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 » Publicly Accessible » Preview Excerpts » The Salvage Mission

The Salvage Mission

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1 The Salvage Mission on Thu Sep 15, 2016 6:11 pm


Guardian of Chaos
The Salvage Mission

Copyright © David Noe 2011

The Salvage Mission

Written by: David Noe
Edited by: Laura Loolaid

Nali Verricks is a salvage technician working near a space anomaly known as the Void Cloud. In this short story we witness what begins as a routine salvage mission.


“Unidentified vessel, please respond!”
Covered in sweat, eyes focused on the cracked screen, he made another desperate attempt.
“Unidentified vessel, this is Nali Verricks of salvage craft Theory. I highly recommend you alter course!”
The console remained silent. Nali blew the air out of his cheeks. The ripped pilot seat groaned as he sat back. He’d never understood why people were so determined to test the Cloud. While the phenomenon’s nature was not fully understood, it was clear enough that its vicinity was dangerous, and tales of odd occurrences were spreading all over the homeworlds. Some thought of it as a gateway to ascension, others believed it a door to other worlds. As far as Nali had witnessed, the Cloud only meant certain Death, and as the only salvage operator in the area, he had taken it upon himself to warn others.

“Dome projection”
His voice was coarse, dry. Everything went dark, only the beeps and static noises indicating the systems working; then the overhead lit up with external display of otherworldly hues, intense enough to drown out starlight. Nali had seen the Cloud many times, and still felt humbled.
He saw a speck of movement – the unidentified vessel – and felt his heart jump.
The view settled around the indicated area. Nali stood and folded his arms, his sight fixed to the other ship.
“Unmarked Reclaimer?”
He frowned. “Change channel to R E C Four!” He rushed back to the console.
“Salvage craft Theory to Unidentified Reclaimer vessel. Change course. This area is unsafe! Turn around befor-”
The ship was caught in a flashing arc, and Nali watched in horror as it disappeared from sight. He closed his eyes, and felt calm automation take over. The galaxy took its own, whether he liked it or not. The debris from the wreckage wouldn’t arrive for a while. Nali decided to feed himself in the meantime. He turned around to handle a clunky hatch – the only visible remnant from the vessel the command module was once taken from.

Nali kept the cookery dim – this way the stacks of empty containers and wrapper-buildup didn’t bother him as much. He would have avoided the room and its clutter altogether, but he disciplined himself to have at least one warm meal in a waking cycle. He did keep his mealtimes minimal, though, and the door closed tight – as if to curb an infection. Nali gave a half-hearted attempt to pick out a meal pack for warming, then decided against it and walked away chewing on a portion of bora-jerky.

He returned to the command, and stood idly, watching the screen. He squinted, “What on Rey-”
A series of arcs flashed across a section of the Cloud again, and a moving speck appeared  from the arcs’ conjunction. “Zoom!” Nali held his breath. The image adjusted and his eyes widened: it was the same ship he’d seen before, mostly in one piece, it seemed. “Er…” He rubbed his forehead and frowned, then settled into the pilot seat. “Set course to the unidentified vessel. Evade debris.”
The computer buzzed and clicked while Nali fastened a seat harness; it felt worn, but held tight. A countdown appeared. Nali tensed as he felt Theory’s engines come to life.
He felt the familiar tone from the drives humming in Theory’s whole body. Built from scraps like the rest of the ship, they purred the tune of good care and regular maintenance. The slight tug in his stomach let him know that thrusters were performing impeccably. He relaxed and continued chewing his jerky.

* * *

Nali took a breath of filtered air, and pushed a button on his vacuum suit’s forearm-interface.
“Salvage log, Nali Verricks, er…”
After he’d rescued the suit from discard pile during a military depot cleanout, he’d been gradually customizing it to his own purposes. The easy-buttons panel on the sleeve was among more recent additions.
“Unidentified Reclaimer vessel, number… one. Scanners indicated four on-board life forms; communications and warnings remained unanswered. Vessel took a direct course toward the Cloud. Cross-reference: video log number 05723.” He pushed another button on his forearm. “Now starting: video log number 05724.”

He reached the airlock hatch, locked three red levers into operating position, and pulled the main handle. He bounced through the opening, and pulled the hatch until it snapped shut behind him. He waited for computer to confirm the pressure levels, the boarding tube’s position, and the other ship’s orientation were confirmed, then proceeded to handle the outer hatch.
He locked it into open position, and clamped himself onto the tube’s “lifeline”.

After some forward fumbling, and careful clamping, he reached the other ship. The gasket indicator lights shone green in unison – the sign of a secure seal.
Nali took his time to examine the Reclaimer vessel’s door. After a little while he felt confident enough to tackle the door’s familiar-yet-strange controls. In case of interface failure, he could always rely on his trusty “can-opener”.
“Come on…”
He secured himself into footholds, and gave the handles another sharp tug. The door popped open, and some smoky swirls reached past Nali, then settled into a thin mist that slowly filled up  the boarding tube.
“Gained ac-” He cleared his throat. “Gained access to unidentified vessel.”
He switched on the suit’s external lighting, and slowly swept it along the interior.
“Considerable damage to all visible components. Vessel in critical condition, but no hull breach detected. Estimated safe salvage time,” – he took another sweeping look around – “two kilosekunds, possibly less.”
He sighed, “Idiots. What a waste.”

Nali ducked through some fallen structure, and dodged trails of wire clusters, before almost tripping over a loose panel. The localized gravity field was still working, but fluctuated heavily. Nali thought he saw odd shadows ebb at the edge of his vision, but knew better than to give in to his paranoia. Instead he focused his efforts into finding the command centre or its Reclaimer equivalent.
He saw some flickering and flashing with blue sparks through a hole in the wall. He bounced closer to have a better look; the room had sustained so much damage that Nali could not even guess its original purpose.
“Estimated safe salvage time: under one kilosekund.”
He hastened his search.

After working his way through some more debris, Nali reached a larger room with some ripped control panels in plain view. He pointed his light over the room’s contents: sparking consoles, broken seats, dead screens, dead bodies. Nali sighed. He was fully aware that finding survivors here would have been impossible; having the reality stare into your face through burned eye sockets was another matter.

“Located Command Center, all four detected crew-members have perished…” Nali glanced the scene again; something didn’t add up. There were five seats in the command, each with an occupant.
“Correction: five deceased crew-members. Side note, recalibrate sens-.” Nali squinted, and approached the fifth seat.
“Disregard. Four deceased crew-members, plus one deactivated android, presumably of Reclaimer build. Proceeding to locate ship’s memory unit…”
His suit’s audio alarm broke out, and the inside of his visor filled with red blinking light. The gas and temperature readings indicated open flames nearby.
“Fire protocol; evacuating now.”

Without thinking, Nali unbuckled the android, and slung it over his shoulder. Pushing past the debris, and dodging the ripped wiring, he made it to the boarding tube. Its lighting shone milky through the thick smoke shroud. He pushed the Reclaimer vessel’s hatch shut, felt his way to the lifeline, and once clamped to it, activated the tube detachment count-down. Dragging the android behind him, he groped along the lifeline until he felt Theory’s hull under his palm. He wiggled his burden into the airlock, shut the hatch, and leaned back, finally allowing himself a sigh of relief. A helpful audio message let him know that the boarding tube had begun retracting.

Nali waited until all the smoky air had been cycled away, and airlock indicator lights turned green. He pushed through the inner hatch, dropped his cargo, and stepped into the suit alcove, letting it disassemble the unit piece by piece.
Stripped of his suit, he stepped out of the alcove looking for a towel. Catching a glimpse of the android on the floor, Nali shook his head and chuckled.

Last edited by fafafabigben on Thu Sep 15, 2016 6:20 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : paragraphing)

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