"I still think you two should have vaccuum suits on," N'Tar frowned at T'Chorel and F'Ve as they stood at the cargo hatch in their thermal suits.
"And I still think you should let us go in first and secure the ship," T'Lin, also frowning, stated.
"Nonsense," T'Chorel said gruffly.
"I second that," F'Ve added as though she has the authority to do so, "Let's get in there and see what we've got."
Kareneter decided to cut off the discussion by hitting the hatch release and then heading back to the airlock between the cargo bay and the rest of the shuttle. There was a popping sound as atmosphere blew into the void between the hatches. The oversized, reinforced door, which also doubled as a ramp, settled to the floor of the cargo hold. T'Lin, head of K'Vinter's tiny police force, and Nepo, another ex-Naval Rekados, stood, weapons ready, to either side of the ship's hatch as R'Zuti attached a descrambler box to unlock the hatch. She pressed several buttons, watched the indicator lights, pressed another button, and then stood to the side as the hatch slid in and out of sight.
T'Chorel, much to the obvious frustration of T'Lin and his men, strode purposefully into the ship. The others followed as Kareneter returned to the cockpit to monitor their communications. Their boots stirred up tiny clouds of dust as they entered the airlock. T'Chorel briefly examined the control panel then hit a button. The inner door groaned, started to open, hesitated, and then slid into the bulkhead. Lights sprang to life in the hallway, but many of them immediately started to flicker and die, leaving the hallway half-lit.
"J'Daruti, watch over us," P'Ku prayed softly as they entered the hallway.
"The air probably smells pretty bad, but I'm not reading any harmful organisms," L'Toddo said, his eyes flickering from the scanner attached to his rifle to the hallway ahead and behind them.
"It's stale, but not to bad," F'Ve said.
"I am still getting indeterminant life readings," L'Toddo added.
"What exactly does 'indeterminant life readings' mean," N'Tar asked.
"The readings are too weak or intermittant to be identified or, less likely since we know the ship's of U.A. origin, it's a form of life that's not in the database," L'Toddo explained.
"And there's a number of design features that could be interfering with the readings: the metals used in the hull plating, prin't radiation from the Narpa Drive, ... I could go on," R'Zuti said.
"Please don't," N'Tar said as they reached an intersecting corridor.
"Which way," P'Ku looked down each corridor as far as the shadows allowed.
"This way," T'Chorel indicated and started off, "These early ships almost always have the bridge on the top deck, starboard bow." They continued forward through several more bulkhead. Upon opening one hatch, they found the floor, and several tiny skeletons, covered in a fine red powder.
"That's likely the source of the life readings," L'Toddo stated, "Mold. It's amazing how it'll thrive in an environment with virtually no nutients, no water, no light."
Nepo asked, "And the skeletons?"
"Sardinio Thuks," T'Chorel said as he nudged one of them with his boot, "your basic Zarpi vermin. It's a three-legged lizard. It eats anything it can bite off and breeds incredibly fast."
"There's another ladder up to the top deck back here," T'Lin's displeasure with the way this expedition was being run was clear. "No reason to contaminate our suits any more than neccessary."
A United Allegiance Tale
and © Copyright 1980-2009 Michael J. Ahlers. All Rights Reserved.