Note: Chapter 17 was previously posted as “Meanwhile, on New Eden…”
Lt. Cobb stalked through the maintenance tunnel, large wrench in hand. He’d have to find some kind of better weapon soon; every now and then he would run into a small maintenance bot and have to crush it, but the wrench was horribly inefficient. The damned things were everywhere, and it was taking him far too long to destroy them.
Every now and then the passing thought that none of the larger ones ever seemed to find him came to mind, but he banished it, too fixated on his purpose to pay it much mind. He didn’t know what purpose those traitors had for the larger ones, but the more they stayed out of his way and let him get on with stopping them, the better.
He wished he could do something about the person who’d designed the rat’s nest that was the maintenance tunnel system. He was constantly on the verge of getting lost even though he knew he should know better. He wondered idly if they’d started tampering with the air systems. It’d hurt them as much as him, but he wouldn’t put it past them. They were clearly losing it, after all. He shook his head clear and headed onward.
He’d worked on equipment installations leading to the engines and fuel reservoirs before. He knew the general layout, but had never worked directly on the fuel lines before. After a couple of blind turns and dead ends, he found a section that looked familiar enough to locate some actual signage. It wasn’t long after that that he found what he was looking for.
The main fuel pumps were enormous, but more importantly to Cobb, they were fed by long injection systems with redundant cutoff valves for safety and maintenance. The maintenance hatches were the key. He inspected the hatches carefully; they’d allow a small person inside the conduit comfortably; someone like Cobb would fit, but a lot less comfortably since he’d started recovering his lost mass, his large frame filling out again.
Awkwardly, he climbed inside. The smell of the fuel mixture filled the compartment. Excellent, he thought. That’ll make it all the easier. Let’s see how they like having their dreams destroyed out from under them, he thought. The space really was larger than he’d expected, and larger than he needed. Plenty of room for explosives here. As much as I can carry.
That just left one problem. Well, two, if he counted the maintenance bots; as he examined the space, a small hexapede model clicked by on its six rubber-tipped legs; he raised the wrench, then changed his mind and dived into a roll out the maintenance hatch and to the metallic grating beyond. “Nice try, Chambers,” he growled. “Very clever, tryin’ to get me to blow myself up with a spark. I’ll blow this place up, alright, but with way more than just a little fuel fumes. This place is going up, just you wait.” He waited until the little hexapede had closed the hatch, then crushed it under his heavy boot.
He needed explosives, and he needed as much as he could get his hands on. He rubbed his chin; he knew just the place. He was going to need a tram car. Without a backward glance, he started back the way he’d come.
The tram car slowed to a stop at the end of the long tunnel, the room looking nearly identical to the one he and the others had entered what seemed like such a long time before. He left the car there; it’s not like there was anyone to take it from him anyway, and he doubted maintenance bots would waste their time and energy on it. He climbed the steel mesh staircase to the upper level and threw himself against the heavy, reinforced door to the biome beyond.
It swung open ponderously, with a loud creaking, grinding sound of protest that was nearly drowned out by the howl of wind. He hadn’t thought winds of such speeds could be generated in a space as confined as the biomes, but he didn’t waste any thought on it. He stumbled out into a snow storm and laughed as the chill started setting in slowly but implacably. He ignored it and took off at a run, slipping and stumbling, but getting back to his feet each time to carry on anew.
Cobb staggered through the snow, tripping over rocks and hidden tree roots, hugging the biome wall. He’d lost track of time some time back, and wasn’t even sure he knew exactly where he was going, but he’d seen the layout that coward Pixton had brought up with all of those red, red lights … he stopped and shook himself. Best not to think about the lights. He knew the general layout of all the biomes was similar.
The one he was in now was as close to an alpine mountain-scape as they could fit into the ship. It was by necessity a pretty low “mountain”, but they had done a pretty good job of making it look imposing while containing all the rocks, minerals, and of course soils that they’d have needed for the colonization effort. They’d also done a really good job simulating the climate; even in his fractured state of mind, Cobb recognized he was going to have to keep moving or risk freezing.
The snow was blown up by the winds, which whirled through the biome with astounding force. They caused the sparse pine and spruce to sway and bend, and he soon regretted not finding some heavier clothing; there must have been some stored back at the entrance, but he was certain he was closer to his destination now than he was to the exit, so he struggled on, crawling through the snow when necessary.
By the time he realized he had no idea how far he’d actually gone, he noticed that the artificial light was getting dimmer. It was hard to tell, to be sure, what with the blinding snow everywhere, but the landscape had turned a decidedly dark grey rather than the light grey/white that he’d gotten so very used to. His mind had slowed dangerously, and all he wanted to do was lay down, stop moving and go to sleep. Some small part of his mind screamed that that was a really bad idea though, and the much larger part that insisted the explosives were just ahead agreed. He kept moving one foot in front of the other as the light faded to black.