As the group headed belowdecks, the ships' age truely began to show. The artificial gravity had kept working well enough and for long enough to drain the missing water to the lower decks where it had rusted and corroded virtually every surface. They were walking by lamplight now. If any of the lights down here had survived, they had burnt out since being reactivated. Hatches that wouldn't budge and rust-weakened deck plates forced the group to backtrack several times. As they turned into the hallway that ended at the main cargo hold, R'Zuti stopped suddenly.
"What the g'te," she said quietly staring at the hatchway ahead of them.
"What is it," T'Lin asked, his eyes scanning the corridor.
"The hatch ... the bulkhead ..." she trailed off for a moment. "What could be in that hold that warrented protecting it with exterior hull plating and replacing the hatch with an airlock?" She turned to the others.
T'Chorel walked past her and examined the wall and the hatch. "You're right. Very interesting."
"Can you open it," F'Ve asked R'Zuti.
"Do we want to," P'Ku interjected, "after all they modified the ship's structure and power systems to protect whatever's in there."
"You wanted to know what was down here," snapped N'Tar, "we might as well find out."
R'Zuti attached the descrambler box to the airlock door. She made several adjustments, frowning a little more each time the indicator lights failed to turn green.
T'Lin leaned close to her, "What's wrong?"
"The lock mechanism isn't responding," she turned and examined the walls. "There it is," she said more to herself than anyone else. She walked over to the wall, pulled a tool from her belt, and with a quick twist popped a panel open. Inside was a small Zarpi keyboard. Without turning away from it, she asked, "What did you say the name of the ship was?"
"Fate," T'Chorel responded.
R'Zuti detached her pocketputer from her belt, typed 'FATE,' translated it, and then switched the display to the Zarpi character set. "Z, A, R, E, T, I, O," she said beneath her breath as she typed.
There was a low groan, as the door protested being called back to life after such a long time.
"I love it when people pick stupid passcodes," R'Zuti said smiling.
T'Lin and Nepo stepped between her, T'Chorel and the door. "We're going in first this time," T'Lin's tone made it clear that there was to be no arguement this time. He and Nepo entered the airlock while L'Todo covered the corridor. Taking up positions to either side of the inner hatch, they motioned for the others to enter. "Stay low and close to the walls."
Behind them the outer door groaned shut. There was a long uncomfortable pause as they stood in the half-light of their lanterns. The inner door started to visibly shake, the vibration running through the floorplates. The shaking and rattling intensified until the group started to exchange nervous glances. F'Ve held T'Chorel's hand tighter. There was a loud metallic snap and then the inner door groaned a response to its counterpart and noisily slid open, revealing the broken remnants of one of the six latching hooks.
T'Lin and Nepo stepped quickly into the cavernous chamber beyond, their lights and weapons sweeping in every direction. As T'Lin was signalling the others in, the lights came on throughout the chamber. More of the bulbs here had survived and fewer died after being unused for so long. The security officers swept the room with their weapons again before again signalling the others to proceed. They stepped into the chamber, dwarfed by the equipment around them. Several huge generators, giant fuel cells, rack upon rack of large emergency battery packs. But even these were overwhelmed by the scaffolding that supported and surrounded the bulk of the equipment in the room. Hundreds of cylinders lain end-to-end and stacked upon one another in massive racks that stretched to the far end of the chamber and up to the ceiling far overhead.
"There must be thousands of them," F'Ve said with undisguised wonder.
"Two thousand and forty-eight," R'Zuti supplied after a glance around and a quick mental calculation. "Correction, two thousand and forty-nine. There's an extra one over there by what I suspect is the master control for this whole chamber."
"Two thousand and forty-nine whats is the question," P'Ku asked, looking up and spinning slowly around.
"They are what I think they are, aren't they, T'Chorel," N'Tar added.
"It certainly looks that way," T'Chorel sighed. Those that hadn't already guessed looked questioningly at him. "The 'indeterminant life readings'." They began to look back at the cylinders as they came to understand. "Over two thousand suspended animation tubes."
A United Allegiance Tale
and © Copyright 1980-2009 Michael J. Ahlers. All Rights Reserved.