Lt. Cobb and Jackson were just getting the first car rolled out onto the tracks when Dann and Rose [ed. —Forget the ‘Rose Dawn’ thing, that’s just going to confuse me, she is Rose and the ship’s main core Rose is Rose Alpha] rejoined them. Once the wheel clamps were off, it was a relatively simple job. The wheels were solid rubber tires around small, heavy metal hubs. The tram cars took power and guidance from the rails, keeping them on a predictable path.
They were awkwardly lifting the light-weight vehicle over the tracks by hand. The tram cars were relatively light-weight vehicles, but cumbersome and much easier to handle with three than with two. They’d just about wrestled the first into position when Jackson’s foot slipped on the rail and she stumbled, just catching her grip on her end of the car. Cobb’s end twisted in his grasp and knocked his head against the car side; he cursed as they let it fall into place. He glowered at Jackson. “Private! Watch your step, you just about dropped that thing on me.”
Jackson’s eyes widened in startlement, then narrowed just a touch as she nodded at the lieutenant. Cobb stalked back to the main room.
“We’re going to need a couple more of these on the tracks,” Dann said, a bit cautious. “How about I give you a hand with these ones?”
“Sure,” she said sourly. “Hey. You ever worked with that jackass before?”
“No, different teams. He … seemed okay when we met up with him first.”
She grunted non-committaly. “Not for the last few. At least he hasn’t started handing down orders yet.”
“Let’s just get this taken care of. Maybe he’ll ease off once we’ve got some answers.”
The two of them wheeled out the next car— “I don’t know why he insisted on doing it the hard way,” she groused—then placed it on the rails behind the first. That done, they found Rose had moved the third car herself; the three of them got it on the rails and short order. There was no sign of Cobb.
“You said we’re getting in through the ventilation shaft, Rose?” he asked.
“That’s the plan, yes.”
“I’ll grab some tools. And then I’ll go find the lieutenant,” Dann offered.
He grabbed what they’d need from the tool bins in the supply room, then headed back up the corridor. A quick look around the main floor showed no sign of him. He climbed back up to the metal mesh walkway. It was darker up there, but Dann spotted the lieutenant standing with his back to the room in the darkest corner. He was bowed forward, head in his hand.
“Sorry about earlier,” he said. His voice was strained.
“It’s Jackson that needs to hear that,” he said. “We’ve got the rest of the cars set up. You ready to go, sir?”
“In a moment. I’ll join you in a moment, private.”
“Sure, see you in a few, then.”
He returned to the others. “He’ll be back in a minute.”
“Suits me,” Jackson said. She set herself up in the front car. Dann climbed in beside her.
The controls were just about as simple as you could get; accelerator, break, steering wheel, and one switch to turn the headlights on. Dann hit the light switch. A bright, pale yellow/orange light lit some of the darkness ahead in the tunnel, just before the main tunnel lights clicked on. They weren’t terribly bright, but they lit up more of the tunnel than the car’s lights did. The combination left them with a span of tunnel light almost as bright as the simulated daylight.
Rose hooked the front of the second car to theirs and folded away the steering wheel, which disabled the controls in that car. She then did the same to the third car, attaching it to the second. She took a seat in the second car.
Cobb rejoined them without a word, then took a seat in the rearmost car. Cobb and Rose both nodded to him; he nodded to Jackson. She stepped on the accelerator.
The vehicles moved with impressive smoothness down the track. They were electric, and so they were virtually silent, giving off only the faintest of humming sounds and the crunch of a wheel over the odd long-dead bug.
Dann shifted in his seat; the butt of his pistol bumped the frame of the car, sending echoes bouncing through the tunnel. It was kind of eerie just how quiet it was, he thought.
Every so often they passed doors that hadn’t opened in decades. Two decades, in fact, he reflected. After the longest ten minutes of his life, Rose finally spoke up. “We stop here. The maintenance shaft is through that door.” Like the rest, it hadn’t seen use in a long time.
They stopped the tram. Dann braced himself for a horrible scream of unlubricated hinges, but to everyone’s surprise, the door opened smoothly, with only a light scraping against the floor of the tunnel. Everyone looked at Rose.
“That’s unusual. Accessing … the maintenance schedule … very strange. It has changed repeatedly over the last twenty years. I can’t tell what’s causing the changes. Maintenance here has been irregular, but the last repair bot performed work less than a year ago.”
“That’s good news,” Cobb said. There was a lightness to his voice that surprised Dann. He hadn’t heard that tone in several days. “C’mon, this pvt. Pixton is waiting for us in there.”
He lead the way into the maintenance tunnel. He was a big enough man that he had trouble moving; the maintenance accesses were small passages packed with conduits for air, power, water, and in this part of the ship, nutrients for the biomes above. He had to duck down, and often had to turn sideways when he started running short of space through tighter areas.
“How far does this thing go?” he called back at one point, shortly after smacking his head against a low pipe.
“About two hundred more meters, Lt. Cobb,” Rose replied. Cobb’s reply was inaudible, but the context was clear as glass.
They continued on in relative silence, finally reaching the cryo-bay. There was a recessed maintenance room behind the ventilation cover they needed to open up; the sloped floor led down to a crawlspace beneath the cryo-bay where technicians could service the cryo-pod conduits.
Cobb was fishing around his pockets, a look of consternation plastered over his face. Dann pulled the tools needed to remove the vent cover from his own pockets and handed them over. “Here, sir, I grabbed these.”
Cobb took the tools—a wrench, a clawed hammer, a pair of pliers—and went to work removing the bolts and prying the vent’s grating out of its mooring. In short order he had it removed and set aside; they moved on into the cryo-bay.
The interior was pretty familiar to all of them by now; it was all but identical to the others they’d seen. One lone green light stood out amid the sea of red-lit pods. Dann brushed a layer of dust from the name plate; it read Pvt. Pixton, Jennifer.