It’s almost not Tuesday anymore, but I just remembered it’s chapter day. So here we go. 🙂
Stuck In A Box
Silence reigned for a minute.
If no one said anything, maybe that would make what had just happened not be real. Or maybe everyone else was as stunned as Jo felt. More than likely the latter.
And why not? One moment they were hurtling toward the station hub, their goal in sight and getting closer by the minute. The next they were stopped, thrown up from the floor by the force of their stopping. It was enough to put anyone off her game.
Finally Malcolm spoke up. “Maybe it’s a mechanical problem.” He neither looked nor sounded like he really believe that, but he really hoped it was true.
Grant snorted loudly. Thomas was a half-second behind. The looks they gave Malcolm were dubious, almost scornful, as though they could not believe he would say something so stupid.
“I think we all know that’s not what happened,” Jo said. She slid off the loader and walked to the lift controls, near the doors. The control panel was dark, lifeless. It was not going to work. All the same, she hit the button for the hub level. Nothing happened.
Jo stepped away from the panel and frowned.
“Now what?” muttered Thomas.
“At least the lights are still on,” Grant replied.
As though his speaking had somehow jinxed it, the lights picked that precise moment to flicker and for a moment Jo thought they were going to extinguish completely. Then the small display screen at the top of the control panel flickered to life, revealing a woman’s face. She wore a satisfied smile and her eyes shone with victorious glee. Jo recognized her immediately.
“You’ve led us a merry chase, Captain Ishikawa,” Chandini said. Jo blinked, surprised at the audio, before she remembered the speakers mounted in the lift’s walls, to accommodate those who desired music through the several-minutes-long trip from the ring to the central hub.
Jo did not bother to answer; there was no way Chandini could hear her, regardless.
The Deputy Director surprised her, though. “No need to pout,” she said, her smile growing just a tad bit more broad. “We’ve been waiting for you for some time.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Grant said, from Jo’s left.
The Director’s smile did not flinch, but her eyes darted toward Grant. “It means, Mr. Gilford, that there were only a few courses of action left to the good Captain, and only one place to turn if she followed the most illogical option.”
They must have rigged a microphone in the lift somewhere. But where… And then Jo about smacked herself. The emergency call button. There had to be a microphone in there, else the passengers could not call for help if something went wrong. Stupid. But then, Jo had felt stupid a lot lately, so why should this day be any different?
Chandini’s eyes turned back to Jo. “You did not actually think you could get away with something like this, did you?” She definitely sounded amused.
Jo found herself crossing her arms over her chest, defensively. “I sort of did, yes.”
The Deputy Director smirked. “I’ll be seeing you shortly,” she said. Then the screen went dark.
* * * * *
“Fuck me,” Grant said. “How the hell did she know who we are?” He looked at Thomas, who shrugged, spreading his hands helplessly.
“Maybe your organization in Brisbane is not as secure as you think,” Malcolm offered.
The brothers both cast baleful looks at him, but said nothing. From the expressions on their faces, it was clear they were not dismissing Malcolm’s conjecture out of hand.
“Never mind all that,” Jo snapped. “They’ll be coming. If they don’t just bring the lift back down on remote.” By now, they were well above the ring’s upper levels. It would be far more efficient to just bring the lift back down, and given they had the ability to stop it, Jo could not see why they would not do that very thing, and quickly. “Any ideas how to get out of this?” Lord knew she was coming up blank.
Grant and Thomas looked at each other and frowned a similar frown. Right then, except for the fact that Grant had a goatee and Thomas was clean shaven, they could have been looking in the mirror, so similar they looked. Neither spoke; it was like they were working out the details by telepathy or something.
But there was no time for that sort of thing.
Apparently Malcolm felt the same. He raised his plasma rifle and fired a shot into the control panel. It blew out in a shower of sparks and slag.
“Well that’ll help,” Thomas said in a wry tone.
“More than you might think,” Malcolm said. “The internal relays in the controls interface with interlocks in the station’s transit control system. If those relays are not functioning, they won’t be able to order the lift back down.” He paused, frowned, then shrugged. “Or at least, it will take a bit longer for them to be able to do it.”
Jo blinked, surprised. She did not know that. Where had Malcolm learned it?
He noticed her expression and quirked an eyebrow at her. “Engineer, remember?” He grinned in a self-deprecating manner. “We don’t get the sexy shore jobs you pilot-types get. I did a stint or two on these stations, back before I joined you on Pericles.”
“Right,” Grant interrupted. “Not to spoil the stroll down memory lane or anything, but…” He left off the rest, but his meaning was clear. What the hell does that have to do with us getting out of here?
A very good question, and from the smug look on his face, Jo suspected Malcolm knew the answer. He grinned and gestured toward the ceiling, where the hub access doors were situated. “Shall we get out of here then?”
* * * * *
By the time the lift would have reached the station’s hub, all of the ring’s centripetal g’s would have gone away completely. That meant the doors to the lift could be placed anywhere, since everyone and everything within would essentially be just floating around. Given that, it made perfect sense to place the hub access doors in the ceiling and keep the ring access doors on the side walls. Personnel and objects could simply float into the lift from the hub, and as the rotational g’s built up, slide down one of the walls to the floor. By the time they reached the ring, they could walk or be pushed out, just like on any lift planetside.
Which was all well and fine, except that now neither set of doors opened to much of anything much of use. The side doors just faced the side wall of the lift shaft, and the hub doors pointed up. A long ways up. But that was where they needed to go, so…
“You want us to climb up the rest of the way,” Grant said.
Malcolm nodded. “There are access ladders along the shaft, between the chutes for the lift cars.”
“What about that thing?” Thomas said, nodding at the incubator, resting on the loader’s twin arms. “Can’t exactly haul that up a ladder. It weighs a ton.”
“No, it weighed a ton. Down there.” Malcolm pointed downward, toward the floor and the ring below. “Here, it’s about half that, and it’ll be less the closer we get to the hub.”
The brothers looked dubious, but Malcolm was right. It could work.
“We’ve got rope,” Jo said, coming to Malcolm’s aid. “Two of us can climb to the next landing and pull while the other two lift up from below. It will be difficult at first, but…”
Thomas snorted. Loudly. “It’ll be well past difficult.”
Malcolm spread his hands in a helpless gesture. “Do you have a better idea?”
* * * * *
Thomas was right. Difficult did not even begin to describe it.
Even at about half its normal weight, the incubator still had to weigh a good thirty or forty kilograms, easily. Grant and Thomas, lifting together, could get it up fairly well, but they could only reach halfway to the hub access doors, and later less than halfway between landings of the ladder. That left Malcolm and Jo to haul the delicate machine the rest of the way. They took care to use two strands of rope for redundancy, and to tie it off securely enough that the thing was not going to leave the rope’s grip for anything short of someone coming up and actually cutting the rope with a knife.
All the same, for the first several landings, the only thing Jo could think of was what would happen if they lost it somehow. The incubator would fall, and fall far. Depending on how they lost it, it could actually fall into a neighboring lift chute, so it would fall all the way to the ring, to its certain destruction. Even the shorter fall to their stranded lift would likely damage it badly, and after several landings the height became such that it was probably academic which fate would be worse for the incubator. Jo did not even want to think about that; about what it would mean to, well, to everything.
Fortunately, the higher they got, the lower the g’s. After a dozen or so landings that required what was probably excessive amounts of effort to bring the incubator up, the device’s weight had lowered to the point that just one man could lift it up from below, and then haul it up from above.
Regardless, all things considered it was tiring work, both physically and mentally. But finally, after what seemed an age but was in reality probably less than an hour and a half, they made it to the top of the shaft. There they paused at the hub access doors to catch their breath, and to consider.
“They’re going to be waiting on the other side of these doors, you know that,” Thomas said.
Jo nodded. In all likelihood he was entirely correct.
He frowned. “I don’t have much practice fighting in zero-g.” Thomas glanced at his brother, who shook his head. He had no training in it either.
“If it’s any consolation, you probably have more idea how to go about it than I do,” Jo replied, earning a look in return that said it was not any kind of consolation at all, and thank you very much. She shrugged. “I don’t think station security usually trains for zero-g trouble either, so we’ll be on equal…”
Malcolm snorted. “Really think it’ll be station security coming after us?”
Jo paused. He had a point. The NSA had not involved locals before; they would want to keep things hush-hush, so they would use their own goons. Probably the same goons, actually, so there was a good chance it was Moore waiting for them. Did they train for zero-g combat? There was no way to know, and Jo would accomplish nothing sitting around bellyaching over it.
It was time to go.
Jo took a deep breath. “Alright, let’s move. Remember, we’re heading to the transport tube in the center of the hub. The transports have cargo mounts to carry the incubator, and will get us to the starliner levels in just a couple minutes.”
“Assuming they’re not shut down too,” Grant said. Wasn’t he just a ray of sunshine.
“We’ll deal with that when we come to it,” Jo said, trying to sound confident despite the fact that her stomach was doing backflips in her belly from nerves. “Everyone ready?”
Nods all around.
“Ok, let’s do it.”
She nodded at Malcolm, and he pushed himself over to the center of the access doors. He tripped their actuating assembly, and a moment later the doors slid open.
* * * * *
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