Posted By: Jasper<email@example.com>
Date: 05 October 2001, 6:12 am
"Express elevator to hell, going down!"
-Private Hudson, Aliens
I was trying to effect some quick and dirty repairs to Sensor Relay Junction AA-23 when the Covenant fleet struck the Pillar of Autumn again.
I didn't get thrown around too badly in the tight crawlspace, but it still hurt. I picked myself up off the deck and readjusted the link, making sure the earpiece was still in, then raised a finger and swung the microphone just under my lower lip. "Diagnostics," I muttered into the pickup, pointing the link's lens at the damaged unit.
The diagnostics package analyzed the sensor relay, green light washing over the holoplate. No additional damage from that last hit, thank God. A few more seconds brought it back to working order. I turned away and headed for the opening to the main corridor. The damage control log would have probably another fifty entries in it by the time I reaccessed--
I stumbled and fell, almost breaking my jaw on the deck. That hit was worse than every hit previous; every klaxon that hadn't already gone off twenty times suddenly sang out. "Comm," I muttered, and the holoplate cleansed itself green again, then blinked READY.
"Magnus to Engineering." Nothing. "Magnus to Engineering, please respond."
The hatch to abovedecks was suddenly in front of me. I hauled myself up the ladder, muscles moaning in protest. Switching tactics, I tried, "Magnus to Commander Chamrajnar. Magnus to Chief of Engineering, please reply." This time I got a harsh burst of static in my ear, but that was all. I cycled through the list of my superior officers, but didn't hear anything slightly comprehensible until I tried: "Robeson, can you hear me? This is Magnus. What's happening?"
What I heard was:
"Mag***********ut of*****eering. ********vere dam********decks. Cor****** -"
Then an extremely loud burst of static in my ear, then nothing. The holoplate flashed COMMUNICATIONS OFFLINE.
Great. Still three decks below the main Engineering level and I'm cut off. Time to go to the source. "Cortana, what the hell is going on?" If the damn AI didn't respond, I was dead-
Blue light scoured my holoplate. That voice was in my ear, and a transcription automatically appeared on the plate:
Severe damage, Ensign. The Covenant is striking hard, and the Pillar of Autumn might not survive much longer-
Just then every klaxon ceased ringing, bringing such a surprising silence I actually halted in my tracks. A chill hand caressed the hairs on the back of my neck as I heard:
"This is the Captain. Abandon ship. I repeat, abandon ship. Get to the emergency escape vehicle nearest your location and-"
Blood red graphics spilled across the holoplate. ABANDON SHIP, they cried.
I broke the link with the annunciator and reestablished a connection to the AI. "Abandon ship? Is she freaking nuts?" I didn't know where we were, hell, it was a safe bet nobody knew where, what was she thinking-
Negative, Ensign. There is a slim chance of survival, at least of surviving the Pillar of Autumn's destruction.
"What's that?" I grunted. At the time I was busy trying to crawl over, under and around a buckled bulkhead that almost totally blocked my path. I think I got burned somewhere, but I really wasn't sure.
In response, Cortana cleared the holoplate and tied me into a feed from Navigation. I don't know whether it was live or not, but the image stunned me:
Deepest black of space, pinpricked by the tiniest dots of light. Closer, a larger dot, a sun; the primary of whatever system we were in. In front of that, a gigantic ball, both murky and pale, striped with cream and mud; a gas giant. Slightly below and to the right of that, a gray rock, seemingly of a size with but obviously much smaller than its companion, sliced in half by darkness; a moon. And beside that--
"Jesus, what the hell is that?"
A construct of unknown origin. Not Covenant. Within its inner surface are land masses and oceans, and a Terran-compatible atmosphere.
Somebody dogged the hatch behind me. Shit. Open it, open it, open it--
"How do you know it's not Covenant?"
Our distance from the construct is well within range of the Covenant's known weapons technology. If it was some sort of space station manned by their forces, I believe it would have fired upon us by now. It has not. Therefore, I conclude it is not theirs.
"Sterling logic, Cortana," I wheezed, then pulled up short as I turned the corner. The corridor had collapsed completely; no crawling through this.
"Christ, Cortana, the main passage to Engineering is gone." I tapped my link. "Ship's plans."
The link obediently brought up a diagram of the ship, stretched fully across the holoplate.
"You are here," I coughed, bending over. Smoke from somewhere. Wonderful.
Brackets flew from the corners of the plate, converging aft. The image zoomed in, magnifying the lower quadrant of the Engineering decks. Pulsing green light. Me. All right, alternate route. No lifeboats around here, have to get to-
A window opened in the corner of the holoplate. Cortana.
I need your help, Ensign.
"I'm a little busy right now, Cortana." Busy saving my ass. Where the hell is that freaking ladder?
I have adjusted course so that the Pillar of Autumn will crash on the inner surface of the construct. However, there is a high probability that the ship will be destroyed in the impact.
"Talk to Newton about that." Three hatches in a row unsealed. Things were looking up.
Newton is unavailable. You are not.
Cortana took control of my ship's diagram, plotted a path from my current location to the secondary Engineering complex, which was only two levels up and on the port side of the ship. A lifetime away.
You must remove a node from its workstation and take it with you onboard whatever escape craft you can find. Initiate a coredump when you arrive at this location. It is imperative you do this.
I tripped over a fallen support stanchion. "A coredump? I can't do that, I'm not authorized--"
Another window sprang open, letters stark white on black:
TO&E, SCS Pillar of Autumn: Engineering
Ashok Chamrajnar, Commander, Chief of Engineering. Status: DECEASED.
Hiroki Koyanagi, Lieutenant Commander, Deputy Chief of Engineering. Status: NO CONTACT [?MIA?]
The table ran on. Everyone above me was dead or missing, perhaps already left the ship...
Pierre Bouchet, Lieutenant Commander, Chief of Cybernetics. Status: DECEASED.
Francis Robeson, Lieutenant, Senior Cyberneticist. Status: NO CONTACT [?MIA?]
Charles Magnus, Ensign, Junior Cyberneticist. Status: ACTIVE.
The word 'ACTIVE' blinked at me, almost accusingly, for two or three seconds. Then:
Engineering command authority transferred to Ensign Charles Magnus.
"Oh, God." Did I say that out loud?
God helps those who help themselves. Get to the node. I will be waiting for you there.
The windows snapped closed, disappeared. The path to the node floated, burning into my retina.
SCS Pillar of Autumn Engineering
Secondary Node (deimos.eng-cyb.pillarofautumn.scn [18.104.22.168])
Process begun 04.22.8.1543
Initializing...... core functional.
Initializing...... storage array functional.
Initializing...... I/O devices enabled.
Initializing...... netlinks enabled.
"Login: Magnus. Password: Damocles."
My throat was raw; I was surprised that the node could process my vocal input. Acrid smoke thickened the air around me and I coughed for what seemed to be the millionth time. What the hell was taking so long?
You have unread mail. Access mail (Y/N)?
I had to strangle an impulse to laugh hysterically. "No. Initiate coredump of ship's AI to this node."
ALERT: Coredump requires identity authentication. Authenticate?
"Authentication: It's good to be the king."
While the node was chewing over whether I was actually who I claimed to be, I opened another window to contact Cortana. "Well, I'm here, now what?" I could hear explosions, faintly, drumming through the decks. How much longer could this crate hold it together? As if in reply to that question:
Glad you made it, Ensign. There has been a breach of hull integrity, though the Covenant has broken off the main thrust of their attack. It appears that they've plotted our trajectory to the ring construct and are moving to envelop it once the ship crashes. Even if most of the crew lives through this, things may only get worse once the Covenant attempt to take control of the ring.
"Out of the frying pan, onto the heating element?"
Something like that, yes.
The node's window flashed three times; I brought it up.
WARNING: Storage capacity may be insufficient for a complete coredump. Continue (Y/N)?
I know. I'll try to do something about that. I may have to strip nonessential elements of the node's functionality to make room.
The node window suddenly erupted with data: commands, responses, and filepaths spewed across the window, too fast for me to pick out more than one or two words at a time. A bar crawled across the bottom.
The instant the coredump is complete, disconnect the node from its port and get to an escape vehicle. There should be a coffin within a hundred meters of your location, though at the moment I cannot tell whether it has already been deployed--
I don't remember what happened; suddenly I'm sprawled across the deck, blood in my eyes, blinking it out. A few drops spattered across the holoplate, making it hard to read. Concussive blasts rang in my ears as I smeared the blood in thin streaks with my fingers, trying to clean it off.
The netlink to the node has been severed. Take it and ABANDON SHIP NOW.
I didn't argue. Wrenching the node from its socket, I hauled the thing over a hundred meters into a coffin and threw it into an empty storage bin. Sealed the airlock tight, strapped myself in, then yanked the dual D-grips that ignited the explosive bolts, blasting me free of the Pillar of Autumn.
I think I screamed all the way down.