Misako looked through the transparent metal plate acting as a viewport when the sky lit up in a flash of blue.
Guys? I think the rains are here; she said over the sharebeam just before more flashes started and the sound of rain hitting the outer hull of the ship hard enough to not only be heard inside but also to echo through the corridors.
The rain picked up intensity after only a few brief minutes.
Holy Noah’s flood. Are you guys seeing this? Maddy asked from where she stood in the hold, looking out a tiny viewport near the sealed cargo lift.
Yeah. Are we going to be able to lift off in this mess if we can get the ship working? Mia asked as she stood on a table to see out the upper area of a broken viewport partially sealed over with liquid metal.
I’m pretty sure we can. As long as the shields are fully functional and we have an exorbitant amount of luck to not get struck by a bolt of lightning on the way up.
Jeez, Nova. Your cup is just overflowing with good cheer this morning.
It would be if we could ever get this damn VI to reboot.
A crack of thunder loud enough to be heard inside the ship and cause the floor to vibrate got them all to stop talking and go back to work.
Try it now, Misako.
Okay, Nova. Here it goes. Misako tapped on several holo buttons, barely glowing as minimal emergency power filtered into the VI core.
“Initializing reboot procedure...” the tinny, computerized voice sounded from a dying datapad because of a low battery.
“Come on. Don’t crap out on us now. We just need to get the damn ship started then we can plug you in and you can start sucking up nice juicy electricity and store it,” Misako muttered to the flickering display on the datapad.
The interior lights flickered, grew brighter then dimmed back down again.
“Reboot failed. Processing systems failure list...”
Misako hurried to copy the output into her neural-link before the datapad died. She sighed.
“It keeps saying there’s a power connection fault somewhere but doesn’t say which section.”
Nova sighed. “It’s got to be in the shaft somewhere between the box and the VI Core.”
Misako looked up at the ceiling. “We’re going to need those stupid crank-powered lights from the emergency kits, aren’t we?”
“’fraid so. Gather them up and let’s get the others to start cranking.”
Hours later the group sat in the dark with only the red, silver, aqua, pink, purple, and green visors relieving the absolute darkness of the ship.
“This sucks,” Mia grumbled as she rubbed her wrist and flexed her fingers.
“I agree, Mia, but we’re running low on light sticks. We either have the males be completely blind in this darkness or crank these darn things until our hands fall off so we can all see better,” Nova said as she continued to crank the lever on the side of the LED lantern. “We’re damn lucky these things even work. I don’t think anyone’s used crank lamps for like… a hundred years or more. I don’t even want to know where Sparks and Captain Maddox found them.”
Lyra flicked on the power switch and bright light lit up a small area around the lantern. “I don’t know either. My grandfather had a couple of these, though. They were more like solar-powered party lights he and my grandmother would hang on the trees when we had family gatherings. But he had a few crank ones stashed in something he called a bug-out bag. He always joked, saying he was going to run away to the mountains and live like they did hundreds of years ago. He never had the chance to do more than spend a few weeks taking us all camping before they chose Mom and Dad to help start the Mars colony.” She picked up another lantern and wiggled the hand crank out of the slot, then started to turn it to generate power for the batteries.
All the women grew quiet as they became lost in memories. The males looked at each other and continued turning the handles on the strange objects and not saying anything.
“You’ve got to do it, Misako. You’re the smallest one here, next to Ozzy. He doesn’t have a neural-link, so you’ve got to get into the shaft and look for the broken connections.”
Misako groaned. “I hate small spaces.”
“I hate to say it, but get over it,” Nova said with a sigh and laced her hands together to form a base to give Misako a leg up to reach the opening.
They saw the light from the lantern come on as Misako wiggled her way through the maintenance shaft, dragging a bag of repair tools and various bits and pieces behind her.
Lyra and all the males but Ozzy were in the hold, moving the large crates away from the bulkheads to check for additional damage.
Nova? We found an area in the hold that looks pretty bad. The door panel is broken on this side, so the door will not close on its own without some major repair work.
Send me a visual and whatever diagnostics you can by using your neural-link. I’ll see if I can figure out some quick fixes for it.
Nova skimmed over the data packet and sighed. That repair was going to take more than a band-aid to fix. I’ll be down as soon as Misako finishes in the maintenance shaft. Hopefully, she’ll find the fault and we can get the VI on.
Nova showed up in the hold an hour later and hissed as she moved the panel aside. “I was right,” she mumbled. “No band-aid is going to fix this.”
“Bad enough to get you talking to yourself?” Lyra asked. Nova sighed and nodded.
“Yeah. Looks like it is actually going to be a blessing that Maddy and Izzaiah fixed the coffeemaker.”
Lyra winced. “You’re going to need to get more sleep, Nova. You’ve been awake most of the time we’ve been in here.”
“I’ll work on this until my vision blurs, then I’ll go lay down for a few hours. Misako’s working on the communications panels since she couldn’t find any breaks in the shaft between the VI core and the bridge. Which means something else is causing the faults and keeping the VI from activating.”
“We’ll go check on the water containment system. With all this rain, maybe we can fill the tanks and get the system to check and sterilize it for us.”
“Don’t forget to check for any leaks. The constant rain might hide some.”
Lyra nodded and hurried through the cargo hold, slid down a maintenance ladder with Izzaiah right behind her. A few minutes later, they crawled through a duct and into a different part of the ship’s interior to check the water tanks and power them up.
“Alright. According to the last diagnostic readout, they should be in working order.” Lyra followed the start-up procedure listed on a sheet of metal attached to the inside of a panel door, then crossed the fingers of one hand when she tapped on the holo-button pulsing with a dim glow.
The holo-screen flashed a moment before a blinking cursor appeared. Lines of text flew past and Izzaiah tipped his head when he saw Lyra cross her fingers on her other hand as well.
“Come on...” she whispered.
A green light flashed on the screen, and a steady readout appeared.
Water containment field active. No signs of damage. The system is currently filtering the rainwater and filling the reservoirs. We have drinking water and water for the shower.
Nice. That’s going to help. Monitor it for a while, make sure nothing happens until it has made one full cycle of the sterilization process. Set it to flush out the reclamation and black water tanks and then do a refill on the freshwater. Afterward, head on up to help Mia with the heating system. It’s on the fritz, and we don’t want to freeze in here when the temps drop.
Alright. This shouldn’t take too long, I hope.
“This is good news?” Izzaiah asked as he turned her around and pulled her toward him.
She smiled broadly and draped her arms over his shoulders. “Very good news. This shows us the water tanks can hold water and so far nothing is leaking. Once all the tests and procedures are cleared, we can set it to refill from all this rainwater and get it cleaned and sterilized for drinking. Once we’re ready for liftoff, we’ll flush out the bathroom and sink tanks, then refill the freshwater tank to make sure we have plenty of drinkable water.”
He hummed and pulled her flush against him. His head dipped down and her eyes slid closed as his thinner lips touched hers.
Hey! You’re supposed to be watching the readout. Not snogging each other. And by all the Saints, remember to set the damn privacy mode on your link.
Sorry, Maddy. Was there something you needed?
As a matter of fact, yes. Have your boy toy come up to the medical station. I need help with Ozzy. He’s acting like a recalcitrant teenager with taking his medication.
Nova sat back in the pilot’s chair and stared out the translucent metal and into the night. The rain fell in a constant downpour and she was worried the ship would either sink or get mired in mud so badly they would cause damage upon take off.
A solid week of nothing but rain. She could barely make out the tree line and several times she thought she saw one of the huge flower stalk trees topple as something large trampled through. She glanced at the power readout and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Eighty-two percent. All the repairs, constantly turning on and off the power to run the systems and refill water containers and take quick showers for thirteen people along with running the heater for several hours a day, drained the batteries faster than she had originally estimated. At the current rate, they had to get the ship started, at least, within the next three weeks or risk not having enough power to activate the VI and engines.
Nova growled and thumped her head on the back of the chair. The VI. They still couldn’t find where the fault was, which kept it from rebooting, and everyone grew more and more worried that they were going to be stuck here.
She hadn’t told them she had a reckless backup plan. If they couldn’t get the VI to reboot, she’d just try firing up the engines anyway and hope for the best. The worst thing that could happen would be the burners would have a crack and they’d blow up instantly. The best thing would be it would start, power up the batteries, and they could somehow get the signal out to the Malta and be rescued without having to take off from the planet’s surface.
She groaned and shut down the emergency power feed and began cranking a lantern again. Yay for guard duty while the others got a few hours of sleep before starting their repairs.
Another week passed without luck starting the VI. Nova called a meeting and everyone sat in the mess hall either cranking the handles on lanterns or tapping their fingers on the metal tables. She spoke in buzzes and tones instead of Earth Common since most of the males were still learning the basics of their language. Where needed, Aziel and Izzaiah translated words as best they could.
“Okay. So far we have the water containment area working perfectly. The coffee maker, food processor, cooler, and sterilizer units are all good. The outer hull lights are about seventy-five percent working with forty percent working cameras. There is no evidence of leaks at this point.
“The reclamation system is offline, so we have to flush the tanks once a week while we’re here just to be on the safe side. We can safely run the ship’s heating system for three hours in the early morning to take off the chill. A storage box stuffed with mylar blankets was inside a cupboard of the hold so if you need them feel free to grab a few extra.”
Nova sighed and crossed her arms.
“Now for some bad news. We still can’t find the cause of the reboot failures and without the VI, Misako can’t pinpoint the reason the communication system isn’t working. Now for some even worse news. As I feared, the ground outside is turning into a quagmire. I was hoping to hold this decision off for another week, but with things looking the way they are and with power running way lower than I feel comfortable with, I’m going to lay out a plan, then open things up for discussion.”
The women looked at each other and nodded for her to continue.
“Alright. We know we cannot charge the batteries unless they’re converting solar energy or being maintained by the ion generators in the engine. So, I propose starting the engine and seeing if the direct current from there will somehow kickstart the reboot or maybe send a surge of power through the systems and get them to cough up better diagnostic details. Half the time we can’t see what we’re doing to tell if we’re making the right repairs or not as it is. We need the lights on when we’re working. It might help us see something we keep missing in the near darkness.”
“But didn’t you say that was dangerous? Something about blowing us the hell up if the engine’s damaged?” Lyra said quietly.
“Shit,” Maddy hissed under her breath.
“I do not understand and neither do the rest of us,” Aziel said. “What does all this mean?”
“Nova wants to try starting the engine to get more power and lights working. The only problem is if it’s damaged it will kill us all and probably take out everything in a few kilometers around us too. But, with the way things are, that might be the only option we have left to get this bucket of bolts working,” Maddy explained.
“We could die?” asked Zane.
“We were going to die anyway, Zane. At least, they’re trying to keep us alive and get us out of here. If we die, then we die and we had a few weeks longer than the others did. We got to see the rains, the big animals didn’t get to us. We’ve got to see something none of the others, not even the Queen or the Advisors could. So even if we die, I think it was worth it,” Justin said.
“What about the rest of you? You have a say in the matter too,” Nova said.
“Whatever Lyra thinks is best. She trusts you and so do I. If you want to take the chance and Lyra agrees, then I think you should do it.”
“Idiot,” Aziel muttered, then gave a buzzing sigh. “Either we’ll blow up, die when we run out of energy, or starve to death when we run out of food. If you think it’ll help, then do it.”
Zane, Ozzy, Haze, and Kassian glanced at each other. Ozzy spoke up. “I say try it. I’d rather die while making my own decision than to have died by someone else’s, and you’ve let us make each decision along the way.”
Nova looked at the others, “You’re in agreement? You can speak up if you aren’t. No one is going to hold it against you or punish you if you don’t like the plan.”
They all waited as Zane seemed to try to puzzle it out. “I don’t like the plan, but I think I’d rather blow up than starve to death. I wanted to live and see the things Izzaiah whispered to us about. I wanted to see more of your people. I want to see and do more.”
“Zane, I promise you. If we can get the ship working and rescued, you’re going to see and learn so much stuff you’re going to think your head’s going to explode.”
He gasped, and she laughed. “Wrong choice of words. It means that you’ll learn more than you thought possible.”
“What about you, Kassian?”
“I do not have an opinion. This has already far exceeded everything I ever hoped it would when I followed the others.”
He tipped his head. “Do it. We’ve got nothing to lose either way.”
Nova nodded to him and waited to hear if any of the others had objections.
“We’re screwed if we don’t get off here. I say, start it up and hope for the best. But, before you do, turn on the full lights in the engine room and run another diagnostic. It’ll help calm my nerves about this whole thing if I see it come up in the green,” Maddy said.
The others agreed, and Nova sighed. “Then let’s get some sleep tonight. In the morning, we’ll meet in the engine room and run the test.”
Lyra rolled over and stretched in their bunk when Nova’s wake-up call came over the sharebeam.
Izzaiah sighed while running a hand over her naked form. The others shoved them into this room when Izzaiah attempted to sneak into Lyra’s bed and initiate sex when she was bunking with the other females. Now they had a room all to themselves.
“Good morning, or afternoon, or evening. It’s so hard to tell anymore.”
He grunted. “Yes. I always heard stories about the perpetual night, but thought there would be some light even then.”
“I guess not,” she moved his hand away from her breast and shook her head. “No time for that. You heard Nova. Wake up, grab something to eat, then get down to the engine room. They will turn on the power for the room, then hurry down to start the full diagnostics on it. We can’t afford to waste power, even if I would love to spend an extra hour in this bunk with you.”
“It’s about time you two showed up. Here, I already made you something to eat,” Misako said and handed them their cups. “Nova’s in a right hurry this morning. She turned on the outside cameras and nearly pissed herself when a giant eyeball stared back at her from something reminding her of a cross between a woolly mammoth and a giraffe. She’s worried one of them is going to think the ship is a park bench and sit on us.”
Lyra stared at her for nearly fifteen seconds before spooning up the gel and eating as fast as she could.
“Go on down to the engine room. She’s going to sharebeam the ready signal and I’ll get it all turned on. While she’s running the diagnostic, I thought I’d try to get the comm equipment on and send out a signal. It won’t hurt to try it, at least.”
Nova waited until everyone told her they were ready, then turned back to the engine display.
Lyra gripped Izzaiah’s hand tightly, and he turned to nuzzle her head as he heard Nova’s sharebeam to Misako.
The lights came on, nearly blinding everyone after the incessant darkness, and Nova began the full diagnostic.
It’s a no-go on the comms still. I’m starting to think we need to fix the tower or something is going on with an outside connection. Everything in here is working.
Maybe it has something to do with the planet, or it needs the engine.
Never thought about the planet doing the interfering. I suppose since we could barely get the sharebeams to send out a signal between us when we were still underground, it might be part of the problem. This rain could be part of it too.
Diagnostic done. Damn it. Shut it down, Misako. Minimal light in the engine room.
“What’s going on, Nova?” Mia asked.
“The diagnostic came back in the yellow. It says the engine core is intact, but the burner systems aren’t functioning. It could be anything from breakage to clogs.”
Izzaiah quickly translated Earth Common to their own language so the other males could understand what she said.
No one said anything until Nova sighed. “That means we have to go outside to look where the burners are. On the back of the ship where the cameras and lights are busted.”
“Oh hell no,” Maddy said and shook her head.
“We have little choice in the matter, Maddy. I’ll start trying on the safety suits we kept from the crash. If anyone wants to come outside with me to get the work finished faster, I wouldn’t say no. If any of you do, come to the hold and start trying on the suits. We can do minimal alterations on board.”
“Nova? Forget about it. You can’t go out there. We can’t use the rifles and we don’t have any other weapons,” Safia added as she hurried after Nova.
“What about the guard’s spears?” Aziel said as he ran after them. “If you can get some of those and a suit, I’ll go with you.”
“I will as well,” Ozzy said.
Maddy groaned, “Okay. I’ll go too. My suit is ready. I’ll just grab a spare helmet and sync it up while you guys fiddle around with the machine.”
Lyra stopped in the cargo hold and grabbed a few of their remaining light sticks and hurried after Nova. “Here. One for you to put down inside the exhaust. The males can’t see well, so the light will help them pinpoint you. The others will let them keep track of each other and give them a little bit of light to see by.”
“Good thinking. That small amount of light shouldn’t attract undue attention either. I’ll pass them out when we’re ready to all go out there. I don’t know how long it’s going to take and don’t want to waste them just having them standing in the airlock.”
It took nearly two hours for them to find the hard safety suits close enough to the men’s sizes for the machine to alter. Ozzy didn’t look thrilled at having to wear a female’s set, but they assured him that once onboard the Malta, a set designed specifically for him wouldn’t be an issue. They both complained about the amount of pressure on their wings from not having openings in the suit’s back.
“You two stay inside the airlock until Maddy and I return with at least two spears. They attacked the guards not too far from the ship, so we should be able to find them pretty quick. As soon as all of us leave the airlock, snap your lights and follow right behind us. You’ll be able to see the glow from our visors. Stay with us at all times. Those lights work for twelve hours. If we can’t finish the repairs before then, we’ll go back out the next night.”
“I guess we’ll be starting the diagnostics again each time?” Mia asked and Nova nodded.
“Yes. Hopefully, it’s only a bunch of leaves or something jammed in there and we can pull the crap out and start the engine.”
“That would be nice,” Maddy said but didn’t sound enthusiastic. She doubted it would be that simple. She put the helmet on and ran through the sync protocols and waited until Nova signaled her readiness.
The outer airlock opened, and the two women ran out. Twenty minutes later, Mia shouted to the males standing inside the door to get ready.
When the outer airlock door opened, the two women came in carrying several spears and dripping water.
“I can’t tell if these things are going to work or not. I can’t get it to activate,” Maddy said and handed each male a spear.
“Even if they shock nothing attacking us, they can still do damage by stabbing,” Ozzy said and took a firm grip on his spear.
Nova nodded, told them both to put their lights around their neck, and get ready to snap and shake as soon as the door opened.
She glanced at them, saw their readiness, and sent the signal. They ran along the side of the ship, doing their best to stay in a group and not slip or fall or sink to their knees in the ever-growing mud patch until they made it to the back.
Nova signaled to Maddy and Aziel to guard the area, then boosted Ozzy into the burner. He snapped his spare light stick and wedged it into a slot as best he could. Aziel picked Nova up and flew her high enough for her to heave herself up next to Ozzy. By the dim glow from her helmet and the light stick, they began their search of the first burner.
An enormous mass of leaves, twigs, bark, mud, and rocks nearly blocked the entire burner about two-thirds of the way down.
Ozzy stopped and grabbed Nova before she got close enough to use the spear or to grab the mass.
“Do not. That is not good,” he said as he tugged her arm and took several steps back.
“What’s going on?”
“What?” she hissed and took a few more steps away.
“We need to leave. Now.”
They kept slowly backing up, then froze when a loud, hissing noise came from the glob of debris lodged in the burner.
“Run,” Ozzy whispered and turned, taking off toward the opening. He stopped only long enough to grab up the lightstick before leaping from the entrance with Nova right behind him.
“Run! Run!” he shouted, and Nova broadcast it over the sharebeam for Maddy to hear.
Mia! Fire the burners! NOW!
Just do it!
The four of them slid in the mud and scrambled to not only get their footing but to get far enough away from the ion burner that they wouldn’t die when Mia started it.
Maddy glanced over her shoulder once and let out a blood-curdling scream as a giant winged snake flew at them. Nearly eight meters long with twice the wingspan, the dark scaled serpent blended into the night almost so well to be invisible. Except for the red eyes and ghostly white interior of its mouth and fangs.
The burners ignited and jets of blinding blue-white light erupted from the back of the ship. The loud roar of the engine drowned out everything else, and the males covered the sides of their heads to deaden the noise as each woman grabbed one of them and kept them moving toward the door.
They skidded alongside the ship and kept running. The engine was loud enough they couldn’t hear if the snake creature still pursued them or not; they didn’t really care. All they wanted was to make it back inside the ship alive.
Aziel slipped and fell. Maddy screamed and pulled on his arm, half dragging and half carrying him through the mess to keep him going.
Nova stood just outside the open airlock door, motioning for them to hurry and pointing behind them. Maddy didn’t bother looking, only dragged Aziel along as fast as she could. As soon as Maddy got them close enough, Nova bent down and grabbed Aziel, shoving them all through the door. A loud bang against the side of the ship and the noise of something striking it several more times echoed in the small airlock before finally stopping.
“Help me get his suit off. I think he’s hurt,” Maddy said and knelt to strip the filthy armor off an unconscious Aziel.
Nova and Ozzy tore off their own suits as Maddy shoved hers over toward the far wall. “Mia, we’re coming in with injured. Get the scanner set up for Aziel, and we all need decontaminating.”
“Already got the ship’s decon system running. The engine seems fine and the batteries are recharging,” Misako said as she hurried to take over for Mia. “Fuel containment system green. What the hell happened out there?”
Nova carried Aziel toward the medical lab. She started to say something when one of the loudest screams she’d ever heard came from Mia. “Snake!”
“Now you know what happened.”
Nova, Izzaiah, and Lyra paced outside the medical area as they waited to hear about Aziel.
When the door opened, Mia stepped out. “He’ll be alright. He broke a leg, has a dislocated shoulder, his eardrums ruptured, and he broke his left arm. I’ve sedated him and set his bones. The nanomedicine is taking care of his ears and shoulder. I’ve got to warn everyone. We’re down to only fifteen doses of nanomedicine. If something like this happens again, we might run into serious health issues. Only Izzaiah has the implant to help with his repairs, the others need the emergency medicine. We’ve got to get them to the Malta and have the implants installed before something even worse happens to them.”
“Implants?” a voice said from behind them. They turned to see the other males standing there.
“Yes. It is a small device they put inside you. It is what lets me talk to them without needing to be next to them and also helped me learn their language and for them to learn ours so quickly. You can also learn other things, like jobs, about their culture, where they come from,” Izzaiah said.
“There’s a lot more to those implants, but until we can get on the colony ship, that’s about the limit of his,” Lyra said. “Once we get picked up, we’ll tell you more, and you can decide if you want the implant or not. No one will force you to get it.”
“Guys? I still can’t get a comm signal out. Did you want me to shut the engine down or leave it to go until the batteries charge?”
“How much fuel do we have?” Nova asked.
“Um. If the readouts are working, and the stuff you found in the specs is accurate. We have enough to make it into atmo, burn for about a week, then we’ll be running on battery power and drifting.”
“Turn it off. We’ll attempt another VI reboot tomorrow. I’m too damn tired to work on it tonight. Maddy and Ozzy need to rest up too and get checked out. When Aziel wakes up, we’ll move him to their bunk room and make him comfortable as we can.”
Mia nodded and hurried back to shut everything down.