Day 38. 138 pages, 64,107 words.
Sidestepping the occasional aimlessly-trundling janitorial and pausing to deactivate a couple of quarantine panels, human, Molran and Blaran made their way back to the oxygen farm where they’d left the rest of their team. They didn’t encounter any more crewmembers from the Nope, Leftovers. Presumably they’d all made their way in an orderly fashion to the escape pods and made their getaway.
Çrom regretted that it was – if all went well for their side – only going to be a temporary getaway. He was all in favour of taking prisoners and avoiding total carnage where practical, but the main players in this little drama could not get word back to their employers. Nak Dool had made it abundantly clear that at least he and his inner circle suspected entirely too much, and any survivors from that group would greatly complicate things for the mission.
The ship had to be destroyed, and that meant the people in the escape pods were going to die very, very slowly out here … unless the A-Mod 400 helped them along.
“Captain,” Gunton said as they crunched back into the frigid farm ring, “we managed to get a bit of life support and basic control, we were just debating letting it warm up in here.”
“Forget it,” Çrom said, “we’re moving out as soon as we’ve set the flight controls. Were you able to get into the comms system?”
“Still locked out due to battle stations,” Constable replied, tugging her sleeves back into position for what must have been the seven hundredth time from the frustrated force with which she did it, “although we did see the acknowledgement and launch signals from the pods. Was that the crew, or did you launch them?”
“Pretty sure it was the crew,” Çrom replied, glancing at Melvix. The Molran nodded and stepped across to join Gunton at the panel. “What about the maintenance subtext?” he continued.
“You mean the messaging system the drones and ables use?” Constable said. “We might be able to send short messages to other access panels on the ship, but what good’s that going to do us?”
“Our crew will be tuning in to that frequency,” Blue said. “Providence and Segunda have amped up the hexagon to peep in through all sorts of windows.”
“Right,” Çrom said, “and they need to know about those escape pods, just in case they’ve managed to jettison under some sort of cover. Send a priority fix message with a double HLCF event code – it’s one of the double-code errors permitted by the template but it’ll get Seg’s attention – and mark down the escape pod bays for ‑ ”
“Captain,” Melvix looked up.
“Looks like we have a compartment on the nearest crew deck ‑ ”
“You mean the deck we just left?” Çrom said beseechingly. “The recycling plant level? You want us to go back there again?” Melvix made a decidedly ambivalent gesture with his dry-blood-smeared lower left hand. “What’s so special about this compartment? Is it a treasure compartment?”
“I don’t know about that, Captain,” Melvix said, “but the power and security and interior hull composition data reads more like an expanded brig than a series of cabins.”
“Prisoners?” Çrom sighed. “Are you serious?”
“Usually,” Blue remarked.
“It could just be a set of rooms they converted to hold us in,” Constable suggested. “They were supposed to take us back to Aquilar alive, right?”
Çrom, eyes locked with Melvix, pointed at Constable. Melvix waved his lower left hand again.
“If you want to rig this ship to crash or explode, and leave the secure crew quarters unexamined ‑ ”
“Fine,” Çrom growled, “we’ll go,” he swung his finger to point at Melvix. “But you’re looking after them.”