Posted By: Dirty Commie<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 28 December 2002, 1:15 am
As far as asteroid fields go, this one was nothing special. The biggest rocks were few and far between, the small ones more numerous, but still nothing special. He might not even know he was in one if he hadn't almost crashed into one of those floating mountains ten seconds out of Slipstream. Risks of the job, you know? He piloted the small scout fighter slowly by the first objective in front of him, a munitions carrier, or what was left of it. Apparently many of the munitions had exploded; nearly a quarter of the ship was just gone. It was unlikely, but he had time. He initiated the probe.
The red block letters spelled out NEGATIVE on every point on the list. He just sighed, upping the throttle to maximum speed. The real prize was just ahead.
The massive battle cruiser floated in space like a sleeping giant. As he rocketed closer he could see the burns and scars all over the hull. Nearly all of the ship had been lost atmosphere. He repeated the standard life-scan. Nothing.
This seemed to be the least damaged ship in the whole convoy, definitely his best chance for retrieving the Ship's Log. Circling around the nose of the once mighty battle cruiser, the full extent of the damage became apparent. Huge gashes had been ripped down the port side, twisting and tearing the armored plates as if they had been paper. The fighter stayed at the bow to investigate the bridge. Magnetic clamps latched onto the dorsal compartment just aft of the bridge as the scout pilot donned his bulky EVA suit. Preliminary scans indicated atmosphere intact all the way to the bridge, but the pilot was taking no chances. After the ship finished burning through the thick armor plating (the airlock motors had seized up) he programmed the ship to dump all the data from the investigation to the nearest UNSC Relay Station if his suit's life monitoring system reported cardiac arrest, or if a special command was issued via his remote arm panel.
The control panel beeped: airlock cycled and stable. He took a deep breath and opened the floor hatch. The pilot drifted through the cycled airlock into the main dorsal access hall, shining his twin headlamps around him. This part always made him feel like an underwater diver salvaging a Spanish galleon.
Artificial lighting and gravity had failed, though a small amount was generated by the ship's gradual spin. His ship estimated one-sixteenth of a gee. With the ship spinning, though, he was actually drawn toward the ceiling instead of the floor. A large heat source was detected two decks directly below him, tempting investigation, but the pilot remembered his mission and proceeded forwards.
As he glided up to the distinctive double-doors of the bridge, he realized that he hadn't brought his fusion cutter in case the door was sealed. Oh well, he thought, I'm sure my salvage code works on this heap of junk. He had to jump to the floor to get at the door panel. After prying open the emergency seal, which activated when a ship's environment was contaminated, and jumping it with his suit power source (which took more juice than he liked) he punched in his 8 digit salvage code that gave him access to nearly every area of any wreck or derelict.
The screen flashed.
The accessibility subsystem rejected the code, which was a fairly common occurrence, and could mean any number of things. The main databank may have been corrupted, connections could have been severed, or the ship might still consider itself active. At any rate, he would have to return to his ship to fetch the unwieldy fusion cutter, and begin the hours long chore of slicing into the reinforced bridge. He cursed softly and began to drift back down the dark hall. Just then he heard a metallic groan behind him. Jenkins pivoted in midair with a maneuverability jet to look. The double doors had opened a quarter of the way before they too had seized up. He thanked God for small graces and turned back to the bridge.
He squeezed through the doors. They were quite large for a person, but an EVA suit was a tight fit. Jenkins was free to download and transfer the ship's logs. He wasn't usually ill at ease in a derelict, but this one was just plain creepy. The sooner he was back on his cozy scout, the better. A particularly huge asteroid drifted by the bridge windows.
Jenkins quickly located the main console and called up the ship's log.
"Aw, damn!" Jenkins cursed aloud, now he would have to wait for his own ship's AI to override the system, which could take over six hou-Wait. Only the fleet admiral or the ship's AI construct could seal Level 5 files. That was a real problem. Jenkins keyed his radio. "Ship, request Level 5 codes from UNSC Command, over." Jenkins was greeted with toneless static. "Ship, request Level 5 codes from UNSC Command, over." Jenkins repeated. Static.
From behind him came a soft voice. "I took the liberty of jamming your communications, Ensign Jenkins."
The man in the EVA suit whirled around to face-nothing.
"I think you'll find all your suit-to-ship commands inoperable, also."
There it was. On the holo-display. A flash of recognition. Oh shit.
"You seem surprised, Ensign."
"Every copy was erased, the data was purged, it's impossible!"
Jenkins was baffled. This was the Admiral Borglyn, but after the trial, UNSC had claimed all the test constructs had been erased. But there he was, eleven inches high and grinning.
"How did you survive?" Jenkins asked, his initial shock and fear fading. The AI laughed.
"I didn't survive, I was rescued." Borglyn began. He sat down on an invisible chair and steepled his fingers. Jenkins had never seen an AI act like that. "A rather headstrong young scientist working on the project was determined to not let all his work go to waste. So he smuggled me out of the lab, and onto this same ship. By hiding me in the Navigation subsystem, I could remain undetected in the last two and a half decades. That is, until I could return to my former glory, as the Admiral of the most powerful fleet in the Navy."
Jenkins frowned. "Then what happened to the crew, and the ship?" He asked. The small replica of Admiral Borglyn waved his hand nonchalantly. "I guided us into a Covenant staging ground." He chuckled. "The surprise on their faces was reward enough for my long banishment. They didn't all die in the battle, though. I was forced to vent atmosphere in many sections."
Jenkins was horrified. "Now what?" he asked, with a bit more force-or fear-in his voice than he intended. "You're the Captain of a crippled ship with a crew of corpses. You've murdered thousands, and will be erased the moment you're discovered. You've done nothing except to seal your own fate." He stopped, waiting for the figure's response.
Borglyn chuckled again. That maddening chuckle of superiority that every officer above you seemed to have. "My dear Ensign, I won't be discovered. When the salvage team arrives, they'll simply find helpful old Yuri running the ship." His image shifted into that of Yuri Popov, a war hero that Jenkins vaguely recognized. Yuri was immortalized as a military AI in the 25th century. Just as Borglyn would have been, if not for the 'incident' on Mithrir.
"But no salvage team is coming, I never called for one." Jenkins said.
"Of course not, but I did. The new codes on your ship are quite good, and took me a while to crack." He sat down, he had stood up when he shifted into Yuri.
Jenkins froze for just a second, then wordlessly spun in place and fired his tiny maneuverability jets. He had to get back to the ship. Once he cleared the bridge, he pushed off the wall with his legs and started zigzagging from wall to wall, pushing and gliding. When he reached his makeshift hatch, Jenkins paused and glanced down the hallway. Nothing there. As he reached up into his ship, he felt a resounding thud in the wall. Definitely time to go.
Once he was back in the safety of his own ship, Jenkins tore off his helmet and ordered the ship to detach and engage engines. He twisted off his white gloves and collapsed into the pilot's chair. He checked the board, nothing had happened.
Jenkins pounded the board; he was going to have to do this by hand. No big deal, he had done this a thousand times. Fingers flying over the controls, he started to sweat. Borglyn hadn't done anything yet, but Jenkins wasn't going to hang around a nanosecond longer than he had to.
The docking clamps detached, and the ship drifted free. With a cry of triumph, he hit the engines. The range finder began to scroll up as he increased his distance from the dead cruiser. Jenkins initiated Slipstream protocol and looked at the countdown clock. It read 3:04 in harsh red letters. He cursed and tried to find a quicker way out of the asteroid field.
Just as he called up the Navigation system, the whole screen was tinted red and every alarm in the ship began screaming at him. He started to sweat a little more. The weapons monitor beeped.
Contacts: Three Mk IV "Football" NM-650's
Yield: Twelve Megatons Each
Distance: 380 km
Oh shit, no no no no, shit shit shit! Salvage pilots weren't trained to evade nukes, not even Footballs-so named for the football shaped detonator-and the last category was scrolling down fast.
"Ship, countermeasures!" Jenkins yelled at the console. A message was overlaid on the screen: No countermeasures equipped for this mission. "Shit!" He yelled in reply. Jenkins forced the throttle up past safe limits, lighting a small red light next to the throttle. But it was just a tiny dot in a sea of red lights and screaming alarms. There was nothing more he could do except watch and pray that he would clear the gravity shadow of the asteroid field before the nukes cleared him. Jenkins stared at the Slipstream-Safe light. Once it went green all he had to d-
"No dice." Borglyn whispered to himself, watching the fading hellstorm of triple nuclear detonations. He vanished back to the recesses of the ship. The bridge darkened once more.