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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 149: Kondor 92
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Kondor wasn't entirely certain that Lauren's confidence in him was either well founded or well placed. Her only experience with him leading a mission was in a very different world on a very different mission. There he had used his forest skills, learned in Sherwood. Here he was on a space ship. There they were tracking kidnappers to rescue their victim, while here they were using a map and his surveillance gear, and trying to find a way to stop the ship. Everything was entirely different, and he had never done anything quite like this before.
Still, he was not about to disappoint her. No one since his mother had had such confidence in his ability to do anything. Correct that, he thought. No one since his mother had had such realistic confidence in his ability. In Sherwood Forest, the patients believed he could work miracles, and although in their eyes he often did they had unrealistic expectations. In other worlds, they expected him to be up to the task, and he had proved himself so. But Lauren, like his mother, expected him to be the best humanly possible, and he found that he could live up to those expectations.
"Derek, we need tools," he said. "I need to get into the floor and determine where the fault is in the gravity generators."
Derek produced his tool kit, and in a moment had removed a panel of flooring. The meter showed that no signal was arriving from the central control area; according to the schematics, that meant engineering, four levels directly below them.
"There's a shaft over here that will take us down."
Following his electronic map, he found a hatch behind which was a ladder. Here he paused. Going down a ladder in zero gravity would not be easy. You expected gravity to draw you down, and so were practiced in holding yourself up against its pull. It made more sense to go up the ladder, so to speak, in zero G–to go head first. But if he was wrong, if the gravity failure was local, he could move into an area in which gravity existed, and fall head first to the floor below. It was a gamble, a bet on his own ability.
"Derek, behind me; Lauren, you guard the rear."
Head first, he thought, and climbed onto the ladder. It was easy to move here; each pull of his arms accelerated him forward. Not too quickly, he reminded himself; there would be no gravity to stop him, so he would have to exert as much force to slow down as he had done to speed up. Keep your speed contained; one good push, and then use the ladder to guide.
Stopping was as difficult as he had anticipated, but he managed it, and bracing himself against the ladder opened the hatch. Emerging in engineering, he again inverted himself, and scanned the room to get his bearings. Power systems for the gravity generators were to his right, and he pushed himself that direction.
"Tools, Derek," he said, and the boy again produced the wonderful toolkit. Together they removed an access cover. "Be careful here; the power demands of a gravity generator system are incredible, and I don't yet know where it's all going." He began testing circuits, looking for the problem, mindful that every second brought them hundreds of miles closer to destruction.
There was a sudden movement behind him; he dropped his tool as he whirled toward it. Something was suspended in mid air, clamoring as if trapped in an invisible bubble. Lauren was pointing that strange rod of hers directly at it. "What do we have here?" she said.
That was a good question. It was lizard-like, long and serpentine, but with several sets of legs like an iguana or komodo dragon and a tail long enough to rival the largest snakes. Kondor took a good look at it.
"Can you get it to hold still?"
The bubble seemed to be getting smaller; soon the creature was curled inside it, unable to move much.
"Large mouth, with powerful jaw muscles, probably built to crush bones and shells; very powerful legs and–and what are these? It appears to have wings, of a sort. It certainly couldn't fly with them, but if it had some height it could glide quite a distance through the air. That's probably its usual mode of attack–get above the prey and leap down on it. Between its speed and its power, it must be a terrible danger. And in this zero gravity environment, it could fly for hours and climb quickly. Its claws are adapted for grabbing rough surfaces, I'd say, so the roughened plastic walls would be something it could handle."
"Why are the walls roughened?" Derek asked. The question seemed to miss the point, but Kondor answered it anyway.
"Rough surfaces diffuse sound and so reduce echo. I'm glad you were watching our backs. Can you kill it?"
"I expect I can," Lauren said, "although I've never tried to kill something with this. As he watched, the creature appeared to be forced into a smaller and smaller ball, until it seemed to snap. Lauren shook herself and breathed, as if she had been exerting some sort of concentrated effort. "Better finish your work."
He turned back to the circuits. "What's this?" he said aloud. The dropped tool had left a carbon arc as it passed part of the circuit. "There shouldn't be much power there; something is amiss." Carefully retrieving the dropped driver, he removed a circuit board. There behind it was a mass of something organic. Kondor didn't know if it was egg sac or waste product, but he knew it was shorting the system.
Fetching the laser scalpel from his medical kit, he began excising in slices, quickly but carefully. Soon he had the bulk cleaned away. Topical disinfectant was the only spray he had that made any sense at all here, so he gave the surface a thorough wetting and watched the remaining bits dissolve and come loose.
Abruptly the gravity returned; he almost fell–and from the sounds of thudding from all directions, there were many things that did fall.
"Replace the cover?" Derek asked.
"The cover is there to keep dirt and debris out of the circuits, to prevent anything from falling into it, and to protect people from shock. Of those concerns, the one that matters to us at the moment is that we don't want it to break again–and in the time we have, that's unlikely, so leave it."
"What now?" Lauren asked. Kondor paged through the diagrams in his handheld.
"We find our way to the bridge. That's where we will be able to take control of the ship. But have your weapons ready; I have a feeling most of those noises were these beasts falling to the floors."
It felt good to have something solid below his feet as he walked to the hatch across the room.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #142: Characters Unite. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: