Cobb was a little more direct. “You could’ve rescued someone and didn’t?” He shivered visibly, eyes closing involuntarily and going a bit pale. “How could you just leave them? You know what it’s like to wake up in that place, so cold, so alone, surrounded by—”
“Sir, we’re going back for them as soon as we can. And they’re not alone. Rose is with them. She can let them know we’re out here, and summon Rose here to help if they’re having trouble disengaging from the pods. For now they’re safe where they are. Maybe safer than with us, given what we’ve seen, sir.” The formal chain of command felt a little weird under the circumstances, but Dann figured it couldn’t hurt to fall back on it now.
The lieutenant snapped his mouth shut on the rest of what he’d been about to say. He closed his eyes again, took several deep, calming breaths. “You’re right, of course, you’re right.”
Rose let them rest for several more minutes, then called them to the cliff face and the door leading in. It was much like the cryo-bay doors; heavy, with a large latch to release it, but there was no interface to provide an access code of any sort.
The interior was shockingly dark when she opened the door, and cavernous, if the echoes of the door’s screeching opening were any indication. They filed inside and clustered by the open door. “Rose? Is there any way to light this place up a bit?” Dann asked.
“Of course.” She vanished into the dark next to the door; they could hear her moving across the metal grate walkway they stood on within the space. There wasn’t much more to see. The light from the door showed the grate just inside the doorway, and a little farther in as their eyes adjusted, but they couldn’t see any of the far walls.
There was the sound of a panel opening, and switches being flipped. Immediately the air filled with the low level humming vibration that was the sound of power flooding through systems all around them. LEDs blinked on, an expanse of stars that helped them start to make shapes of the darkness around them. More footsteps on the grate led to one more set of switches, and suddenly they could see.
There wasn’t a whole lot to see, which was a bit of a letdown, Dann thought. They were in a moderately large multi-story concrete ‘room,’ up on the second floor. Signs indicated that various banks of equipment around them were standing consoles with local climate controls and readouts in the form of giant wall-screens. Conduits for power, water, air and other substances collected near the core-ward end of the room, where the lower floor featured a two-line rail track marked up with yellow and black warning stripes. It extended through the room in both directions, towards and away from the ship’s core.
Handrails lined the grated walkway, with mesh steps leading down to the area below. They stepped gingerly inside, taking the place in, hesitant as every sound they made echoed weirdly in the space. Cobwebs hung from the various pipes and fixtures that lined the ceiling. Rose made a sound that Dann could’ve sworn was a harumph of disapproval.
“Please forgive the mess. We managed to keep spiders and insects out of the ship proper for nearly two years, but it was inevitable that some would get in eventually. We’ve never been able to fully clear them out.” She led them down the steps to the first floor.
The air was musty, but Dann was relieved to note that it was all dry must. Even in the temperate woodlands, his team had been under tremendous pressure not to allow water leakage, and the woodlands biome held barely any water compared to the rain forest, or especially the islands. The dryness left a chalky, unpleasant sensation in the mouth and throat after a few minutes, and he quickly found himself sipping at the water he carried. He wasn’t alone; all three of them were.
“The air should improve quickly once we restore the environmental systems to this section. I’ll work on that. Lt. Cobb, would you lead the others down the tunnel toward the core? There should be a storage room not five meters in. You’ll find several of the cars we’re looking for there.” Rose made her way to the back of the room and brought one of the consoles to life. She plugged herself in and stood still.
They watched her for a few moments, and then the lieutenant started in the direction she’d indicated. Rose had no formal rank, but crew of all ranks, from private all the way up to the captain himself, listened when she advised them about shipboard functions.
The tunnel was dark, with only burnt-amber running lights lining the tracks providing any light. They were spaced about two meters apart, and were barely enough to enable them to throw shadows on the walls, let alone see anything clearly, but Rose had been right about the location of the storage room. Of course she had, Dann thought; in a very real sense Rose was the ship.
The storeroom was large, a good ten by ten meters square. Tool and parts bins lined most of the walls, with several doors labeled as closets promising more beyond. The center of the room was dominated by four secured trams. They were individually small, the idea being that they could link up to form a longer train as necessary. Each tram would hold two people.
When not in use, they could fold up and in at the back, providing space for another tram to dock from behind, saving space. It looked much like stackable chairs that had fallen horizontally to the ground, Dann mused.
These trams were painted red with white highlights, though it was difficult to tell through the light coating of dust that had settled on them. They were affixed to the floor of the room with wheel clamps that they would have to remove before the cars would move again.
Dann’s eyes swept over the tools and parts within view and stopped at a set of familiar and welcome ones. “Flashlights. We should take a few of these,” he commented.
Cobb looked back at him; he’d moved on to inspect the wheel clamps. He followed Dann’s gaze and nodded. “Good. Grab enough for all of us, plus an extra for Pixton.”
“Everything look okay?” Jackson said from the door. She’d taken up her habitual guard post.
Cobb was silent a moment. “Hard to say. Pass me a flashlight, Chambers. There could be some …” Dann handed him the flashlight and stepped back out his way. The lieutenant leaned in close, lighting the clamps carefully. “Ahh, crap.” He rocked back on his heels and cursed under his breath.
“Problem, sir?” Dann asked.
“Some light rust. Probably won’t affect the function of the clamp at all, as long as it’s not worse but it’s sloppy. Means there is some leakage somewhere after all.” The muscles of his jaw bunched as he ground his teeth, then sucked in a breath. “Well, let’s give it a shot. Rose? Release clamp … A1,” he said, checking the painted label.
An alarming squeal of stressed metal shrieked from somewhere close below them; they slapped their hands to their ears. Dann almost knocked himself out with his flashlight in his haste. After several seconds of the terrible noise, the clamp released and the sound stopped. They breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Dann grumped. “Rose, shouldn’t routine maintenance have taken care of that rust problem?”
“Routine maintenance has not been performed on equipment in this section for approximately 20 years, Lt. Cobb.”
“What? Why not? It was scheduled, wasn’t it?”
“I believe it was originally scheduled, yes. However, the current operating schedule does not include maintenance for this section.”
“Who altered the schedule?” Cobb’s voice contained a hint of frustration that Dann hadn’t heard before.
“How can it be unknown! You are the computer! You must know who did it! Who was awake 20 years ago?”
Rose was silent for several seconds. Dann mentally dubbed her, the ship-bound Rose as Rose Alpha.
“Access to that datum is denied. You do not possess sufficient clearance.”
“Rose, are there any higher ranking officers revived from cryo-sleep?” He said slowly.
“No, Lt. Cobb.”
“Then I’m the ranking officer about this ship. Grant me access.”
“I’m afraid I can’t, Lt. Cobb. Access to that datum is denied.”
Cobb argued with the computer; Dann left the room and looked back the way they’d come. Rose—Rose Dawn, he thought, mentally renaming her too—still stood still as a statue, interfacing with the environmental systems. “Rose!” he called to her.
“Yes, Dann?” It was Rose Alpha.
“I was trying to get the autonomous Rose’s attention. Can you send her here?”
“She is otherwise engaged, Dann. She has encountered unexpected difficulty with the environmental systems and is working to resolve them.”
He frowned. “Are they rust-related?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know, Dann. Maintenance has not been performed on the environmental systems in—”
“Let me guess, 20 years?” he sighed.
“That is correct, Dann.”
So many vital systems, all failing around the same time almost two decades before. Cryo-pods for most of the crew, with a few exceptions. Life support. Transportation. Maybe even corruption within Rose Alpha’s data caches. Who knew what else? They needed Pixton, and soon. “Thanks, Rose. Do you mind if I call you Rose Alpha from now on, to distinguish you from the android version?”
“You’re welcome, Dann. And the Rose Alpha designation will be fine.”
He was wandering slowly toward Rose Dawn’s position, lost in his thoughts, when she turned to face him abruptly, finished with her attempt at getting the environmental systems online. “Dann, my ability to bring life support up is compromised. A number of areas aren’t responding to control properly. I was able to get life support for the core of the ship going, but this area needs serious maintenance before we’ll be able to regain automatic control.”
“Thanks, Rose Dawn.” She looked at him askance at that. “Is it okay if I call you that?”
“Sure, Dann. That designation’s fine.”
He smiled. Her linguistic flexibility seemed to be improving. She was sounding more like a member of the crew all the time.