Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2290129
IronAge Media image prompt - The Abode
|The copper and red sphere crept over the horizon, marring the ebony canvas. The cosmos shimmered, spilled jewels upon the void. The desolate surface slept beneath a dark shroud. Hills, stones, rock pillars jutted from its brown soil. A metallic structure, six decks high, stood defiantly upon the hellscape. The orbs perched upon its body stuttered, their lights locked in mortal contest with the encroaching wall of night. Ice weighed upon the antennas and dishes on its head. The wind howled, tearing at its skin. Suddenly the lights yielded their struggle, the darkness seized advantage. |
"Reactor offline. Emergency power active. Diverting to life support systems” the droning, synthetic voice repeated.
A crash, thud and several colorful words echoed in the pitch-black hall. A torchlight sprung from the floor to the air. Reaching the reactor control room, the technician danced his light across the console. He manipulated dials, levers, buttons, switches, his movements rapid but methodical. A groan, clank then silence. More colorful words flew from his lips. He slapped a lever down, pointing to ‘manual’, gripped the slider handle and guided it up the slot. Another groan, a loud rush, the lights snapped on and the voice fell silent. He knocked the lever back to ‘auto’, a soft groaning radiated from the reactor. His eyes locked onto the rod containment display. Another clank, the rods halted into their proper position. Stowing the torch, palms on the console, he released a labored sigh. Closing his eyes, he let the gurgle and hum of the reactor bay was over him. He saw sapphire waves and pearl white sands. The summer breeze wafted about; perspiration clung to the glass bottle. A flash of blonde hair, devilish green eyes, and a cheerful laugh. His eyes snapped open, chest tightening. A soft, yet sharp, grinding reached his ears. He rapped the hepatic keyboard and skimmed the diagnostic readout. Shaking his head, he fumbled into a protective suit and strode into the reactor bay.
Slick, black fluid seeped from the cooling assembly. He tore open the cover panel. The grinding emanated from the pump housing; a thin layer of dried coolant clung to the edge of the weeping seams. He caressed the housing, the vibrations sickly. Leaving the panel ajar, he moved around to the fuel rod control assembly. Rust gnawed at the hydraulic arms, flaking off as his thumb rubbed them, revealing severe pitting. He pulled a wand off his belt and passed it around the control assembly. Silence. Nodding, he paced around the lumbering, metallic mound, wand at the ready. Two passes, not a peep. Whispering a thank you, he returned to the control room. His gaze fell on the temperature display. A black triangle sat squished between green and yellow. He dropped his gaze, frowning. Stretching once free of the bulky protective suit, he departed the room, mind fixed on finding a replacement.
The empty container crashed into the floor. Various components clinked and tumbled off the shelf. The desperate symphony intensified, growing hectic with each failed hunt. His leg lashed out; the empty container crashed against the wall. He slumped against the wall, pondering the options. His heart skipped and he dashed out into the hall. He ignored the absolute state around him, scurrying towards the elevator. Panels sat propped against the wall. Absent their proper seats, pipes and conduits, their original skins long forgotten, protruded from the openings. Rust gnawed at the ventilation shafts. Tools lay strewn near a toppled step ladder. A lurch, wail, and the elevator ground to a halt. He ripped open the button cover panel, moved a few wires around and the elevator heaved, resuming its journey. The deep hum and rhythmic flapping of the atmosphere distribution systems greeted his arrival. He moved towards one assembly, silent and lifeless. He opened the panel, thrust his hands inside and moments later, withdrew a heavy, metallic apparatus. A frown crept across his face as he toggled the primer. The pump obliged, obedient and in proper functioning order, but its size, unsuitable. He moved to another non-functioning assembly, repeating his test and his frown turning into a snarl. A growl escaped his throat. He pressed his forehead against the machine and a shiver ran down his spine.
The mining outpost consisted of three stations, each perched upon the border of an ore deposit. Alpha station, his current dwellings, and Charlie station remain functional. A freak meteor shower put Bravo station out of action. Its corpse, once a cornucopia, sat dejected in the frigid dark. His gloved hand skidded against the frozen, steel of the outer airlock door. Swearing, he tightened his grip, adjusted his stance, and thrust the pry bar into the door seam. Throwing his weight into the fulcrum, the door shrieked, ice plinked off his helmet, ragged breaths echoing in the helmet. The door resigned and snapped open. The station groaned in the wind, the shoulder lights of his environmental suit shone off ice layers coating the floor and walls. Frozen stalactites leered menacingly, jagged metal shards stretched from skeletal frames, shattered pipes and torn wires spilled out of craggy openings. Refusing to commit his full weight until he confirmed his footing was sure, he lumbered through the airlock, crunching ice beneath his boots betraying his presence.
Ice cracked and fell as the pry bar pecked at it. Once clear, he opened the assembly cover. Chipping away at a final, thin layer, his eyes danced over the pump housing. Setting the pry bar aside, he reached into the assembly. His fingers danced around and then gripped the housing. With a loud grunt, the pump was freed. He pulled a short, cylindrical tool from his belt. Flipping it on, a deep orange glow washed over his prize. Ice dripped off, freezing again once clear of the searing light. The glow disappeared and he shook the pump. He twisted the gear on the back and the rotors spun. Feeling resistance, he intensified the rotation. He grinned, not ideal but sufficient. Dropping the pump into his bag, he moved around the lumbering, metallic husk. Stopping, his gaze fell to where the hydraulic array should be. He sighed, left hand rubbing his neck. He closed his eyes, taking slow deep breaths. He saw the black dress embracing her toned, curved figure. Their glasses clinked, laughing, the savory scent of fresh cooked steak, applause, and hoots. She leaned into him, and he returned the gesture. Heartbeat steady, he turned to leave. Resenting his presence, the groaning began to swell, the station vibrated, rattled, and then started shaking. A fierce howling reached his ears. He lurched, lost his footing, and slammed into the ground. Fumbling to his feet, he scrambled into the hall. The chaos around him intensified, metal plates and icicles struck the floor. Reaching the exit, a piercing weight struck his shoulder. He staggered out into the maelstrom. A beeping sounded, a red triangle appeared on his helmet display and his hand made a pass over the throbbing shoulder. Eyes wide, heart screaming, he sprinted to the rover.
Leaping forward, the wheels threw dirt into the growing wall of brown. He depressed the accelerator fully, left hand clenching the steering, right hand darting across the dash console. The navigation and collision avoidance display projected slightly above the dashboard. His deep, hungry inhales failed to satisfy his hunger. He snatched the semi-rigid hose from the housing to his right, securing it to the intake on the suit. He felt a chill in his shoulder, but his breathing sated his cravings. Visibility fell, rose, fell; the display screeched, an arrow flashed, he tore the wheel in the indicated direction, correcting once the alarm squelched. The storm’s rage intensified, the headlamps disappearing into the flurry. Placing faith in the rover sensors and navigation, he refused to release pressure from the pedal. The display screeched again, as he corrected, the arrow direction flipped. A scraping thud, the pull of vertigo and the front wheels returned to the ground. A beeping sounded from the dash, a bar appeared, the indicator shifting left. His foot pressed harder on the pedal, fingers tightening on the steering wheel; he began to shiver. He slammed the breaks, the rover scrapped against the station ramp. Gasping, pulling the hose off his suit; he jumped out of the rover. On his hands and knees, he scampered up the ramp and into the airlock. The door shut with a grumble and the decontamination sequence began. Sprawled on the ground, darkness encroached on the edge of his vision, his mouth flopped open and shut. He forced his fingers to claw the floor, refusing to allow them near his head. A tingling cold radiated down his body, his heartbeat slowed, his mind slipping away. The inner airlock door hissed open. The helmet plunked into the wall. Trembling, he lapped the air, demanding more than his fill.
Torch in his mouth, his hands dug around the cooling pump assembly. He guided hoses and conduit connections into the transplanted organ. Withdrawing his hands, splotched with purple and the occasional dash of red, he approached the reactor control console. Holding crossed fingers above his head, the other hand jumped from dial to dial. An audible rush, the reactor purred to life. He returned to his patient, placing his hand upon it. He clapped, winced, and laughed. A smile on his face he tossed the protection suit into the locker. Stomach grumbling, he departed. The elevator reached the dining level, doors parting then freezing. His heel slammed into them, and they obeyed. Opening the pantry, he flipped through several meal options and settled for a chicken curry dish. He shoveled spoon after spoon into his mouth in rapid secession, ignoring how it tastes the same as the other meals. With only a small puddle left in the bowl, he dropped the spoon and placed his head on his arms. The spacious room stood empty. The only chatter came from the bubbling of liquid in pipes or the steady hymns of the conduits. Wishing he could complain about the food to someone, his eyes slid shut. Her face furrowed, mouth agape. Eyes wide and puffy, locked onto his. He wanted to speak but words failed. She stood up, one hand resting on the small bump on her belly, the other grabbed his upper arm, squeezing. Her lips moved; her words muffled. He cupped her face with his hands. He went to speak when a sharp, raspy tone gave him a start. His head flew off the table, hands clenched the table edge. His heart shot into his throat and he dashed out of the dining room.
“Not like you to be late” the man in the video communication said
“It’s uh… it’s been a long day” the technician yawned
“I can see that. Any news?” the man replied
The technician delivered his report. The man’s brow furrowed as we finished
“Dammit. Was hoping to get another mining season out of Mercer-7” he said
“The crews leave Cygnus yet?” the technician asked
“Yeah… which doesn’t help me at all” the man said, rubbing his eyes
Several moments of silence lapsed
“Prep the station for decommissioning” the man said
“Uh… seriously? Senior Ops finally gave the thumbs up?” the technician said
“They will when I speak to them” the man snorted “I am tired of this godforsaken, backwater hell hole. The ore doesn’t cover the operating costs. Not since the dip”
“Expedited pick up?” the technician asked
“I’ll have a firm time when I speak with management” the man replied
The technician felt a flutter in his chest, blood surging in his body.
“Anyway, take care of yourself and stay close to the comm-link. Be in touch” the man said ending the call
Leaning back in the chair, a sigh of relief left him. He departed the communication room, mind spinning, a grin resting on his face. Flopping face first onto his bunk, exhaustion washed over him.
The raspy tone roused him from sleep. He groaned, rolled out of bed, and shuffled to the communications room.
“Pick up is in six standard days” the man said
The last vestige of lethargy flew from the technician’s body.
“Knew that would perk you up. But you also must get Charlie station prepped for decommissioning as well. Tight time frame” the man said
“No skin off my nose” the technician said
“Good. Get to it and don’t be late to another call” the man grinned
The vid-call blinked out. Blood rushed throughout his body; a flock of birds took flight in his chest. He strode to the elevator, a spring in his gait. The lights snapped off; he froze.
"Reactor offline. Emergency power active. Diverting to life support systems” the droning, synthetic voice began.
Hurling every insult, curse and slur that came to mind, he snatched the torch off his belt and turned away from the elevator.
He scampered from hatch to hatch, forced to descend five stories by various ladders. Sweat soaked his jumpsuit, his breath rapid and heavy. He slid down the final ladder, spat as he passed the toppled ladder and spilled tools, and reached the reactor control room. Hands dancing across the console, a groaning rose from the reactor. A loud clank and snap. He hit the lever to ‘manual’ and made another attempt. The groaning resumed, a slight stutter to its voice, a sudden rush and the lights sprung on. He put the lever back to ‘auto’. A sharp snap, his eyes flew to the rod control display. Cursing, he snatched the protective suit and darted into the reactor bay. He finished donning the suit as he approached the hydraulic piston assembly. His eyes went wide, and a knot formed in his stomach. Several piston housings sat twisted and lopsided. He snatched up a pipe wrench, torqued and pulled, demanding they return to their proper position. The wand on his belt began to chirp, his palms started to sweat. Abandoning the hydraulics, he hoisted himself atop the assembly. He yanked the pressure release tabs; fluid sputtered onto the floor. He seated the wrench upon the heavy, height adjuster wheel and heaved. The containment tube slowly descended as he strained against the wrench, the chirping on his belt growing more erratic. A jolt and snap, he flew from the top of the assembly, crashing into the floor. Panting, his heart skipped a beat as he saw the adjuster wheel roll away to the wall. Chest tightening and mind racing, he sprinted out of the reactor bay as the first radiation warning began to sound.
The protective suit flopped onto the hall floor. Trembling, he shoved a key into the yellow and black coated slot and twisted. The doors to the reactor room snapped shut, the vents rattled. The droning, synthetic voice rambled about the radiation. Arms on the wall, head hung, he forced his mind to focus, taking slow, deep breaths. He saw her mute smile and water eyes from the viewing gallery. He placed his hand on the ship window. She returned the gesture, her emerald eyes no longer filled with their usual devilish charm. A tear rolled down her face. He leapt off the wall, a new fire in his chest. Fumbling into an environmental suit, he grabbed a satchel, popped a latch, and scurried down the ladder. Bulky containers slammed onto the rover cargo bed.
“Alert; Radiation levels rising in… Reactor Bay…Reactor control… first floor main hall… Seal ventilation to first floor” the synthetic voice said
Ignoring its recommendation, he tightened the final cargo strap. He flipped the lever up, a muted hissing started, the door light filled from red to yellow. He climbed into the rover driver seat, fingers strangling the wheel, right leg bouncing erratically. The door light went green, several loud lurches and remained closed. He flew from the rover, taking his boot to the door. It refused to move. Suppressing a yell, he returned the lever to down position, a sharp hissing filled the room. Back in the rover, hands dancing across the console, it hummed to life. Once the light above the door turned red, he spun the rover back wheels, and shot forward. Smacking into the door, a sudden whoosh, a shrieking groan. Loose containers, tools, and anything else laying in the rover bay flew towards the door. The door buckled and rose until the bent metal jammed into the slot. Slipping under the door, the rover sped into the night.
Angry vibrations tore through the dashboard. Slowing, he rapped several commands into the console, the navigation and collision avoidance displays sprung up. He flipped the headlight lever several times. They sputtered and went dark. The howling dark beset him on all sides. The wind clawing at his suit. The vibrations intensity grew, he fought to keep the rover on course and had to wrestle the wheel when avoiding obstacles. A rumbling rose behind him. The rover skidded to a stop, and he allowed himself to glance back. The station lights flickered, flames began to creep out of the lower walls, a slight tilt had formed. Unable to tear himself away, he watched the carnage unfold. The flames danced higher; several violent decompressions tore open the outer hull. One by one the lights blinked out, the roof lights giving a defiant last stand. The red-orange glow of the flames waxed and waned. The tilt worsened, the midsection buckled, and the station folded onto itself. A moment later the wailing groan reached him. A heavy lump formed in his throat and then quickly disappeared. Turning back around, he sighed and continued his journey. Just as the rover got up to speed, a sharp clang rang out and the nose of the rover plunged into the soil. Wincing, he peered around the rover. The front driver side wheel sat contorted into the wheel well. He rested his head on the steering wheel, a maniacal laugh gripped him. Tears rolled from his eyes; the laughing broken only by the occasional deep, raspy breath. Regaining his bearing, although occasionally chuckling, he jumped out of the rover. He collected a tablet and satchel from the rover, gave the wheel a kick, and made tracks into the night.
The engines whined as the dust cloud settled around the blue and white hull. A round seal, a globe, crowned in stars upon a bed of olive branches, sat below the bridge window. The technician loitered at the top of the station’s ramp. Two men entered the gaze of the station lights, their blue, black, and white environmental suits bearing the same seal upon their breasts. He could not see their faces, the reflective visors as black as the night. He strode down the ramp, pulling out a slim, metallic rectangle.
“Glad you’re in one piece” one of the men said
“So am I” the technician said
The technician slid his thumb across the rectangle and handed it to the one that spoke. The man inspected the readout that hovered over the metallic surface.
“Everything is in order. You ready?” the man said handing his scan-doc back
“Was ready the moment I arrived” the technician said
“Was ready the moment I arrived” the technician said