The Gray Bunny (graybunny) wrote,
The Gray Bunny

Infrastructure part 2

Joseph sat on the edge of the hibernation tube again while Pat checked him out, the rest of the crew clustered around him.

"Someone has gone to a lot of trouble. The entire ship is supported on girders, including breaching the hull in a few places. In Engineering, the reactor is shut down and all the reaction-mass tanks are showing empty, but they ran in power cables to keep everything else running, and apparently jiggered the sensors so that the rest of the ship thinks the shut-down systems are fine. That much effort is unusual to just put a ship on display -- the Smithsonian never tried to keep any of its displays live like this -- but I guess they were concerned about about the more delicate parts."

Everyone's ears went back a bit. "Us," volunteered Miriam.

He nodded. "Exactly. We'd be dead without power, and without jiggering the sensors, Athena would have woken us up immediately. So... what does that mean, though? I have a hard time imagining any kind of circumstances where any group or species we know would grab us out of space, spend a lot of work to show off the ship, and leave us sleeping. At the same time, I have a hard time imagining that anybody we _don't_ know would do that, either. You can't make first contact when half of the party is unconscious!"

"They may still be working on it, Captain," Reiner said from where he sat, limbering up. "Letting us wake up in our own ship, unharmed and unthreatened, isn't a bad strategy. I'm not happy about being hijacked, but when we go out to take a look around, I'll be more inclined to talk than shoot, you know?"

"I'd feel a bit more unthreatened if they hadn't put holes in my ship," he said dryly. "But they haven't done anything that can't be fixed, either. Between that and the general mystery, which has my curiosity up, I'm more inclined towards talking as well."

"Cats and curiosity," Pat said. "Anyway, as far as I can tell, the outside atmosphere hasn't had any effect on you, Captain. So, what next?"

"A thorough inspection of the ship, inside and out. Let's see what we can turn up, and then we'll decide what to do from there."


While Reiner and Miriam made a more thorough inspection of Engineering, everyone else went outside, carrying the radio packs from their space suits and whatever cameras they had. Getting from the airlock down to the floor was the first challenge, solved after a moment's thought with some heavy cargo strapping from the hold. Luckily the airlock was relatively close to the floor, which proved to be the ordinary concrete that it looked like from a distance, unpainted. Quietly, they spread out a little and looked back at their ship.

The Athena rose to within ten feet of the ceiling, the upper curve of her white hull brilliantly lit by fluorescent fixtures as unremarkably ordinary as the concrete they stood on. To either side, she stretched away fifty meters or more, her length supported on gaudy orange-painted girders carefully formed to her shape. Under the engineering section, they could see fat power cables emerging from the floor and rising in a protective cage of steel. Otherwise, the room was empty save for two rows of pillars supporting the broad ceiling. Slowly, the group walked all the way around the ship, looking for a sign or any other clue.

"Not a thing," Joseph finally said when they reached the airlock again. "No plaques, no signs, not even a candy wrapper or wad of old gum. I've never seen a place this clean."

"Even if they'd just constructed it and left, it would be messier," Ted said.

Joseph turned in a circle, looking around once more. "Well, I guess it's time to go around the walls and check the doors. Ted, Al, you go clockwise. Pat, you're with me."

They walked to the nearest point on the wall, which proved to be the same unpainted concrete as the floor. There they parted, two going one way and two going the other. The wall wasn't quite featureless, it thickened where pillars might be, but that was all Joseph and Pat found until they reached the door on the second wall. They studied it for a minute: like the rest of the room, it was both utterly familiar and completely out of place, a gray-painted metal door with a steel doorknob.

"This could be a maintenance closet in any public building anywhere in known space," Pat said. They looked at each other, then Joseph reached out and turned the knob. It turned easily, and he pushed. The door swung halfway open.

The area beyond was unlit, but the far side was only a couple of meters away. The walls were concrete, and an ordinary light switch was mounted near the door, with steel conduit leading up the wall from it. Joseph flicked the switch and a small fluorescent light came on, revealing a clutter of mops and brooms and buckets and a sink.

"I was joking!" Pat said.

"Apparently they didn't think so," Joseph said. "Shall we try the next door? Want to bet that it's a rest room?"

Pat laughed. "I won't take that bet... but let's go look." He closed the door and they started toward the next, ten meters away or so, but then the radio beeped. "Captain," came Al's voice. "You should come see this."

"Did you find somebody?" Joseph said into the boom mike.

"No, but the mystery of where we are has just gotten deeper. You should see this."

"On our way."
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