The Ship of the Unforgotten - Chapter 23

Camp NaNoWriMo

When Lt. Cobb awoke next, he was stiff as a frozen rag, and quickly found that that was a reasonably accurate description of him. He was laying face down in what looked like a cave; he had no memory of finding it, or of anything that had occurred during the night save for a long nightmare of cold and snow and darkness. He lay there a while, disoriented and confused, and then the memory of the explosives flashed into his mind. With a groan, he forced himself to his knees. Right. He was going to teach them a lesson … whoever they were. Them. The other survivors, who had driven him to this hellish place. Of course. It was their fault he was in this position, frozen and half-dead. It would’ve been better if they’d just left him fully frozen in the first place, instead of driving him to this half measure.

He hung his head and just breathed a moment. It sounded like he was breathing twice as fast as he was, and it took him a moment to realize why—he was not alone in the cave. He turned his head slowly to see the mountain of white fur further back in the cave. His eyes widened in sudden fear; he couldn’t move fast enough to get away. But it didn’t move either, except for the steady rise and fall of its flanks as it breathed. He locked his mouth shut, making himself breathe slowly and shallowly.

Moving as quickly as he dared, he slowly crawled toward the mouth of the cave, where he was relieved to see that the snow had stopped and light had returned to the shockingly white landscape. As soon as he was outside of the cave mouth, he got to his feet and ran as hard and fast as he could away.

There was no way for him to judge where he’d entered the cave from; the snow had continued long enough to cover over the tracks he must have left. He quickly recognized the direction he’d been traveling in from the position of the artificial sun in the “sky” and, orienting himself to that, he moved on.

Frustration started to mount. The armories weren’t that far from the entrances; he must have missed what he was looking for somehow. Yet another misfortune that would never have come his way had it not been for … Chambers, that was it. Chambers, and the cold one, Jackson. He half-snarled, half-chuckled at that. He was the cold one now. And not to forget the coward, and the robot, Rose. They were all in league with … what was it that Pixton girl had said? A hijacking AI? He couldn’t see any reason Pixton couldn’t have set up an AI, so sure, whatever they wanted to call it.

A sudden rushing sensation broke him from his idle thoughts just in time see the steep drop-off he’d walked from before he crashed to the bottom of it in a tangle of hard, woody brush. All thought was washed from his mind by a bright splash of pain and heat in his leg. A deep gash cut down his calf, splashing bright red blood in the snow and sending waves of pain up his leg and through his body. He gritted his teeth and bit back a cry of rage. “You’re not going to stop me this easily,” he ground out between gritted teeth once the initial shock had worn off. He’d fallen almost three meters; he wasn’t going to get back up there the way he’d come down. When he turned to examine the embankment he’d fallen off of, he gasped with relief; there was a door there! It was one of the heavy latching doors that indicated a cryo-bay, not an armory, but just then he didn’t care one whit which it was. The cryo-bay would have clothes and food and medication, and he cared about that more than the explosives, at least for the moment.

He painfully dragged himself up and leaned into the lever, opening the bay door, all but collapsing inside once he had it open far enough. It was strange how the air inside, the same temperature as the bay he’d woken up in originally, felt so very warm now. Back when Rose had rescued him, he’d have sworn it was as cold in there as the winterscape he’d just left.

The door closed with a crash; he stood just within, soaking up the comparative warmth. Then his purpose drove him on; he limped into the bay, heading immediately for the stockpiles of clothing and supplies. With shaking hands he roughly cleaned the gash in his leg and, not knowing enough about first aid to properly treat it, wrapped it in a bandage with a bit of antiseptic. He replenished his food and water, changed his clothes for warmer ones, and then stood, eyes closed in the middle of the bay, trying to concentrate enough to make a plan to go on.

It’d been a mistake to go through the biome itself, he realized now. That was exactly what they’d wanted him to do, and like a fool, he’d played right into their hands. If he hadn’t come across this bay, how long might it have been before that bear woke up and needed something to eat? It had been clever of them to put that brush where he’d fall on it too. The blood trail would’ve led the bear right to him. He wouldn’t underestimate them again. He opened his eyes slowly and looked around. There was a ventilation cover, just as there had been in the last bay they’d visited as a group.

Undoubtedly they believed they had him trapped; he lacked the tools they’d had before to open the grate, and in any event, he was on the wrong side. He’d have to go back through the biome and into the maintenance tunnels to get at the bolts to open it the way they’d done before, and that would only give them more opportunities to try and kill him. No, that wasn’t the way to get through this, he thought. But if he could get into the tunnels, it would give him another route of access to the armories. It wouldn’t be as easy; the armories had no large, convenient ventilation shafts. They did have power conduits though, and those were serviceable. It would be a very tight squeeze, but with tools, he could get into one from the maintenance shafts.

First he had to get into those shafts. That meant forcing his way through the ventilation cover. While difficult, that wouldn’t be too hard; it was only intended for safety, not to keep people out. He he looked around the room, surprising himself with his own reluctance; the familiar crushing sea of red lights stared at him piteously. Immediately he saw again the eyes of the dead within, staring at him, accusing. He felt an all new chill despite the warmer clothing. He forced the eyes from his mind, but the lights wouldn’t be banished. There was something about them tugging at his awareness …

There. In one corner, almost hidden. There was a group of three pods, identical to the rest save that their lights glowed green. They were like him. They had survived when all the rest of these poor wretches hadn’t.

But wait, were they like him? What if they were like the others? The only thing different about these was that they hadn’t been awakened to take part in the rest of the plan yet. His eyes narrowed. Could the others have meant him to come here? Were they just waiting up there in their computer room, fingers on the switch that would wake these people up and let them come after him? Maybe they’d tired of sending mindless robots after him; it had been some time since he’d seen any of those, let alone fought any. If they were going to sic animals and weather after him, why not their fellow conspirators, too?

Cobb left the smashed in grate behind him, an empty pack he’d need over his shoulder as he moved painfully down the cramped maintenance shaft, his leg throbbing in pain. The cryo-pods in the bay behind watched him go in his mind, the ghostly imagined eyes of the dead following him, every light glowing red.

It was slow going, both because of his leg, and because it was dark. Very dark. The lights switched on at the other end of the shaft, and while Rose Dawn might have been able to turn them on for him, he’d be damned if he was going to ask her to do anything for him, or trust her to do anything but lead him to ruin. So he felt his way down the hallway along the wall, trusting his own instincts.

By the time he got to the end, it was all but pitch black and he’d added a number of bruises to his collection of injuries and stoked his rage at the others. He slapped the light switch, smiled a cold smile, and slipped out into the tram tunnel beyond.

It was the same one he’d come down before, functionally identical to the tunnel the group of them had used a lifetime ago. He limped back up the tunnel to where the car still sat and awkwardly turned it around to go back up, then hit the switch for the tunnel lights. There was a door just up the shaft, this tunnel’s equivalent of the tool room they’d used before. Within minutes he was sitting in the car heading back up the tunnel, tools in hand, on the lookout for likely doors.


In the end, he spent hours searching before he finally found an access he could use, and had built up an enormous store of rage and resentment at what he saw as the survivors’ attempts to keep him from his mission. In the end though, he set to work on a serviceable panel for one of the armories with his tools, the grin plastered on his face made haunting by the manic light in his eye. Inside he found exactly what he needed; a modest amount of a very powerful binary explosive kept on hand for use in clearing usable land when they eventually were to have made landfall on New Eden, and possibly for emergencies in the biomes, as a last resort.

“This’ll show ‘em,” he grinned to himself. He stowed the containers of each part of the substance in the pack along with a measured mixing mechanism and remote detonator. His limping footsteps echoed in the silent tunnels as he returned to the tram car.