the cablegun in my hand. That was the right answer, but I needed a distraction. Then I recalled the transponder pack. I yanked one of the transponders out, activated it and threw it as far behind my position as I could. It bounced off of one wall and around the bend. A searing beam that nearly blinded me shot out of the barrel of the nose-mounted gun on the robot. The robot’s shot missed the transponder, but then ‘bot accelerated at an unbelievable rate. As I’d hoped, the transponder had faked out this guardian robot.
With little time to spare, I yanked at the cable in the cablegun, which pulled out another chunk of active polymer attached to the cable, but I didn’t detach the first cable. I shifted the unwieldy mass and launched myself at an angle to the path of the robot. As it shot by, I slapped the polymer chunk against its skin. I thumbed the switch to cut power to the cable. Both blocks of polymer became as one with their respective targets. Then the cablegun was jerked forcefully out of my hands as the robot raced forward.
The robot’s reached the end of the makeshift tether at high speed. It whipsawed crazily in an arc and smashed into the side wall. The nose gun imploded; the implosion blew into the body of the robot, causing small secondary explosions. It shuddered and rebounded slightly off the wall.
I didn’t get to see too much of this, because I had my own problems. A female voice began speaking in my ear. At first, I thought it was the robot transmitting again, but it was “Bitchin’ Betty”, the emergency response system built into the EVA suit. “You have a class B leak in your left wrist joint. You have a class B leak in your left wrist joint.”
Apparently, when the cablegun was yanked out of my hand, it stressed the wrist joint of the EVA suit. While not immediately life-threadening, a class B leak was pretty damned serious, particularly since I my O2 supply was so limited. I heard Galen’s voice cut in. “I’m on it boss, shifting some internal sealant over to the wrist joint. The sealant won’t complete the job. You need to apply an external patch.”
I pulled metallic patch out of the repair kit attached to my right leg and carefully worked it into the left wrist joint. Joints were more problematic than the more planar surfaces of the suit, so I couldn’t just slap it on. After a moment, Betty’s voice modulated. “The leak has been stabilized.”
I realized I was holding my breath. I exhaled carefully. Then I carefully made my way to the cablegun, reactivated the cablegun current and rewound the cable. I then gingerly prodded the guardian mech, but it remained inanimate. I took in the entire scene for several minutes; something seemed wrong. Then it hit me. The robot that I had first seen, the four-legged robot which had been shot up in front of the double doors was, well, four-legged. It’s final resting position seemed to indicate that at the time the battle occurred, the ship had gravity, whether artificially generated or created by constant thrust. I carefully made my way to the floater robot. The other unusual thing about the floater was the lack of anything that looked like exhaust ports for reaction mass. There was no indication of how it had accelerated so fast.
It was time to move on. I maneuvered through the double doors. The room behind the double doors appeared to be the main power room. I’d seen the power room on one of the Orion class passenger transports that plied the main spacelanes, and this looked vaguely reminiscent of them, only ginormous by comparison. The room stretched back a good two hundred meters at a minimum.Consoles lined both walls, and spaced along one wall were what appeared to be monitoring stations every twenty meters. I could see some type of oddly proportioned seating along some of the consoles and around the stations, clearly not meant for humans. In front of some of the other stations, where a chair might have been, was a peculiar T-bar arrangement that was about man-high, with the T crossing about thirty centimeters from the top.
“Galen, are you reading all this in?”
“Yes, boss, where do we start?”
Where, indeed, I thought to myself.
I checked the directional pipper on my HUD. It stayed on, no matter which direction I walked. “It seems, Galen, that the artifact has brought us to our final destination.”
Then I noticed it, floating a meter or so above the floor, near the back end of the room. Yet another, oblong shaped, but without any apparent weapons, floated quietly. The ‘bot was maybe six meters long, two meters across and a meter high. “Let’s check it out, Galen.”
I jetted over to the ‘bot and circled around it. It had a few scorch marks, but didn’t look to be seriously damaged. Four mechanical cables tethered it to the floor, one at roughly each corner. The cables appeared to be welded to the floor and to the side of the robot. “Looks like someone didn’t want you to move too far, chummer,” I muttered to myself.
I had Galen scan the ‘bot for any kind of power source. “There might be a pocket fusion reactor in the center of the thing, but it’s not fired up right now. The only other thing odd seems to be a series of compartments around the perimeter of the ‘bot.”
I moved closer and studied the surface. Panels looked to be built into the surface of the thing, around the center perimeter. Maybe, I thought, these are doors that matched the compartments that Galen had noted. I could see yet another panel built into nose of the craft, this one brightly colored relative to the others and much smaller. A shallow detent appeared just above the panel. I pressed the detent and the small panel flipped open. There was a pair of simple knobs under the door, along with three positional lines. “Must be the ‘on’ switch,” I mused out loud.
A crazy idea began to gel in my mind, a dangerous one to boot. I circled around the ‘bot again, and the idea became clearer. My brain began to race furiously, trying all the angles, but I couldn’t come up with anything different. The artifact had clearly meant for us to come to this place, but it wasn’t supplying any additional clues. “Well,” I thought out loud, “No guts, no galaxy.”
I reached into the supply net and grabbed the laser cutting torch I’d packed. Laser cutting torches, especially small ones, were still pretty rare, but in my line of work, cost is no object. I set about cutting the four cables. About two-thirds of the way through the last cable, the torch fizzled out. I stared disgustedly at the torch, then at the cable. It would have to do.
I moved everything not locked down to the entrance of the power compartment. I then positioned myself next to the ‘bots access panel and pointed Jenner’s reactionpak towards the double doors. I bit my lip for a moment, trying to figure out which setting to use, shrugged, turned the knob all the way over, grabbed the pak and punched it. I zipped towards the doors, maneuvered myself around, and decelerated. “Galen, scan that ‘bot and tell me if anything’s happening.”
“All I’m getting right now are indications of power fluctuations. If there is a small fusion core, it may take some time to light up.”
After fifteen minute, Galen reported back, “I’m getting a rapid rise on the power curve. I think it’s – “
Then all hell broke loose.
The robot accelerated at an enormous rate, the remaining cable snapping like a thin rubber band. It raced to the center of the room, then abruptly haldted. Small doors opened around the perimeter of the ‘mech. A dozen robots, slightly smaller than a large dog, raced out of the open doors. These little ‘bots zipped back and forth around the power room. Periodically one of them would stop at a console and a cable would snake out and plug into a receptacle there. Sometimes, a small manipulator claw would appear out of a recess and adjust a control. Several times, a ‘bot would come racing full tilt towards my position, then alter course around me when it got within three meters, all without slowing down. The sight was both comical and terrifying.
This frenetic activity went on for nearly thirty minutes. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the mini-bots raced back to the mother ‘bot, back to their receptacles, and the doors slid shut. “What now, Galen?”
The construct shot back, “I’m getting readings of massive, absolutely massive power fluctuations all around us. I think the ship is starting up.”
I waited several hours. During that time, I had to change an O2 bottle, and the ambient light got brighter, nearly daylight bright. Then I noticed that I was drifting, ever so slowly, towards the floor. We were getting gravity. “Galen, do you -”
“Yes, the ship has started rotating. Very, very slowly.”
“But, Galen, this ship is gigantic. What kind of power source is this?”
If Galen had been human, he would have shrugged. “Unknown. However, I’m also getting early indications of pressurization.”
I felt an eyebrow arch. “Can you get an analysis of the gas mixture?”
“Not yet, but I’m getting increased molecular activity on the pressure sensors. At the present rate of increase, I should be able to give you an analysis in another two hours.”
I suddenly realized how tired I was. We were safe here for the moment. “I’m going to sleep for awhile, Galen. Wake me in four hours.”
I ingested a mild tranq to counteract the stimulant I’d taken earlier. Sleep came quickly. But, boy, did I have some strange dreams…