Beneath the Scorched Shell
First, the lights went out. Then, a thud and a screech. A lone figure rocked and shook as the maglev tram dipped and screeched along its rails. Two minutes - three minutes - five minutes. The tram for four grinded to a halt. The lone figure remained stock still in his seat.
In the pitch black he waited. Another minute passed and he still waited. The orange emergency lights did not blink on. The maglev tram stayed inanimate. His orange-tinted visor turned green. From the green tint, he can see the outline of the steel handlebars, the slopes of the fernite carbide roof and the close-fitted tungsten frame. He got up. His mag-boots thumped on the grated floor as he approached the door to his left. His fingers bit into the edge of the tungsten door and pried it open easily. The magnetic seal was unpowered.
The unlit tunnel stretched endlessly. The emergency lights were unlit. He looked down onto the electromagnetic rail below. He pulled up the spectrometer app onto his visor display. No readings.
He hopped down. He then looked to the electromagnetic rail beside the one he was standing on. No readings on the spectrometer app. He knelt and stuck two fingers onto the rail. He closed the spectrometer app and opened the voltmeter app. Its digital arrow did not jump. Everything was unpowered.
He froze. The thermometer app had registered an increase in ambient temperature by 0.01 centigrades. He switched his visor mode to high sensitivity thermal vision and looked to the walls. A blue glow seeped into the lines between sealed tungsten supports, between segments of fernite carbide walls. He swiftly turned around, hopped back into the cart and pulled the door shut.
A spindly appendage unfolded from his back. There was a deafening crackle as its tip emitted a blinding spark. The person’s visor dark-tinted as he brought the arc welder towards the gaps of the tungsten door.
Amidst the crackle and hiss and wafting smoke there came a loud and repetitive buzz. The word 'Admin' blinked on the upper right of his visor. "Mr. Egivand!" came a frantic voice. "Thank the ancestors I got through! I was worried! Still am! Thank the ancestors I got through!"
Mr. Egivand was halfway done with welding the door shut when he replied with an electronic voice, "Where is Drogodziej? He is supposed to have reached the Command Center by now."
"I don't know! I can't reach him! You are the only one cleared to access the Power Station I can connect to! Where are you now?"
Mr. Egivand glanced at the lower right of his vision. The time was ‘1507’.
"I am approximately fourteen kilometers away from the Command Center."
"Accursed Slavers!" cried the Administrator. "Can you get the tram working again?"
Mr. Egivand's welder fizzled. The sparks died. The welding smoked. He hurried to the other side to repeat his task.
"I can’t. The hydrogen battery stack on the tram does not have enough wattage to power the electromagnetic rails. They need direct feed from the reactor or the hydrolytic supercapacitors. Neither of these are discharging."
"What? How? The secondary power failed? How is it that we have power in Administration? Why can I speak to you now?"
Mr. Egivand was about one fourth done with his work when he replied, "Without external power, the transistors will reroute power from the main circuit to the backup hydrogen batteries installed in all the vital colony facilities. This includes the Communications Room and the PSWN (Private Shared Wireless Network) relays."
He was replied with silence. The tungsten door was half-welded.
He spoke, "What is the situation in the Command Center?"
His suit-built communicator crackled. There was a crack in the voice. "The docking bay crew. Oh Matar. The docking bay crew. The hardened plasma window just fizzled out and then they...they just vaporised! The others. Fifteen of them. They were fleeing the storm winds. I had to leave them out there, Mr. Egivand. I ordered the bulkheads from two levels up sealed and I trapped them outside to be taken by the winds! There were fifteen of them and I let them die!"
"The rest of us will join them if you break down now, Hnikarr," said Mr. Egivand. The sparks died. The door was completely welded. "There isn't much time. Without the thermic hardeners and the active repairers, the bulkheads will fail. Superheated air will make its way through the unpowered ventilation system. All inhabitants of the Command Center will perish in two hours time."
Silence again. Mr. Egivand folded his welder appendage and rose and walked towards a rectangular cuboid compartment. "Hnikarr. Do we have any techs available? Any not busy with the bulkheads?"
A sniffle. "Yes, there's one. Newcomer. Inexperienced. I had him stay in his quarters so he doesn't interfere with the rest."
Mr. Egivand opened the covering of the compartment. Inside, two metal cylindrical tanks and a lever. He gripped the lever tightly and pulled.
He pulled out a panel from inside the compartment. Inside was a graphical representation of the tram's circuitry. He flipped one of the switches. The lights went off. There was a hum. His spectrometer read a slight increase in ionic particle count.
"Seal the Transport Hub and connect me to him."
"Seal the Transport Hub? But that means..."
"I know, but we don't really have a choice. With the situation as it is, I won't be able to make it back before the superheated plasma flood the transport tunnels. I am sealing myself in the maglev tram. That will buy me some time."
"And the newcomer, are you sure? He only started work today and he is untested. He is supposed to be apprenticed to one of the senior engineers. Mikael. He...he...oh Matar...."
"He was trapped behind the bulkheads," stated Mr. Egivand as he sank onto the sparse faux-leather cushioned metal seat. He brought up the stopwatch app onto his visor display and adjusted one to read '00:30:00'. He then started the countdown. "I don't need an experienced tech. I only need somebody with a background in Engineering who can listen to instructions. This newcomer, he is Minmatar, yes?"
"Yes. Yes, Mr. Egivand."
"Good enough. Connect us."
The word 'Admin' blink away from the screen and was replaced with 'EE513'. "Hnikarr?" cried the high-pitched voice on the other end.
Mr. Egivand dragged the name to the main screen. Additional information dropped down from the highlighted name:
Electrical Engineer #513 : NA*
Current Location : Room 8 Floor 3 Crew Quarters
Health Condition : NA*
Stress Level : NA*
*Please re-establish connection to Colonial Database and Master A.I. to retrieve information.
"Electrical Engineer #513," Mr. Egivand started.
A panicked stammer, "You are not the Administrator! Who are you?"
Mr. Egivand pulled up a map display. A green dot blinked on in one of the smaller compartments shown on the three-dimensional map of the command center, on the third floor.
"Wait, your voice! Are you an A.I.? Is this all your doing?"
"I am not an artificial intelligence. I need you to listen closely..."
"Not...not an artificial intelligence? Why is your voice so unnatural? Are you bluffing me?"
Mr. Egivand blinked under his visor. He opened the 'Implants' window, scrolled down the list, stopped at 'Speech Center Implant' and deactivated it.
He inhaled. His throat felt itchy. He coughed thrice and spoke into his helmet's communicator, "I am not an artificial intelligence."
"You voice! It's changed! How is it..."
"That was my Speech Center Implant. It collects synapses from my Broca's Area and routes it my communicator, bypassing my vocal cords," Mr. Egivand explained slowly. "The colony is caught in a plasma storm. Primary and secondary power have failed. Environmental control and damage control are inactive. If the situation is not rectified, the colony will perish."
"But Sir! The other techies are sealing the bulkheads!"
"That is a time-buying measure. Without power, the bulkheads cannot activate the thermic hardeners and initiate active self-repair. The ventilation system will not be able to expel the superheated air. You are the only idle engineer available. You have to restore primary power to the colony. You have approximately thirty minutes to save the colony."
The communications went silent.
Mr. Egivand glanced at the stopwatch. It read '00:28:20'.
The communicator crackled again. A nervous reply, "What...what do I do?"
"You must to get to the Power Station in basement 3."
"Mikael told me only power engineers are cleared to enter the power station."
"The security system is offline. You will have access."
The green dot in his display has left the small compartment that was Room 8. It rapidly passed three rooms and swerved into the emergency exit stairs. Mr. Egivand checked the air content counter and found that the ionic particle count had remained constant. Thermometer registered an increase of two degrees centigrade in ambient temperature. He checked the stopwatch again.
The green dot was about to pass the first flight of stairs. Its paced had slowed by about thirty percent. Mr. Egivand imagined that the inexperienced tech may be at breaking point and wondered whether he should ease the tension. Eventually, he decided to break the silence.
"First time operating on the surface?" Mr. Egivand asked.
A momentary non-reply followed by a buzz and crackle, "No, second time. Gravity felt stronger on this planet."
"The gravity on this planet is about fifty percent that of Pator’s."
There was a dry laugh, "I wasn't born on Pator. Lived all my life on a space station. As does my family."
"Nah. I belong to a clan. Clan Hjort. You probably never heard of it."
"We are off on a bad start. Elmund Egivand."
"Hannes Hjort. Nice to finally know your name. Thought you are one of those cold types, you know, like refrigerated eggs. Eggers."
"How long have you been an electrical engineer?"
"Only for a day. For the past five years I was just 'technician'."
"What are you equipped with?"
"Standard issue equipment mostly. Spanners, micro-spanners, variable screwdriver, riveters, wire-cutters, pliers, plasma welder and blowtorch. The latter two are actually the same tool but with two modes of function. There's this rope with rollers and auto-arrest clamps, you know, the works. All standard issue except, well, what I’m wearing. Boundless Creation Model LC-3 jumpsuit. It's the civilian model of the dropsuits those clone soldiers wear."
"Heat, corrosion and cut-resistant nanofiber meshes laid on top of a microfluidic under-layer, with stanene-based nanocircuits connected to sensor suite sandwiched between the nanofiber meshes. Light and thin but strong enough to stop a bullet from a YC50-era slugthrower. Sweat-absorbent. Micro-computer attached to back of the hood. Visor comes with ARD (Alternate Reality Display). Pre-installed with all the tech-centric apps one could ever need, such as scientific calculator, voltmeter, thermometer, virtual calipers, et cetera. Comes with in-built four terabytes of storage for technical data," Elmund recited dryly. "Costs approximately thirty one million Republic maikus."
"Or about three thousand Federation sovs. You know your stuff. Are you engineer?"
"I'm one of the two power engineers on duty this week."
The descending green dot stalled.
"You are one of the two power engineers on duty? Why aren't you the one going down to the Power Station?"
"I am currently trapped in a maglev tram fourteen kilometers away from the Command Center. Keep moving Hannes. We only have about twenty minutes to save the colony."
The green dot continued its descent. The communicator crackled, "What happened to the other power engineer?"
"Hnikarr was unable to reach him. I have to assume that he is indisposed."
"So, there are only two power engineers in this whole colony? The last one I worked in has ten per shift."
“We do things differently here. That suit of yours is a luxury item. A typical Republic family would have to skip about one year's meal to buy one of these."
"You tell me. I spent about half my life's savings on this suit, but well, I have to make a good impression, you know. I hear that the boss is an egger, so I thought I need to impress him."
"You never did meet him."
There was a dry laugh from the other end of the line. "Yeah. He is no-show. Had his own HR department to do the recruitment for him. One of them, lady, sneered at me. "Is this a job interview or a talent show?" she said. Feels bad, man. I'm never going to dress expensive for anything again."
"Except for when going to work."
A snort. "All these electronics and tools and I'm going to stow it after one almost disastrous interview? Feels like a waste."
The green dot arrived at the door into the power station at basement 3. High-sensitivity thermal vision showed the walls and doors of the maglev tram were glowing faint blue. The timer read '00:22:33'.
"I am at the door into the Power Station. The emergency lights are on. Weird," crackled the communicator.
"All the vital facility circuitry have tertiary power in the unlikely event that the primary and secondary power fail," Elmund explained. "Facility circuitry are designed to be modular. If the primary and secondary power fail, the transistors will reroute local circuit to hydrogen battery stacks and enter low consumption mode."
"There’s only enough power for the barest of functions and you will need to operate everything manually."
The communicator went silent. After a while, it crackled, "Shit."
"The reactor control is much simpler than you might expect. The shape and the control panels may look different from what you see in Pator Tech School or the Republic University but the underlying principles are the same."
"I...err... I studied in the Center of Advanced Studies."
Elmund Egivand blinked. "You do know how a nuclear fission reactor functions, I hope?"
"I know how they work, but I had never touched one before."
"The controls are simplified these days. You will get a handle of them soon enough. Follow my instructions and you will be okay."
"...if you say so."
The communicator fell silent for a moment before crackling, "I can just walk right through Decontaminations, yes?"
"Maglocks are not active in low consumption mode. You can force your way through."
"Alright, let's try..."
Hannes grunted. He then exclaimed triumphantly, "Yes! It's open! It's open, Egivand! It’s...Whoa. Are these turbines?"
“Now really isn’t the time to be marvelling at the steam turbines. Get to the sealed ladder directly opposite your current position, at the end of the Turbine Chamber, and climb down to the reactor control pod.”
The green dot moved briskly towards the opposite end of the Turbine Chamber.
“Still, this is quite something. The turbines I saw in the historical prints take up this whole chamber each. I always hear that the Minmatar race are masters at reinventing the wheel but to witness this in person...Bloody Omir!”
“What is it?”
“Drones, man! Drones! They are disassembling one of the turbines!”
“Get me visual and audio feed.”
Elmund pulled up the video window onto his visor’s main display. From the rhythm of the Hanne’s breathing, he can tell that the engineer was hyperventilating.
Hannes was hiding behind one of the turbine pillars. Beyond his hiding space and very close-by, there were the drones the electrical engineer mentioned. Earthly-coloured, sloped carapaced and googly-eyed creatures. One of them, as tall as a Brutor and as long as a medical pod and with legs like a stubby insects that ended in folded tracks, was holding to a tube with one of his four unsettlingly human-like limbs. The other two, size of fedos, hung onto and crowded around an opened section of the turbine housing. They were arachnid-like things, with spindly legs and bluish-glowing discs, one on each side of their prominent abdomens. They appeared to be dormant, frozen in place, their glowing eyes giving an illusion of anticipation.
“Get a little closer,” Elmund instructed.
“What? You are crazy! What if the drones see me?”
“Then move quietly.”
A grumble of dissatisfaction and the video sank to the ground level. Elmund could see Hanne’s hands dragging himself along the grated floor towards the drones and the four conjoined hexagonal prism pillars which were the steam turbines. The large one was regarding the turbine spindle, which was held in the adamantine grip of a robotic arm which hung from the ceiling. The tube the drone was clutching was connected to a tank attached to its back. The smaller ones were looking at the stator of the turbine. One of them clutched a glossy-black bearing in its pincer, the other a rotor. The third had a larger abdomen and a pincer replaced with a nozzle.
“At ease, Hannes. The drones are on standby mode. They were performing maintenance on the turbine before the power failure.”
“You are sure? They look like they are sabotaging the turbine. Do you think they are the cause of the power failure?”
“No. The ‘foreman’ is replenishing the turbine spindle's supply of nanite-alloy substrate for its passive self-repair function. One of the ‘workers’ is in the middle of installing a new DLC (Diamond-like Carbon)-coated bearing into the stator, the second is waiting to install the rotor and the last one with the nozzle will apply the sealing nanite vapour.”
“Foreman? Worker? You know these drones?”
“I designed them.”
“You did? So why are they not moving? What’s with the sparks coming from the discs attached to the ‘workers’? How are the workers still hanging onto the pillar?”
“The discs are electromagnetic levitators. They are left passively powered. The workers' feet are coated with electroadherent layers. As for their dormancy, they need constant communication with each other and the Mother Node to perform their function. All communications between the drones and the Mother Node are handled by the Mother Node herself. The Mother Node is currently offline due to the power failure.”
The timer read, ‘00:20:26’.
“Hannes, I need you to get closer to the turbine and read the figures on the housing.”
“What’s that? Get cl-er and do what?”
Elmund repeated, “Read the figures on the housing.”
The video turned away from the drones and towards the turbine pillars. The pillar consisted of four conjoined hexagonal prisms, each housing a reactor and a generator. Three bronze-coloured pipes ran along the depressions between each hexagon, up to the halfway point from the grated floor.
Hannes' vision turned towards one of the four opened pillars. The pillar consisted of fernite carbide housing with tungsten support and interior. The interior was conical, narrowest at the bottom and widest at the top. At the bottom there was a mechanical sliding lock, which was surrounded by a set of nozzles, which in turn were surrounded by a furrow. Lining the sloped walls of the turbine case were six furrowed tiers, all connected to the bronze-lined openings that connected to the pipe outside the housing.
He then turned his attention towards the uninstalled turbine spindle, which was held suspended by mechanical arms, which came down from the ceiling. The upper end of the spindle ended with ‘teeth’ while the bottom ended with depressions to accommodate a sliding lock mechanism. Lining the spindle were six turbine wheels, the smallest at the bottom and growing size the higher they went up the spindle. The turbine blades were very thin, approximately 2mm thin, in fact. The gaps between each blade were just as thin as the blades themselves.
Hannes turned away from the turbine housing and wheels and weaved among the three detached segments of fernite carbide housing, each affixed to a semi-sliding arm attached to the generator housing. The feed froze halfway and, a moment later, was fixed onto the word ‘C5’.
“Capture this image and save it into your storage. You will need to refer to this when you activate the reactors. Now get going. We have less than twenty minutes to work with.”
The feed froze briefly over the housing before jumping towards the corridor in between the rows of turbines. There was another jump in the image and Elmund find himself watching Hannes struggling to lift the leaden hatch.
Hannes descended down the ladder and turned towards the steel chair, suspended over a flimsy looking platform. “This doesn’t look safe,” Hannes muttered. “It’s Minmatar. Get on it,” replied Elmund.
The screen froze again. A moment later, he was staring at what looked to be the interior of a Hound-class stealth bomber. Outside the Reactor Control Pod was a lead-walled cavern, three-quarters flooded in a light-blue liquid. There were fans lining the half-mark and one-fourth-mark of the walls. From the nanofluid coolant poked the caps of the hexagonal prism reactor casings. They were arranged in an eight times eight staggered grid. The sixty four reactors were apparently clustered into groups of four. Their steam pipes exited from the inner sides of their caps, joined in the center as a bundle of four and rose up to pierce through the lead ceiling to join to the turbines above.
“Right. I’m -re. What do I do -?”
"Pull up the holographic display."
“What? Oh right. Holographic..holo-ic...there!”
Hannes slammed down on the raised button situated between his legs. A holographic display emerged from the vapours which wafted about inside the Reactor Control Pod. The transparent display dominated the view. The display was split into a sixteen times nine grid. Taking up the left-most two times nine space were a list of menu options. The right-most two times five column - the pressure and temperature gauge, the bottom fourteen times four - a set of buttons. Dominating the center portion of the screen are sixty four hexagons arranged in a staggered eight times eight configuration.
“Oh ancestors, oh damn. How d- I do this?”
“Calm down, Hannes. It’s a very simple interface.”
“Simple?” Hannes snapped suddenly. “For you -be! Compared to me you are a f-ing genius! You design dr-nes and you know your turbines and your bloody r-actors! I had only studied anti-m-tter technology! Heck! I never went p- my first year! I’m a bloody dropout!”
Elmund kept silent for a while. He looked to his stopwatch app. The timer read ‘00:18:19’. He sighed.
“I’ve never attended the Pator Tech School or the Republic University.”
“What?” Hannes voiced his surprise.
“I learnt most of what I knew from my father and from my two years as a Marine Engineer trainee in the Republic Military School. The rest is either self-learnt or emulated by watching others.”
Hannes was silent for a while, “Wow...sor-, -. I didn’t know.”
“It’s never too late to learn and now is as good a time as any. Follow my instructions and we will complete our tasks.”
Elmund glanced at his stopwatch app again. The timer read ‘00:17:48’.
“What d- I do, sir?” asked Hannes, his tone shaky.
“First, find the ‘Coolant Pumps’ and ‘Condensers’ buttons in the left menu and select them.”
Hannes’ finger hovered over the list of buttons on the left side of the display. His finger slid down, stopped at ‘Coolant Pumps’, and tapped on it. The button lit green. The fans revolved and the coolant churned. His finger slid down one button and he touched the ‘Condensers’ button.
“Now look at the main screen, the one with the hexes. You should see what looked to be an x-axis and a y-axis. Each hex represents a reactor, and their names are determined the same way a coordinate or a point on a graph is determined. The difference is that the hex grid is staggered and we read their names in y-axis first, then x-axis.”
“Y-ax-s and x-axis. So, ‘C5' is the name of the generator the turb- upstairs is connected to?”
“This is correct. Find the option ‘All Reactors’ in the bottom menu.”
Hannes’ fingers ‘pressed’ into the named button. All the hexes lit up in green.
“Now select hex C5.”
The video feed froze. Half a second later, the corresponding hex was shown unlit.
“The turbine connected to this hex is still under maintenance. If we activate the reactor connected to this turbine we will release hyperpressurised steam straight through the stator and damage the generator."
“Sor- sir. You are - up. What is wrong?”
“Plasma has leaked into the tram tunnel and is interfering with PSWN relay signals. We must complete our mission before the line drops permanently.”
“Can’t catch - - but I guess you - saying that coms might -”
“Yes. Now listen closely. I will repeat myself twice. Find ‘Reactor Pumps’ and ‘Condensers’ in the bottom menu and select it.”
Hannes extended his finger towards the named buttons. The screen froze. Three seconds later, There was the loud sound of rattling and siphoning.
“Now select ‘Control Rods’ in the bottom menu. There will a message asking if you want to proceed. Select ‘Yes’. I repeat. ‘Control Rod’ in the left menu. Warning message comes up, select ‘yes’.”
A hex, divided into six equilateral triangles, appear on the main display.
“This is very important. I need you to remember what I say and perform them in sequence. There must be minimal delay. Take too long and there will be a meltdown. Do you understand?”
“Y- -es. Yes. Can you - -? I said ‘Yes’!”
“Good. Listen closely to this sequence, make sure to plan ahead before you execute the sequence. I will repeat myself four times. Select all triangles, select ‘Active’, watch the pressure gauge. Once pressure gauge reaches yellow, select triangles one, three and five, select inactive. Repeat - “
After repeating himself, Elmund watched Hannes as he hesitated on his action. He moved his index finger towards the ‘Active’ button in the bottom menu. The screen froze. Five seconds later, there was a loud rattle and screech. The pressure gauge is rapidly climbing. Hissing steam threatened to burst out of the pipes.
The screen froze again, just as it almost reached the red level.
Elmund watched the screen unblinking. Ten seconds. Thirty. The video resumed. The noise had died down. Pressure gauge reading hovered at yellow. The ceilings rattled. Temperature read three hundred seventy degrees centigrades. Pressure was at a constant twenty two megapascals. The main lights were online. The green letters on the lower right corner of the holographic display read ‘Automatic Mode’. Hannes was crying in jubilance.
“- - it, El-! We did -! - saved - -!”
Elmund glanced at the bottom right of his visor.
“We are not done yet. Use the elevator to go up to the Power Control Room in basement two. I repeat, Power Control Room - basement two. Power Control Room - basement two. Repeat -”
The triumphant cry died down. The video image spun around and flew towards the elevator door and ladder of the Reactor Control Pod. The feed froze, and when it resumed, Elmund was staring at a series of glass panels affixed to tungsten frames. Beyond them sat rows of jet-black cylindrical hydrolytic supercapacitors and forearm-thick colour-coded cables, arranged in parallels, tethered to mechanical limbs and connected to large sockets. The image shifted downwards and fixed onto a metal chair. It froze. When the video resumed a few seconds later, the image was that of the stanene-impregnated touchscreen monitor.
The monitor displayed a graphical representation of the colony: a yellow central circle labelled ‘CC’, surrounded by and connected to seven smaller red circles, four of which were labelled ‘P(B)’, two ‘P(A)’ and one ‘L’. Two more red circles, labelled ‘ECU’ were connected to the central circle by longer lines.
“Select ‘CC’. I repeat. ‘CC’. Repeat - “
Elmund repeated his instruction six more times before the screen display changed to that of simplified representation of the Command Center’s power routing. Only the central circle, labelled ‘Power,’ was green. The others were red, and unlinked to the central circle, except for the one labelled ‘M. Node’, which was linked but greyed out.
The word ‘Conference Mode’ blinked on the upper right of his visor, above the name 'EE513'. 'Admin’ blinked on a millisecond after. “Hnikaar. Send two electrical engineers and security to the AI Room. I repeat. Two electrical engineers, security, AI Room. I repeat-’
“Wha - - -? - -. - -. Repeat. - - - -? T- - - and - - - AI -? - Repeat.”
“Two electrical engineers, security. AI Room. Repeat - “
“- - - - -ity - - -. -. -. -. Confirm. -”
“Hannes. Disconnect ‘M. Node’. Connect ‘Environ C.’, ‘Damage C.’, ‘Comms’, ‘Admin’, ‘AI’. I repeat-”
Elmund repeated his instruction for another dozen times. The video image flashed an abrupt change. ‘Power’ was disconnected from ‘M. Node’ and was linked to ‘Environ C.’, ‘Damage C.’, ‘Comms’, ‘Admin’ and ‘AI’ (all of which turned green).
The image blanked out suddenly. Video was cut off. The words ‘Connection Lost’ were on display.
He pulled up his communicator app and his map app.
Elmund pulled up the ‘Connections’ window and found that the FSWN connection was dead. He activated his suit’s troubleshoot function and received a message stating: ‘FSWN routers not detected. Searching...’. He re-attempted troubleshoot, again, and again. The error message he received was unchanged.
A beep and a blinking icon: ‘Environment temperature at 50% tolerance limit’
He snapped towards the doors. Thermal vision showed the welding burning white. Sound sensors detected hissing. The bulbs sparked and shattered.
The timer read ‘00:05:18’.
He attempted reconnection again. 'Connection failed'.
He tried three more times.
Vapours exhaling from his rebreather, he fell back and slumped onto his seat.
Elmund was staring at the ceiling in stupor. He was vaguely aware of the message ‘Environmental temperature at 80% the tolerance limit’ displayed on his visor. His voltmeter readings jumped and fluctuated. His thermometer readings continued to climb.
The hissing was growing louder. Holes were now visible on the welding. The air was glowing blue. Voltmeter readings were jumping wildly. His fingertips were adhering to the metal seats. Sparks cracked and jumped from surface to surface. Their flashes hurt his eyes. He dark-tinted his visors.
His sweat overwhelmed his suit's microfluidic layer and coated his skin thickly. He felt chaffed.
He stirred. There was a beep. The word ‘Admin’ was blinking on the upper right corner of his visor. He groaned. His throat hurt. It felt like he hadn't drank for several days. He coughed hoarsely and established connection.
The timer read ‘00:01:27’
“The- - -! - relay - -! - - -! - Egivand! EE513 d- it! He restored -wer! Shields, therm- hardeners and -tive repairers are online! -lant dispensers are running! Ventilation’s pumping out superh-ted air and plasma!. Fluid routers been bro-casting distress signals this who- time! Yes! Yes, I understand. Sorry, Mr. Egiv-. The tech says the -lectromagne- field holding the pl-ma window at Transport will only last two mi-s and the drones will la- half that time. We will have to cut the connection - - bulkheads soon so I will -ke this brief. Security found the cause of the power -lure.”
Elmund let out a pained croak. “Show your own clansman some respect and call him by his name. He saved your life. What did Security find?”
“Some cyberp-nk, Mr. Egivand. Head loaded with chrome. Fried. Charred to the bone. Hooked to the Mo- Node. He was wearing Drogodziej’s suit and carrying his ID. Mother Node, we-, she’s melted. - Repair drones useless - us now.”
“There are two Mother Nodes, one in each Extractor Control Units. Retrieve them during the evacuation.”
“Affirm-. - - arrange for retrieval - - at nightfall.”
Elmund glanced at the timer. ‘00:00:12’.
“Listen carefully. I do not have much time. I need you to put together a report and supporting data and send them to the station. Bring the body along during evacuation. Brief my replacement on what happened here.”
“Will do, Mr. Egivand. How much - - you have?”
“Less than ten seconds.”
“I see. This - -grettable. I guess - - se- you in...-”
Elmund’s visor flashed red.
‘Environmental temperature exceeded tolerance limit’
The display fizzled and died. His visor cracked. His sweat flash-boiled. Heat ate into his spine from his spinal socket implant. His in-suit battery ignited. He shot up and hit his head against the handlebars. He fell. He writhed. He cried. Vapours leaked from his cracked visor. His struggle died down. He laid sprawled on the metal grating. His fingers twitched twice and went still.