Friday, January 29, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (11)

The lift tube felt like a chimney to Ruku Mat, opressively tight in her vacuum suit and a blistering eighty degrees.  By comparison, the Command Deck was a relatively cool sixty-five.  In order to comply with Aru Vakh’s orders to fuel and prep the Patrol Cutter’s Launch, Ruku still had to start in the Computer Room.
The lift tube opened just off the hatch to the Navigation Bridge.  There were two gastights and a security lock between Ruku and the Bridge, but with the code five-one-five access, it was simply a matter of pushing buttons and opening hatches.
Like the rest of the Cutte’s interior, the Navigation Bridge was green and dark in the way only spacecraft can get.  The panoramic viewports that wrapped around the front of the compartment were tightly shuttered with rad-armor and the various monitors and stations were dark.  The only light was from the wan glow of tritium bulbs scattered around in strategic places. Wherever that dim light shown, Ruku could see bodies.
“They’re here, they’re dead.  Very dead - oh, so very dead…”
Deep breaths, Ruku,” Canto Kura, the crew’s medic, commanded in his smooth voice. “Your blood pressure will thank you.  Can you take a radiation reading, please?”
Ruku attempted the prescribed deep breaths, with limited success.  She took a paper swab from her utility pouch and and wiped it on one of the consoles, carefully ignoring the corpse on station.  The rad counter, like all the tell-tale dials on her spacesuit, was mounted on the front of her chest.  She used the mirror on the inside of her left arm to read the dials.  For a moment, Ruku began to panic as none of the dials made sense.
Deep breaths.”  
Ruku tried to calm herself.  Finally, she remembered that everything was backward - reversed in the mirror’s image.
“Uh... reading the gauge .... 0.46 Gray - DPM of 98.”
That's on the border-line. I want you two out of there soonest.”
“ Roger that.  I’m trying to get to the Computer Room now.  Could have problems - everything is offline.”
    Ruku, Ipa.” The Engineer came back on the comm.  “The electronics were problably wiped by an EM pulse.  See if you can find the back-up master tapes.”
    Uh, roger…”  Guided only by the pale cone coming from her head-lamp, She used the passkey on the locked hatch to the Computer Room.
Unlike a Merchant like Gentleman Scoundrel, the military-grade computers on the patrol craft were state-of-the-art.  Instead of racks and racks of magnetic tape, there was two columns of stacked and networked servers, and a single shelf of slim, square plastic folders.  There were two stations in the compartment, and unfortunately for Ruku Mat, both were occupied.  
“I’m… not sure I can do this,”
“Sure you can,” Kura’s smooth voice was back in her ear.  “They can’t hurt you, Ruku.  I know this is unpleasant, but you can do it.”
“I - I can’t get to the consoles.”
“Then you’ll have to move the bodies.”
“Oh, oh no… no way -”
Ruku!  Ruku listen to me.”  Hearing Canto Kura’s voice helped a little.  It was at that moment her only anchor.  “You can do this.  Concentrate on your gloves.  The feel of the inside of your gloves on your hands.  The pain in your fingernails - they’re starting to hurt, aren’t they?”
“Ye - yeah…” Ruku’s fingers did indeed hurt.  The metal thimbles on the tips of the spacesuit’s gloves were notorious for buising fingers and peeling nails.  Ruku focused her fingertips as she reached for the first body.  The pain in her fingers intenseified as she grippd the first body by its coverall.  The tiny woman used the mass of her suit to leverage the body out of it’s chair.
Try to stay calm, Ruku.”
I am trying!”  She took a moment to practice deep breaths again.  “Look, just - just keep talking to me, okay?”
“Of course.  Did you know that I’m a concert tenor?”
“Wait - what?  Really?”
“No, actually.  I can’t sing a note.  Well, I can but I’ve been ordered by Dioces High Command never to do so except in the face of hostile invasion.”
In spite of her rising panic, Ruku tittered a short laugh.  “That bad, huh?”
“Well, I don’t think so, but I was outvoted.  Like with the onion pie.  I made that once for a date - in retrospect, not the wisest of actions…”
Ruku continued to listen as Canto recounted the details of the ill-fated dinner.  She focused on the sound of his voice, the rich tone that certainly couldn’t belong to a bad singer, and looked forward to the puns and punchlines Canto peppered his story with. By the time he was serving dessert to his foul-breathed date, Ruku had moved the bodies into the Bridge and shut the hatch behind her.
“Remind me not to ask you to cater my wedding.” Ruku was even able to quip.
I will.  Are you alright now, Ruku?”
“Thank you.  I need Ipa, please.”
“Right here, Ruku.”  The Engineer’s voice replaced Canto’s.  “See if you can find the master tapes.”
Ruku took one of the plastic folders out of its slot and opened it carefully. She had been expecting a thin spool of tape, but what she found confounded her.  It was a flat, plastic disk, with a gooved surface that refracted the light from her head lamps into a rainbow spray of color.
Ruku described what she had found. “I have no idea what this is…”
Ipa’s answered back, “I don’t either.  Kura?  You served with the Janoi, what the Hell is all this?”
Canto answered.  “It’s a laser-disc.  That kind of tech is right on the edge of what you can move through a Janus. I’m surprised their computer’s that advanced.  Is the back-up computer marked?”
“How could you fit a backup computer in here?  It not that big a room…”
If they’re using laser-discs, the computers are small enough to fit a backup in there.  Try above the monitors.”
Ruku searched, thick fingered, for the impossibly small computer Canto assumed was in the compartment.  The componants of the Cutter’s data system were mostly unfamiliar to her.  She didn’t see a printer, the monitors were couriously flat, and there didn’t seem to be nearly enough hardware to run a decent sized lifeboat, much less a two kiloton-plus military starship.
 “There!” Canto startled Ruku. “The flat box with the long, shallow lid on the front?  Open that.”
The box was only a couple of centimeters deep - far too small to hold a computer. It’s corners were covered in rubberized shock-proofing and when Ruku picked the unlikely box up it was surprizingly heavy.  Even more unlikely was what she found when she opened the front lid.  The lid swung down on hinges to reveal a keyboard on the inside,  the exposed interior of the box had a small screen and a pair of thin slits mounted within.
Slide the disc into the top slot.”
This is a computer?  Just this?”  Despite Ruku’s disbelief, she did what she was told.  To her surprize, the screen glowed blue and a series of white characters began to scroll.
If you type in the five-one-five code, you should be able to access the system.”
Ruku entered the passkey and brought up the main menu.  The small terminal could only perform a few functions, but Ruku was amazed enough that this briefcase was a computer at all. She managed to find the commands to fuel the Launch with a little trouble, and then readied the sequence for scraming the NegMat reservoir.
“Okay, I think that’s got it.  Sagkal, are you in position?  We need to scram both containment vessels together.”
“Uh, Canto?  I’m not getting Sagkal. Can you raise him?”
“I can’t.” The smooth voice was now edged with intensity.  “His temperature is reading dangerously high.  I don’t think he’s even made to Engineering.”
Ruku swore to herself.  She had been so focused on he own fear, had taken up so much of Canto’s attention with her panic, that Sagkal had run into trouble without anyone knowing.  Without the help of the Sloak, Ruku couldn’t jettison the NegMat.  None of the others would be able to tolerate the heat in the Cutter better than Sagkal did, and even if they could, by the time they went through pre-breathing and suited up, time would have run out.  
         Ruku was out of options.  The Cutter was doomed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Genleman's Duty (10)

   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!”
“Oh! Sorry…”
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.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (9)

The Type-20 Patrol Cutter was a type of spacecraft that both the massive Sagkal and diminutive Ruku had seen for most of their lives.  The Cutter’s nose was bullet shaped, with four thick, stubby fins attached at cardinal points.  Aft of the forward hull was the craft’s tubular neck, where the belly hanger held the ship’s Launch.  Opposite the hanger, on the spine of the ship, was a personnel airlock used for damage control.  It was to this airlock that the Scoundrel’s Gunner and Navigator.  
“What’s the hold up?” Sagkal pestered Mat as she adjusted a piece of equipment. “It’s hot out here.”
“Broomsticks are finniky,” Ruku Mat replied. “Gotta adjust or my extra mass...”
Spring pole EVA tools - the iconic “broomstick” were older than the current spacefaring civilizations that used them.  It was a meter-long tube, padded on one end and with a magnetic pad on the other.  There was a jump ring on the padded end of the broomstick, which Ruku attached to a ring on wrist of her vac-suit.
    “You know, I could just throw you across.” Sagkal offered. “Be faster-”
    “Hush!” Ruku centered the magnetic pad of the broomstick onto Scuondrel’s hull and switched it on from a switch on her forearm.  Another switch turned off her suit’s boots, allowing Ruku Mat to float with only the broomstick and tether holding her to the hull.  Carefully if somewhat clumsily, She maneuvered herself around until the padded end of the broomstick balanced on her stomach.  
    “Still one-nine-six. And you’ve got two twenty-five of slack on the safety line.” Sagkal waved at the patrol craft in the distance.  “Quit stalling.”
    “I’m not stalling!”  Ruku said.  Nonetheless, she took a few extra moments before finally hitting the trigger on the broomstick.
    The tube on the broomstick suddenly doubled in length as the spring in side pushed out and away.  The trigger also turned off the broomstick’s magnet, letting the stick - and the squealing Ruku Mat - fly away from Sagkal and the Gentleman Scoundrel.  As she sailed through the empty space between the two ships, Ruku furiously rotated the shift of the broomstick in a circle.  She herself spun around in the opposite direction, until both broomstick an woman were facing the opposite direction, toward the Patrol Cutter.  The other ship, nearly two hundred meters away from the Mercant, looked to be no closer in the too-clear brightness of open void.  Ruku bagan to pant, then breathe as deeply and evenly as possible.  The patrol craft finally began to increase in size, then rapidly grow as Ruku’s speed finally became apparent to her eyes.  The timid woman couldn’t help but flinch.
    The broomstick hit the Cutter’s outer skin with a force that Ruku could feel through her hands and arms.  Normally, the same spring that propels a broomstick absorbs the shock upon reaching its target.  Ruku’s flinch, however, put her off center.  Instead of smoothly absorbing Ruku’s energy, the broomstick bounced her off the padded in and spun her half way around.  She hit the hull of the Patrol Cutter with enough force to knock the breath from her.  Fortunately, the broomstick’s magnet had successfully attached the Cutter. Ruku, having bounced off the ship, was dangling in open space from her wrist, still attached to end of the pole.
    “...It’s not that funny, Sagkal.”
    “Yes it is,” Sagkal’s stoney voice boomed despite the speaker’s low volume. “‘Cause you’re the Navigator!  And you can't hit the broadside -
    “- Shut up, Sagkal…”

Friday, January 22, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (8)

In the airlock, The Giru Ruku Mat, and the Sloak Sagkal performed the final checks on their vacuum suits.  Both were wearing the bulky, one-size-fits-all soft suits as opposed to form fitting mechanical pressure skinsuits.  Sagkal, whose skin was covered with slab-like plates of metal and mineral deposits, simply couldn’t wear a form fitting garment.  Ruku Mat also could not fit into her skinsuit, but for a different reason.  Just prior to the suiting up process, Ruku drank nearly thirty liters of water.  With swollen belly, thighs, bust and buttocks, Ruku could only fit into the loose pressure suit.
“Doin’ alright?” Sagkal’s voice was loud as ever, but now slightly metallic and distorted by the speakers in Ruku Mat’s helmet. She turned the volume on his channel down.
“Feel sloshy.  Not used to being full….”
“Camel genes in you, girl. Ready to go for a walk?”
“That’s the spirit!”
Joking aside, Sagkal had thoroughly check both space walkers’ suits and was confident that both were ready, even if Ruku was not.  He keyed the electronic combilock and began to turn the manual wheel on the exterior hatch.
The Gentleman Scoundrel was not designed for EVA operations except in extreme circumstances, which admittedly, these were. The only hatch to the outside was the the airlock that serviced the missing shuttle, which opened into the reception bay on the first-class deck.  Once through the lock, Sagkal and Ruku stood in the shallow cradle of the shuttle dock.  Both had full face shields down to protect their vision form the blazing rays of the pimary.  Nonetheless, if it weren’t for NegMat’s property of repelling the deadly particles being blasted out by the sun, both would have already been dead.  Sagkal positioned himself protectively between Ruku Mat and that vast light.  The young woman seemed transfixed, frozen in place.
“...It’s so bright.”
Sagkal took her by the shoulders. “Mat!  I need you to keep it together.”
Ruku Mat blinked several times.  Sagkal noticed for the first time she had two pairs of eyelids.
“What?  No, no - I’m fine.  With the face shield down, it looks like home.
“Huh.”  Sagkal grinned, showing quartz teeth.  “I guess it never occured to me you actually had a comfort zone. Not too hot?”
“It’s only fifty-two*.”
“...Okay, then.  Let’s get to it.”

*That's about a hundred and twenty-five Farenheight, for us ugly Americans.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentlemen's Duty (7)

It was nearly two hours later before the Gentleman Scoundrel’s half-blind sensors found PC-1156.  The stricken spacecraft was, thankfully, facing the system’s primary, helping resist the worst of the the thermal shock effects of freezing NegMat and broiling matter.  The NegMat would continue to cool as its containment absorbed stellar energy until it eventually reached absolute zero.  But the remainder of the ship would disintegrate under the stress of embrittlement before then.  
“Four more hours.  Best case.” Ipa Sam declared over the intercom.  “Tell Kura to get his ass down here with my dosiometer.”  
“Roger that.” Zag Esseru responded.
             The Engineer Ipa Sam was in the Pump House, the power deck of the Merchant, where the NegMat from his nose was pumped into the stern holding tanks for propulsion.  The ship was station keeping right now, with the NegMat levels balanced, and maneuvering in his orbit with thrusters.  The Scoundrel was tail first to the star, to shade his cockpit.  This meant Zag Essuru would be in the Quarterdeck pilot house for the duration, with the viewport shuttered and a dosiometer pinned to her shipsuit.
She turned to Canto Kura, who had decended the ladder to the Quarterdeck.  “Ipa says get your ass down there with her dosiometer.” Zag smiled sweetly.
“Ha ha.” Canto handed the pliot her dosiometer first.
“If it turns black, hit the shutters, take the iodine pills, and get out of here - in that order.” Canto Kura said.
“I know basic rad-training, Kura.”
“Force of habit.” He conceded. “I just went through the EVA version with Sagkal and Ruku.
“How’s she holding up?”
“True to her character.”
Zag grinned without mirth.  “That bad, huh?”
Canto Kura smiled and, with a wave, left the tiny Quarterdeck.  Instead of climbing the ladder back to the crew deck, he left through the hatch and crossed the second-class passenger compartment to the lift tube.
Kura had only seen the Power Deck once, when helping to secure the cargo bay after damage from a missile attack.  Ipa Sam had spent hours floating in the dim of Engineering before they could reach her.  It was the first time Canto Kura had met Ipa Sam.  
When Kura drifted out of the lift tube, he was reminded of why the Power Deck was informally called “The Pump House”.  In the center of the compartment was the wide NegMat transfer tube.  The perifery of the chamber was lined with additional pumps for the reactors and radiator system. The air was thick with humidity, the consequece of the stellar waste heat passing into frigid cold in the presence of negative matter.
“Got my glow-badge?” It came from behind Canto Kura.
“Oh!  Yes, yes I do.”  He thrust the dosiometer at Ipa Sam.  She hesitated a moment and then took it and pinned it to her shipsuit.
“Thanks?” Ipa turned and went back to what she was doing.
“Uh, Ipa Sam?”  Kanto began. “I was wondering…”
Ipa turned to the flustered Medic. “Is this about work?” Her tone suggessted that it should be.
“Yes!  It’s about... the containment system.  How does it work, exactly?”
“No idea.”  Ipa turned back to what she was doing. “No one does.  In fact, you probably know more than I do.  The Janoi were the ones to develop containment in the first place.”
“Ironic, isn’t it?” Kura, in spite of himself, was relaxing. “It took a weakly god-like AI to develop NegMat into something that could be contained, but they can’t get near it without shutting down.  Probably what happned to the Cutter out there.”
“What do you mean?”  Ipa, in spite of herself, was getting interested.
“They use these old ones for experiments.   The Janoi are always trying to develop a way to survive close proximity to NegMat.  New permutations, new containment architecture, new computer designs - they try everything.”
Containment experiments? It’s a wonder they haven’t destroyed the universe yet.”
Kura looked at Ipa - really looked at her.  She was figity, kept looking around…
“Ipa?  Just what would happen if the Cutter lost containment?”
    Ipa sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, scraped her knuckles on the ceiling, and cursed.
         “When pure negative matter is exposed to an electrical field - any field, so much as a single photon, it will cause a run away reaction where the energy is amplified continually until it vaporizes the ship and everything within direct contact.  Then the individual particles will repel each other in the direction of the purest vacuum at the speed of light - maybe faster.  And each of those individual, subatomic particles will amplify any energy they come into contact with -”
        “Pretty much the scariest thing imaginable.  Got it.”
        “Pretty much.  NegMat isn’t that bad, but it’s enough to turn the Cutter and us into a cloud of molten beads.”
        Kura smiled at Ipa Sam, though it was a trifle forced.  “I think I understand why you’re so serious all the time.”
       The very serious Ipa Sam smiled, if only slightly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (6)

 The crew of the Gentleman Scoundrel were gathered in the first class lounge, seated around one of the dining room tables.  Aru Vakh sat at the de facto head of the long table, with Ruku on his right.  She had an overhead projector and several transparencies at the ready.  At that moment, however, Ipa Sam had the floor.  She stood at the foot of the table, with Sagkal and Zag on her right.  Kanto Cura passed out fresh cups of coffee to all seated before taking the open seat next to Ruku Mat.
“The main danger of a code 515 is destruction of the spacecraft.” Ipa said.  “If that happens, the debris will spread out to fill the entire orbit.  As close to the system’s primary as the Cutter is likely to be found, the junk band would vaporize in a matter of days. Until then, any ship jumping through a rabbithole into this system is at risk of being destroyed upon arrival.”  
“How big a risk is that, really?” Aru Vakh asked. “I don’t fancy ordering us alongside a catastrophe.”
“It gets worse the longer the cutter stays in the area of the search grid.  Rabbitholes can be found as close as a star’s corona -the Cutter may not be that deep in the stellar well, but it’s close enough in to make finding it at this range impossible.  Until we get an accurate fix, I can’t give an estimate on how long before the cutter loses containment.”
Vakh turned to Ruku, “How are we coming on getting that fix, Mat?”
“Uh, the computer’s running the search pattern now...sir.”
“Oh! Uh...the closer we get to the primary, the easier it will be to find the cold spot.” Mat pushed an errant curl out of her face. “The sensor array was damaged during the fight with the last cutter so...:”
Sagkal shifted on his stool.  He had brought the unsecured furniture from his quarters so as to protect the first-class seat from his spines.
“Cutters: Almost as plentiful as hydrogen out this far.”  
Vakh regarded the Sloak. “This is a Janoi cutter.  They’re a bit more advanced than the Imperial versions, Sagkal.”
“Normally that’s true,” Kanto Cura said, earning a narrowed gaze from Vakh, “but the teletype says this is a regular Type-20 patrol craft.  They’re a couple of generations behind Janoi standards.  That’s a bad sign.”
“How so?” Zag Essuru asked between sips of coffee.
“The Janoi usually sell their older standardized design to the Empire under lend-lease.  The ones they keep are mostly used as experimental platforms.”
Zag rolled her eyes. “Wonderful.”
“Back to what we know for certain,” Vakh said. “What is our status?  Will we risk damage that close to the primary?”
“If we keep either the nose or tail facing the star at all times, we’ll be at no risk.  The NegMat will repel any harmful particles.  As for heat, the hotter we get, the colder the NegMat gets, so it’s effectively impossible to overheat as long as we keep nose or tail on target.”   Ipa looked at Zag Essuru.  “We can maneuver a bit, but if we face our broadside to the star, we’re at risk of cracking up from thermal shock.”
“That won’t happen,” Zag leaned back in her chair, “I’ll make sure of that.”
“Is there any chance of the crew being alive?” Aru Vakh asked Canto Kura.
“Very little.  The NegMat may keep the reactor and hull from overheating, but the life system uses conventional radiators. Since the five-one-five message explicity mentions radiator systems failure, the crew will most likely have died from heatstroke hours ago.  Unless, of course, there are Sloak on the crew.” Kura grinned at Sagkal.
“Needless to say, Sagkal,” Vakh said, “you will be our man on point.”
“There could be Giru left alive,” Ruku Mat spoke up. “you know, if there were any…”
“That’s true.” Canto Kura conceeded. “A Giru could handle heat up to sixty degrees without long term effects.  They could be suffering from dehydration by now, however.”
“So, a Giru would be able to handle the heat?” Vakh considered Ruku Mat.
“Yes, sir. No problems.”
It was that moment when Ruku Mat realized the rest of the crew was looking at her.
Zag Essuru answered with, “She could access the computer a lot easier…”
Sagkal nodded. “And she’s small.  She could fit into spaces I can’t”
“Wait a minute -”
Ipa Sam gave the protesting woman an appraising look. “She could even pilot the Cutter’s gig, if it came to it.”
“But….but -”
“It’s settled then.” Aru Vakh said.  “Ruku Mat and Sagkal will be our salvage party to the Cutter.”
         “Aw, man…”

Monday, January 18, 2016

Nano Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (5)

The Computer Room sat just off the Cockpit, separated by a gas tight door to protect the delicate circuits from depressurization.  Once it had closed behind Ruku Mat, she let out a shuddering sigh, leaned against the door and stared at the walls of the compartment. They weren’t proper walls - other than the terminal and its pair of monitors, all available space in the Computer Room was covered with racks of the magnetic cassettes that contained the essential ship’s programs.  Three were loaded when Ruku entered; the standard guidance software, the COMAST operating system, and the charts of all interconnected Janus gates and the most recent update of verified rabbitholes.
The first thing Ruku Mat did after regaining her composure was turn up the thermostat in the tiny compartment.  The second was to query the computer about optimal routes through the subsector to Ipa Sam’s theoretical refinery.  By the time the screen warmed up and the display began scrolling useful data, the compartment’s climate control had reached  forty-nine degrees and three percent humidity. In such heat, Ruku Mat’s normally pale, purplish skin flushed to its natural pink gloss.  Ruku’s stooped posture relaxed into a languid curve as she shed her bulky jacket.  Other than her quarters, this was the only part of the ship where she wasn’t freezing cold.  She leaned back in the chair, which was large enough to nearly swallow Mat’s petite frame, and began to read.
Collating the endless lists of coded data for the star systems in range of the Gentleman Scoundrel’s one-lung FTL drive was a thorny problem.  There weren’t many.  This was the edge - often bleeding edge - of the frontier, and outposts that could be depended upon to uphold Imperial/Janoi standards of technology were few and far between. While a Merchant ship like the theirs could theoretically travel anywhere, damage and dwindling supplies limited the Scoundrel  to only one or two rabbitholes off the Janus before they wouldn’t have enough to travel back.  If they were willing to use the main drive’s supply of NegMat, they could travel farther, but that would mean their acceleration would drop below a gas giant's escape velocity.
Which would defeat the purpose.
Mat was still working on the problem in the baking heat of the Computer Room when the ship’s teletype system began to print, spitting out accordion paper from just above the screens. Mat sat up and snatched the first page off the printout.



**CODE 515 REPEAT CODE 515***




***CODE 515***

**COMAST ALERT JANUS NETWORK UPDATE 55862107 END**                                                      
The tiny navigator spun the dial on the thermostat while punching the intercom button. “All hands, all hands, Code five-one-five is in effect.  This is not a drill.  Code five-one five is in effect.”
The tiny navigator pulled on her heavy coat.  Even though the temperature in the Computer Room was still desert hot, Ruku Mat was shivering.

Nano-Fic A Gentleman's Duty (4)

Author's Note: The previous segments need to be said, but have pushed plot of  The Gentlemen's Agreement back several steps.  Therefore, we're going to tell this story, A Gentleman's Duty, first.  Enjoy!

Ipa Sam, towered over the Navigator, Raku Mat.  With a height difference of over half a meter standing, Mat’s being seated and hunched over in her characteristic stoop made the difference all the more obvious.  Zag Essuru, the Scoundrel’s Pilot and 1st Mate, was also shorter than the Engineer, but her rail-straight posture and the quills her people used instead of hair made Zag appear taller than she was.  The trio was focused on Raku’s display, a collection of CRTs and underlit tables that covered most of the cockpit’s starboard wall.  Above them, the second level viewports showed a starfield hazed with the glowing aurora of repelled particles.  The wavering, blue-green light made the cockpit appear underwater.
“There!”  Ipa jabbed a finger in the direction of the map table. “What about there?”
“I dunno…” Raku Mat’s small voice trailed off, as it usually did. “It’s awfully far…”
“That’s not the problem.” Zag indicated another point on the map table. “This jump off the Janus main, at Carzulla?  That’s a Type - B2 star.  After that fight with the patrol cutter, our forward armor’s too thin to stand the radiation. We won’t be able to find a Rabbithole before we fry.”
Ruku shrugged. “I can find -’
“- What about here?” Sam indicated another system.
“No,” Zag said. “Too many Rabbitholes between the Janus and there.  We lost too much NegMat with the shuttle.
“I have the charts -” Mat began.
“There’s gotta be somewhere with a gas giant refinery!”
“There is,” Ruku began again, “I just need time to -”
“I don’t know that there is.” Zag responded. “It pretty barren out here.  We may not -”
Listen!” Both women looked down at that rarest of sounds, Ruku Mat’s raised voice.
I have all the navigation charts for this subsector loading on the computer!  I will plot us a course that doesn’t either bake us alive or use too many Rabbitholes! And you two will stop looking over my shoulder while I do it!”  With that, Ruku Mat left her station and scurried into the Computer Room.
“What got into her?” said Zag Esseru. Ipa shrugged.