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!”
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.”
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.