Day 1 on the HS10
Stolen? Who would steal from Cecilio? The applause of the crowds thundered again in his memory—a blurry mass of people, some waving with smiles and staring with grim faces. Others dabbed their eyes, and another looked on in disappointment. It was possible, but Mason shrugged. “Stolen or not, we have orders now.”
“Not even a second thought?”
“We have orders.” Mason pulled the ship’s map up onto a monitor and projected it. The view of space through the window vanished, and the map took its place.
“Woah, man, what’d you just do?”
Mason closed his eyes. “Sir,” he corrected. “It’s a map.”
“Yeah, I see that. Where’re the stars?”
“It’s a Navisphere.”
Mason glanced at Carter. “Please tell me you’re not serious?”
Carter stared. Mason sighed. “Usually it’s controlled by the captain’s hand motions. But…well, actually, we should probably set that up.” He scanned the keycard and pulled up the Officer Recognition Program, adding his name to the list and authorizing it with the keycard.
“Welcome, Commander Wyatt,” the computer’s voice echoed over the amplifiers. “I am AIAIS, your Automated, Integrated, Advanced Intelligence System. Please rise and state your name for body and voice recognition.”
Mason rose. “Commander Mason Wyatt.”
“Thank you, Commander. You can now access me on any deck by stating my name or a name of your choice.”
“Herbert,” Carter chuckled.
“We’ll stick with Aiais.” Mason eased back into the chair.
“I don’t like it,” Carter said.
“You’ll learn to. Anyway, the Navisphere.” He motioned with his hands, splitting the screen into five displays. One showed the map, two others showed the outside of the ship, and the final two displayed sectors filled with chambers. “A plain window would be a waste, so they installed cameras around the hull to help the crew see when navigating out of Earth’s solar system.” The designers also mounted cameras in the sectors and storage units to monitor construction, but the kid didn’t need a full history lesson. He swiped the four extra displays away, so the map filled the entire screen. “Clear as mud?”
Carter frowned. “Just about.”
Mason nodded and inspected the decks on the display. Each contained labeled rooms, some with storage units, others with cargo. He opened a file for Cargo Sector 81. Nothing but the tags of the thousands of units stored there. He moved on and scanned through more decks, his eyes locking on Deck 19.
“Okay, so maybe we got orders, but why? What’s so special about Cell 81?” Carter asked.
“We’ll find out when we’re done.” Mason clicked Deck 19 and searched the cells, selecting Cell 81.
“Further authorization required,” Aiais said.
Mason clicked another cell, but again the AI denied him.
Carter leaned toward the computer. “We can’t see anything on that floor?”
“We should. I’m in the system.” He scanned the captain’s keycard, but Aiais denied him again. Mason frowned, swiped the map away, and marched to the lift.
“Where’re you goin’?” Carter followed.
“To see what’s on that deck.”
The kid hesitated, but joined, and Mason pressed Deck 19. The lift arched downward, gravity receding.
The door slid aside, a wave of thin, icy air rolling in. Mason breathed, the lighter atmosphere cooling his sore lungs as they entered a cramped steel compartment. The entrance to Deck 19 waited, melted frost glittering on the metal. Mason tapped the panel beside the door and scanned the keycard. Enter Additional Authorization flashed across the screen.
Additional? “We need more clearance,” Mason said.
Carter inspected the door. “They didn’t protect the cargo, or even the bridge like that.”
Mason drew his fingers along the edges of the door. What to do…? He pushed away, shaking the liquid from his hands.
“Man, what’s more important than the bridge?”
“Sir,” Mason corrected, analyzing the entrance. “Haven ships only use the bridge when leaving the solar system. After that, there’s no reason to guard it.”
“Somebody could steer the ship off course if they got onboard.”
Mason froze. His neck tingled at the thought.
“Right?” Carter asked.
“They have contingencies,” Mason replied. “Only old pods have the right docking mechanisms.” His thoughts drifted to turning the ship, but he jerked his head to toss the idea away. It didn’t move, but settled like a blanket. “It’d take half a mountain to pierce the hull. There’s no breaking in.”
“How do you know all this?”
Mason chuckled. “How do you not? I still remember basic training.”
Carter’s lips tightened, and he nodded. “So, the ship’s a fortress?”
“There’d be no cargo if it wasn’t.” Mason pushed away from the door.
“So, we used an old pod?”
“We used an antique.” Mason checked the captain’s keycard and tossed it to Carter.
Carter stashed the key in his belt and approached the door, feeling the edges of the frame. “We could blow this off its hinges if we had some powder or something.” He pointed to the crevice where the door slid into the bulkhead. “We could strap some along here. Crack it like an egg.” Carter shrugged. “I’m sure they’ve got explosives somewhere.”
Mason studied his partner—the kid knew more about demolition than the mission. He glanced at the Kisasi, then the door. “We may damage other parts of the ship. We don’t know what’s in there.”
“Well then, what’s your plan? I for one kinda want to see what’s in there.”
“Aiais, who’s authorized to open this door?” Mason asked.
“The captain and three senior officers must be present for Deck 19 to be accessed,” Aiais replied.
“Four people?” Carter whispered.
“It would seem.” Mason studied the door, motionless. Carter eyed him, then crossed his arms and examined the door as well.
“What if we break it?” Carter asked.
“What if we break it?” Carter shrugged. “We just need the right tools. We don’t have to blow it up, just break it.”
Was there a difference? Perhaps. “Come on.” They reentered the lift, shooting back to the bridge. Mason darted to the command center and projected the ship’s specs onto the Navisphere before Carter could gape at the stars again. Storage units filled Decks 1-15. Most contained nonperishable seeds and supplies for the inhabitants of Proxima B, but some carried industrial equipment and technology. Mason glanced at Carter’s gun and scrolled further into storage. No other weapons onboard. It was a cargo ship, not a military transport.
Carter tapped the Navisphere. “Man, I don’t need weapons. Is there any of that cold stuff? Liquid nitrogen! Any of that here?”
Mason shook his head. “Not that I know of. They don’t need to keep anything cool. Space does…” he furrowed his brow. “Although,” he whispered, “maybe I’m wrong.”
“Before the ship launches into open space, the crew is awake making sure everything goes to plan, which means they needed air pressure, which means they would have needed a backup system to keep the cargo cool—”
“And likely that backup’s runnin’ now that we have air,” Carter said.
“You want to freeze the door?”
Carter shrugged. “I want to see what’s behind it.”
“You ever done something like this before?”
Mason nodded and smiled. One step closer to…his smile faded. “This entire ship is designed for temperatures well below liquid nitrogen. The ship has to hold together in the vacuum of space. Nothing’s turning that door to glass.”
“It was worth a shot,” Carter muttered.
Mason dropped into a chair, studying the Navisphere. They needed access to that deck.
“What if we cut it?” Carter exclaimed.
Mason narrowed his eyes. “Explain.”
“Well, she can take the cold, right?” Carter smirked. “Let’s hit her with some heat.”
“Tools are on Deck 10.”
“What’re we doin’ here then?”
Mason leapt up, but swayed, his lungs burning. He gripped the console and regulated his breath to ease the pain. He’d exhaled fast enough to avoid destroying his lungs when the tube snapped, but that didn’t always work. His breath shook. No point dwelling on the past.
“You okay, man?”
“I’m fine.” Mason rose, and they returned to the lift again. Gravity faded, the pressure on his lungs subsided and the door opened to a dark hallway lit by numbers along the bulkhead. No other lights—no one would see them in deep storage.
Mason marched in, counting off the units. The outlines of shovels and other primitive handheld tools hung in the darkness. He closed the door and moved to the next, finding tools and machinery for farming, but nothing that could cut open a vault. Unit 21 contained seeds and other farming goods in crates strapped to shelves; Unit 24 held only fertilizer.
Carter shouted and Mason floated toward the sound, finding the kid thirty units down with something like a rifle in his hand, wired to a backpack hovering over his shoulder. A tinted mask floated in his other hand.
“What’s that?” Mason asked.
“A laser cutter. I think it’s industrial or somethin’.”
“And how do you know that?”
“How do you know everything about this ship?” Carter pushed toward the lift. “Am I not allowed to know things too?”
“I’m just waiting for you to know protocol.”
Carter turned. “Man, I may not know much about space, but—”
“Then why are you here?”
Carter lowered the laser. “Why you here? I ain’t got no reason to trust you. I don’t even know you.”
“I’m not the one holding the gun.”
Carter’s face hardened. “Maybe they sent it with me for a reason.”
“I better not be that reason.” Mason set his jaw and Carter shifted. “We have a mission to complete.” Mason flew into the lift.
Carter followed, clutching the laser to his chest as he stared at the grated floor. Mason pushed out of the elevator before the door finished opening to Deck 19. “You’re up.”
Carter slipped the mask over his face. “Yeah, yeah.” He flicked the safety off and pulled the trigger. A blinding blast of red cut into the door—Carter scrambled to shut it off.
“Heh,” he chuckled. “Forgot to dial it down.” He grinned and spun a dial on the side to narrow the beam.
Mason grimaced at a dripping red blotch on the door and bulkhead. The kid had missed and melted the metal at three points. Why couldn’t Cecilio send someone competent? “You know we need the bulkhead, right?” he snapped.
Mason rolled his eyes and tapped the bulkhead. “Bulk head.”
Carter furrowed his brow. “Man, I’m not sure where you come from, but we call that a wall.”
“Just don’t melt it.”
The kid shrugged, aiming at the door. Mason turned away. Thunder cracked as blinding light cast Mason’s shadow across the deck. Sparks scattered and bounced, smoke slinking up into the air vents.
Mason pressed his sleeve over his mouth and closed his eyes, covering them with his hand, and wishing he could cover his ears as well. Warnings blared, lights flashed red, and a siren screeched above the thundering.
After seven minutes, the roaring quelled to ringing. Sweat dripped from Mason’s temple and the hot air stung his aching lungs. He turned, rubbing his ear, and squinting through the smoke. White metal shimmered like a picture frame dripping from the door. Carter tossed the glowing laser aside, whipped out his sidearm, and fired twice. The metal piece shifted and blew off its molten hinges as Carter drifted away from the kickback.
“Warning: Security Breach,” Aiais said.
“Override,” Mason silenced the sirens.
Smoke drifted onto Deck 19. Dim lights reflected off grated decking, and in the distance, a white glow framed a door. Mason’s calf stung in the wave of heat as he floated through the melted entrance. He examined the glowing door. Memory faded like his breath in the cold.
Carter crept behind, knuckles white as he gripped his weapon. He nodded to the glow. “What’s that?”
Mason’s eyes watered in the smoke. “That’s a door.”
“And what about the rest of these?”
Mason scanned the other cells. Numbers gleamed on panels embedded in the bulkhead, like dreary eyes waking. He tapped the first one and jerked his finger away as it flickered and sparked. The laser had damaged it, but he made out the label. Navigation.
Cells five through fifteen concealed data banks and the next fifty read Oxygen. Oxygen. Oxygen. Mason smiled. All in good working order. Cargo coolant filled cells 78…79…80…
He froze before the glowing door, ten meters high and wide. Cell 81. “This is it.” His fingers twitched and he tensed. “This is it.”
Mason approached the sealed cell. Memory felt so close he could nearly touch it. Why were they there? Why Cell 81? He reached for the door panel and it sprang to life. The same four-level authorization. Mason floated back. “Break it down.”
“’Course,” Carter eyed the door and glided back for the laser. He returned, dropped his visor, and red flashed. Warning lights blinked again.
“That’s enough,” Mason raised his hand and Carter stopped firing. “Aiais, override those sirens.”
Molten metal dripped from the door as Carter fired the Kisasi. The piece warped, and light from the cell sliced the darkness like a white dagger. Mason shielded his eyes and Carter dropped the mask over his face, firing three more times. The piece snapped and clattered away. Mason squinted at a wave of brilliance as Carter drifted from the kickback, lifting his mask. “What is that?”
“I don’t…” Mason’s eyes watered, “…know.” He blinked several times, testing his sight. Maybe they heard wrong? Maybe they weren’t supposed to enter Cell 81. Perhaps it was Cell 82 or 181?
Carter chuckled, shielding his eyes. “Good one.” he tossed the laser aside. “Come on, man, what is it?”
Mason entered, eyes fixed on a chamber in the heart of the cell.
It rose from the floor like a stem—like a tree trunk, five meters high. Rivers of white etched down its surface to tubes, sinking like roots into the deck.
“What is that?” Carter floated in.
“This…” Mason brushed his hand along the side, his fingers tingling over the grooves of shimmering white. “This is our mission.” Steel clamps secured the chamber to the ceiling, and a panel gleamed upon it, showing temperature readings. Around the rest of the cell, dozens of monitors and gauges displayed pressure within the chamber, stabilization, and radiation. “This is the mission.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“This is what we’re supposed to bring back.”
“Warning,” Aiais echoed, “collision imminent.”
Mason examined the metal clamps. How did they disconnect? “Reroute navigation,” he said.
“What is it?” Carter approached the chamber.
“Navigation systems damaged.” Aiais interrupted.
Damaged? Mason’s gaze shot to the doorway. They damaged the navigation while breaking onto—
“Brace for impact,” Aiais said, “in five, four, three, two—”
“Carter, get down!”
The ship jolted, and Mason crashed into the chamber.