Chapter 3: Death Among The Ruins
We left our heroes exploring the Destine system for traces of the colonists or the people who made them vanish. They had just stumbled on the debris of one or more spaceships, deep in interplanetary space.
Robbie, Dafnord, Brunalf, Gannar, and Tom step out and explore the larger pieces -- only Dafnord and Tom bothering with spacesuits. Examination shows the ship was made by and for humans. Guided by Edvard's sensor readings, Tom finds a body -- or a large piece of a badly decompressed and blasted one. Brunalf finds a bit of wall that actually got hit by something. We take these specimens back to the lab on the Baron Munch.
Tom dumps the body into the autodoc. This is a fresh-off-the-shelf young AI and rather taken aback at the sorry state of its first autopsy case. While it gingerly pokes around, Salimar does a retrocognition on the chunk of hull. It's a very simple image -- BRIGHT -- and together with mundane sensor readings verifies that the hull was hit by lots of ravening energy that was neither conventional blaster fire nor, for instance, magical dragon fire.
Salimar then dusts off her membership in the Lorelei McHerron School of Revolting Psychic Practices and does a retrocog on the body in the autodoc (which has not found anything very interesting). This unfortunate was standing next to a bulkhead just when it went BOOM. He looked human, appeared to be dressed in a uniform, was carrying a computer pad, and did not appear to be working at red-alert pitch. He was just walking along and wham.
We show his image to Braeta. She sees nothing distinctive about him. True, he looks like a mixture of races, which the antediluvian stock of the nephilim did, buts lot of current people do, too, after several centuries of mixing in the modern world.
Robbie recalls the funny pink cloud the Map of Here displayed over the gutted moon base. Replaying the readings on Destine City in his mind, he finds a similar cloud way up high above it, too.
We ask Edvard to project the wrecked ship's path back to its most likely point of origin. He gets a projection suggesting the ship was bound to the moon base from a point in an asteroid belt. We decide to go tot he belt and look.
With a slight lurch, we're off. The slight lurch entails much bickering between Robbie and Edvard about military-spec tolerances for inertial damping, but we soon arrive at the projected point of departure. A few sensor scans soon locate a dome-like base tacked onto the side of a smallish, potato-shaped asteroid. Like the moon domes, this one is busted. There is a slightly elevated level of radiation and no sign of life. Gannar and Robbie notice that the hole in the dome bursts out, so whoever did it got in first.
Looking for a docking bay, we notice a neat, round hole on the other side of the asteroid. A bay with a tunnel through to the dome? The Map of Here shows no dimensional weirdness, and infrared scans show traces of warmth in the hole.
We decide to explore. This time the away team consists of Braeta (in the only extra-large spacesuit), Gannar, Brunalf, and Robbie (not in suits).
The hole turns out to be a crater, not a tunnel. But it has been worked over into a docking bay, and there are doors and hatches and such that may lead through to the dome. There's a lot of asteroidal dust, held down by just enough gravity to make one faintly "stick" to the asteroid. You could still achieve escape velocity by hiccuping, though.
We pick a door. No tools, no bodies. The door stands open. Gannar sends in one of his remote gun platforms; through its camera, he finds the door is the outer hatch of an airlock. The inner hatch also stands open.
Entering, we find a tunnel, marked at intervals by doors. One shows signs of having had a small explosion visited upon it. Braeta notes scorch marks as of hand-held blasters on another door. There's a lot of dust about, stuck to walls by static electricity. We come to a door labeled "Supply Closet." It is locked or pressurized shut. Robbie tries knocking. No answer.
We come to a bulkhead on the tunnel. It is jammed open. Past that is another door, labeled "Spacesuits." We force it open, and find the locker empty.
After hiking through about a kilometer of tunnel, approaching the midpoint to the other side, we come to a bulkhead that was not only jammed open but bent. Beyond are offices with glass reception windows, and computer consoles and the like. The windows are busted. So, clearly, are lots of the computer consoles. The power is off.
Robbie seeks records. There are a number of computer pads tethered to desks, but not one works. Gannar opens a console and finds that these colonists appear to have used magnesium transistors or something, because everything is burnt out. Actually, it looks like someone deliberately sent overloads down the computer busses. Gannar wonders if the attackers did this as part of the "purging of the remnants" Braeta spoke of.
More bulkheads. Some cross-corridors. Continuing straight ahead, we --
A door flies open in front of the party. Only Gannar notices activity behind them as well. He sees another door opening there and a figure stepping, tossing a couple of grenades flying out and aiming a blaster. Ba-Boom and Gannar drops off the telepathy net. Brunalf's little egg-ship goes ricocheting back along the tunnel. Robbie, with electronic reflexes, flattens himself against the putative floor and misses a lot of damage, but by no means all. Braeta is knocked out.
Robbie is then sees the attacker holding a drawn blaster and wearing no spacesuit. Robbie shoots him. He falls (or, at least, goes limp).
... Meanwhile, far down the corridor, Brunalf's ship has activated the impact foam system, so the poor cat is now ricocheting AND covered in "protective" foam. Those still in communication get a rich concert of mad-cat noises as he struggles to find the controls. ...
Robbie re-groups. He gathers up Gannar, Braeta, and the fallen foe, rezzes up nets to haul them in, and starts back to the Munch as fast as he can. Braeta's suit, he is pretty sure, is leaking.
Back on the ship, Markel, Katrina, and Tom scramble into suits, pile on the grav sled, and head down the tunnel to meet Robbie and render assistance, leaving Dafnord to fume in frustration, since, as we remarked, Braeta is wearing the only extra-large spacesuit. He barks orders to Edvard to be on the lookout for other ships. It already was.
Meanwhile, part of Gannar has resumed, if not consciousness, operation. His on-board computer re-boots and reports that he is "degrading" (clinically dead, actually, having been hit by both the blaster and the grenades). It starts overdriving the pump on his on-board oxygen/glycogen recycler in lieu of a heartbeat, a sort of internal CPR, to stave off tissue death, though there's not a lot it can do about massive internal bleeding.
Robbie pauses to rez up a patch for Braeta's suit and tells Gannar's computer to watch through the gun platforms for activity. Back on the ship, Dafnord tells the autodoc to recycle or eject its current contents in preparation for incoming wounded. It begins to recycle.
Braeta wakes up, finds herself tied up, and goes rip -- bursting out of the ectoplastic ropes and sticking herself to the wall with some electrical trick that makes Robbie very uncomfortable. He retreats with Gannar and the foeman. Tom, in the advancing rescue party, steels himself and contacts Braeta telepathically, to update and reassure her. She turns off the electrical binding, verifies that she's leaking again, and races off down the tunnel, passing Robbie (after pausing to let him re-seal her suit), getting traction by magnetizing her feet. She's short on air, but long on adrenaline and divinity, with the net result that she's running at racehorse speeds.
... Meanwhile, Brunalf has finally found the de-foaming button, and his spaceship has come to a halt. Now, where the hell is he? ...
Robbie tells the unconscious Gannar to fly ahead, back to the Munch. The android's computer obeys, so a deathly-pale, zombie-like android passes the cat and the rescue party on his way out.
About the same time, the rescue party meets Braeta, who actually ran out of air some time back. Tom quickly hooks up buddy-breathing with his suit and involuntarily donates the contents of his lungs as Braeta inhales. He hastily opens his oxygen valve further, and she allows herself the luxury of fainting.
Back at the ship, the unconscious Gannar has arrived. Dafnord hustles him into the autodoc, displacing the half-liquefied contents it was in the midst of recycling. It reports that the cybernetics did a good job of keeping Gannar, who is only lightly dead. Dafnord busies himself mopping up the much more deeply dead gunk.
We get everyone aboard and find that Robbie's foeman is somewhere between Gannar and the liquefied remains on the dead scale. He's cooling rapidly. We try packing him in ice to keep while the autodoc finishes with Gannar. Tom starts treating Braeta for concussion and anoxia, but finds her healing far more rapidly than his efforts could account for, despite taking enough damage to send Tom into a personal investigation of the afterlife. Divine blood again.
Brunalf climbs out of his ship and tramps through the Munch, making a big production of looking for the sonic showers, to clean off the remaining foam, leaving little damp footprints and bitter remarks about design limitations in his wake.
The foeman in ice is more and more of a lost cause. Gannar needs more hours in the autodoc, and there's no way this guy could be revived then. He's probably past it already. Tom, also of the Lorelei McHerron school, checks him out telepathically. There's hardly any presence there, and not much memory trace -- sitting for a long time in a dark place, then bursting out and yelling "DIE!"
Salimar's retrocognition amplifies on this a bit. Apparently, he was left behind by his fellows, one of whom, very solemn and sad, shook hands with him as he shut himself in that chamber. Others were bustling about, overloading computers and jamming bulkheads.
So we have accidentally concluded a tragedy. This guy was left to bar the way, or be a booby-trap, while his fellows covered their tracks and left. So the lack of records here and back on Destine is the doing of the colonists.
Tom and Braeta have been supposing the nephilim and their folk were captured. It now begins to look more as if they fled. That would explain why the dome burst from inside -- as part of the scorched-earth trail-covering. Tom wonders if the radiation is a parting curse from the nephilim.
Tom and Robbie return to the attack site. They collect Gannar's gun platforms and Robbie remote eye. Robbie sends the eye into the cubicle the attacker popped out of to see if--
Yes, it was. So Tom sends a Second-Sight viewpoint into the cubicle. After the grenades and all, it is more of a spherical. He locates the now-flattened eye. and then tosses in a bit of shrapnel. No more booms. He sighs, bleeds some air out of his tank, and forms it into a stick wherewith to fish the eye out. He nudges something. Second Sight shows that it is one last unexploded grenade.
Robbie, we'll buy you a new eye when we get back home. Man and robot retreat.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.