Deep Time: Drawn from the Water, part 6

“Relax,” Anders said. “It was just that panel bouncing off of something.”

“I’m going to go check it out,” Randall said.

“Negative,” Anders shot back. “No separation. We all go or we all stay. That’s an order.”

“Let’s go,” Tully said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Not yet,” Anders said. “Let’s see if we can get this panel online”

Tully stared out into the dark fog for a long moment, and then nodded. “Right.”

The terminal sprang to life, and white letters flitted over black screens.

“Looks like it’s going to boot awhile, LT,” Randall said. “Let’s see what that damn noise is so I can sleep before I die.”

“Alright,” Anders said. “I have other power supplies. Let’s keep moving. Tully, keep your scanner running.”

“Range is a bit limited with this moisture.”

“Understood.”

They pushed themselves forward as the computer terminal behind them clicked and hummed, projecting ghosts of characters on the white walls. A few meters away the darkness crept in again, oppressive and omnipresent. Anders had to repeatedly wipe moisture from his glass face mask, and his breath began to feel hot and loud again.

“There it is,” Randall said. He pushed off a wall and grabbed the panel Tully had spent flying. He looked around and said, “I wonder what it bounced off of.”

“You all there?” Willem’s voice said through the com.

“Yes,” Anders said. “What’s the problem?”

“Nothing, I just lost your signals for a minute there. That hull has some insulating properties, I think.”

“We’ll switch to multiband,” Anders said. “But if you lose us again, we’re probably fine. This ship has held together this long. I think it can handle a few hours more. Don’t, under any circumstances, switch to unsecured transmission types. I’d like to keep at least the spirit of the old man’s orders intact. This ship might not be broadcasting, but that doesn’t mean it can’t attack our networks.”

“Copy.”

Anders pushed forward past Anders into the foggy dark, pulling himself along an insulated conduit. The casing cracked under his hands as he went, sending shivers to his spine. Tully and Randall followed close behind. A cracking and hissing sound erupted from the conduit. Anders looked back to see sparks flying from a few places. A nearby terminal, hidden in the dark, leapt to life and cast ghostly beams of light through the mist.

“Looks like your power source is working,” Tully said.

“Not well enough,” Randall said. “These light fixtures are still dead.” He tapped a clear plastic panel above them.

“Their bulbs and diodes probably burned out hundreds of years ago,” Tully said.

“Good point,” Randall said. They continued following Anders down the hall, this time pushing in between terminals and other hardware fixtures, steering clear of the conduit. After a minute or so, Anders came upon something that scattered the light from his flashlight back to him. He flinched and adjusted his light as he approached.

“It’s glass of some sort,” he said.

“Look at them all,” Randall said. He pulled his extra light from his belt and sent a bright white beam through the mist. Rows of round glass tubes lined the walls of the corridors, leaning towards one another. A few colored lights blinked in control consoles, but they all stood dark and frosted over with moisture and ice.

“Stasis pods,” Anders said. “Necessary from a ship this slow. Are any of them still hot?”

“I think so,” Tully said. “The mist is scattering things.”

Anders pulled up to the closest pod and ran his hands over the glass. His headlamp cut through and revealed the remains of a person, once desiccated into a mummy, but now suffering new rot in the wet cabin. The lifeless lips were drawn tight over teeth that protruded from withered gums and bone. Bony fingers rested on clothing that shone white in a few places where the wet corpse dust had not muted it to a grey. The hair still clung to the scalp in many places, and the lids of the eyes were open, revealing a chasm of where eyes might once have been, now sunken and wet.

Tully wretched and coughed.

“Hold it together,” Anders said. He reached up and snapped a picture with the camera on his helmet. “We’re likely to see more.” He pushed away from the corpse and began floating down the line of pods. “Let’s see if we can find a few that are still sealed up and powered on.”

“I’m willing to bet that these had their own redundant auxiliary power,” Tully said, trying to hold her words together without another cough. “We could probably use another power supply to get these back online.”

“To what end?” Randall said. “Anyone in here that doesn’t have power is likely long dead.”

“Hold up,” Anders said. He paused and shined his light forward. A few meters ahead was a long round piece of glass from a pod, floating peacefully. Anders maneuvered around it. A pod stood just past it, empty and open.

“Shit,” Tully said. “Shit! One of them is out and loose in here.”

Randall pulled his gamma burner out and crossed it under his light, pointing it out into the misty darkness.

“Calm your nerves,” Anders said. “Oxy is low in here. Too low to maintain consciousness. This pod could have already been empty anyway.”

“I don’t like it,” Tully said. “I’m going back.”

“No!” Anders said. “No separation. That’s an order. Now Tully, check your readings again.”

“What?”

“Give me an IR reading, damn it!”

Tully tore her eyes from the darkness and pulled her datapad up again. “There’s definitely some residual heat, maybe body head. Um… That area on the right.” She pointed and Anders pushed off the empty pod toward a few red lights, shining out like stars in the darkness of the cabin. He pulled up beside it and rubbed the moisture off. A pair of folded dark-skinned hands was underneath. Anders continued working upward. When he got to the face, he found he could not wipe off the fog.

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