Deep Time: Drawn from the Water, part 5

The door fell inward, floating and tumbling for a few seconds before crashing into a corroded beam of steel, pitted and rusted, then ricocheting off of a dead terminal. The darkness was total inside the derelict craft, and only the light streaming in from the transport provided any illumination. Anders, Tully, and Randall turned on the lights attached to the top of their environmental suits. Dust filled the beams in strange patterns amid the zero-g environment. Tully cautiously pushed her head past the airlock and looked down one direction, then the other of the interior, which took the shape of an immense empty hallway that extended to what looked like infinity.

“Spooky,” she said. The tremble in her voice was amplified by the com.

Anders pulled himself in and floated toward the panel across from the airlock. He shined his headlamp on it. A layer of ice was busy forming on the ancient screen. He pushed his gloved hand over it, revealing nothing but darkness. He punched a few nameless keys, but nothing happened. His breath seemed oppressively loud, and he could almost hear his blood rushing in his ears, along with his own pulse. The craft was totally silent, and any ambient noise was further muffled by his environmental suit.

“It’s dead,” he said into his radio.

Tully, behind him, said, “Looks like it’s in bad shape. It’s holding pressure, but not much else.” She had a datapad open and was using it to scan her surroundings. Multihued light colored the interior of the semicircular hallway. Anders could see no doors or off-shoots from the hallway in either direction. Ice from latent moisture clung to steel supports and clean white plastic that lined the floor and walls. Liquid water clouded the chamber, slowly gathering into larger spheres before beginning to freeze again.

“Wet in here,” Randall said.

“Not that surprising,” Anders said. “We keep a relative humidity in our cabins for comfort. It just doesn’t precipitate out like this because we keep it warm.” Anders floated down the long deck, shining his lamp here and there. More terminals stood blank and empty around him. He paused for a moment to look at one, which had black marks around a large central vent.

“Must have been one of the power centers,” Tully said, pulling forward along the beams of one of the walls. “If you want the data center, it’s probably not on this deck. I would guess these are system terminals.”

“Still worth a look if we can power them up.” Anders pried off the vent and peered inside. White plastic was blackened where a smile fire had lit itself before quickly dying in the cold and low-oxygen atmosphere. “I’ll come back.”

He pushed off and followed Tully down the dark corridor. Randall floated along beside him, taking it in.

“How old do you think it is? It looks like a miracle it’s holding together at all. This corrosion…” He drew his finger over a steel support and brought back a streak of red rust. “Maybe the metal has been sinking the oxy?”

“Could be, if they don’t have a fusion plant online to make more, or are using tanks. It’s funny – the plastic parts are incredibly well preserved.”

“No UV light in this windowless tomb,” Randall said. “There’s some hatches.” He pointed toward an intersection a few dozen yard ahead. There were three hatches: One going forward, one in what looked like the floor, and one in what should have been the ceiling. Tully was already working on the lower one, turning a large wheel.

“Hold on,” Anders said. He pulled a flashlight from his belt and banged against the steel hatch. It echoed beyond, thought the sound was muffled by his sealed helmet. “Sounds pressurized, go ahead.”

Tully continued turning the wheel, her legs wrapped around a rail for stability, until it wouldn’t budge. Randall moved up beside her and added his own leverage, and with a loud grinding the hatch released and moved inward. Anders shined his light into the darkness beyond. Mist filled the chamber. His mask fogged slightly.

“Whoa,” Randall said.

“It’s warmer in there,” Tully said. “Maybe there’s a power plant nearby.”

“Where were those lingering heat areas?” Anders asked.

Tully pulled up her datapad again and flipped through a screen. “This corridor, I think. About forty meters away.”

“Then let’s have a look,” Anders said. He pushed himself into the new corridor, which was wider than the last. It too was lined in white paneled plastic. Terminals stood in odd positions on every wall and surface.

“They must not have equipped this ship with artificial gravity after all,” Randall said.

“Maybe they did, but used it like the Hosokawa, gravitizing the ceiling and using all three dimensions for work space,” Anders said.

“I heard we’re meeting up with them again, yeah?” Tully said.

“Keep your head in the game, Tull,” Anders said.

“Right,” Tully said. “This panel here is a bit warm.” She nodded to a multi-screen terminal with a fixed seat, mounted to a surface opposite an identical station, like two objects mirrored above and below. Anders pulled himself into the seat and tried a few buttons.

“It’s an English keyboard,” he said. “Very interesting. Still warm like you said. Dead now, though. Maybe I can run some energy through it locally. Randall, give me some more light.”

Randall pulled around and turned on his hand-held lamp, filling the small section of the empty craft with white light. Anders felt around the edge of the top panel and began prying off the top. The plastic cracked and came away in pieces, revealing a silicon logic board filled with daughter cards of unknown purpose.

“That’s one way to do it,” Tully said. She pulled herself around the back and pulled off another plastic panel, sending it floating off into the darkness.

“Let me know if you see something that looks like a power supply or a transformer.”

“Here,” Tully said. “There’s a power conduit running into some transformers back here.”

Anders pulled a universal battery from his belt and floated it toward Tully.

“See if you can run that into the transformers. It should automatically match the current. If we can find a junction we may be able to get the whole system back online.”

“Nifty,” Tully said. She squeaked as a clang sounded in the darkness reverberating through the environmental suits. Randall flinched and found himself tumbling backward, searching his belt for his gamma burner. He found it and caught himself with a rail, then held his weapon forward. The light beams from his helmet seemed swallowed up in the misty, foggy cabin. He could only see a few yards ahead through the moisture.

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