2948-01-06 – Tales from the Service: A Creeping Pest
I am afraid I am prevented by information security protocols from describing the developing situation in Matusalemme in any detail at this time. All I can say is that the Navy still expects to hold Adimari Valis against the Incarnation force threatening the colony, and that action is expected there very soon. Since the system Hypercast relay is still active at this time, the whole Colonial Reach will probably know when things start happening there whatever this feed contains.
On the recommendation of Admiral Zahariev, several of the larger colonies on the Frontier began collecting volunteers for a defensive garrison force this week. In theory, using this force to shore up threatened worlds will free the Marines for offensive action against Incarnation bases on this side of the Gap as they are discovered, such as the action on Meyerfeld. The Confederated Parliament is currently debating a bill allocating pay for soldiers in this new Frontier Defense Army, and I think it will pass without much fuss. Perhaps this new force will also receive an influx of Core Worlds troops and weapons. With all the panic at Maribel and other highly populated Frontier worlds since the Incarnation showed up at Matusalemme, I think at the very least garrison reinforcements would soothe the nerves of many civilians.
Instead of focusing on the imminent battle for Adimari Valis, this week we have a story which comes from the bowels of Saint-Lô, the dreadnought which Nojus and I are assigned to for the duration of our reporting assignment. After the ship was damaged at the Battle of Berkant, the Navy saw fit to upgrade as well as repair it. A team of civilian techs working on some of the upgrades in an unpressurized area of the ship reportedly ran into a bit of trouble – while this story comes to us secondhand, I did verify the incident was reported to Captain Liao more or less in the same manner it was told to us. A full interstitial decontamination was ordered, but the teams who performed it found nothing resembling the reported pest, or anything capable of causing trouble with power systems.
Zahra Guillory scowled at her compatriots through the mirrored face-plate of her vacsuit helmet. In the dim confines of the damaged dreadnought, the reflective feature was hardly necessary, but she would need power to clear it, and the suit was operating on passive power only. With inoperative comms, she grabbed each of her compatriots by the wrist to use their suits’ passive audio conductivity. “Don’t just stand there, find a hookup and call the shift boss. He’ll have someone come down here with spare power packs.”
Gillis, the hapless machine tech who’d accidentally shorted a terrifying amount of electrical power through his supposedly nonconductive Reed-Soares multitool, stood shaking in his fried suit in defiance of Zahra’s instructions, while Yakov, the nanoinspectionguru sent along to verify his work, scrambled away in search of undamaged plug access to the warship’s computer network. The short had produced an electric arc bright enough to trip the automatic mirroring of all three techs’ visors before it had fried their powerpacks with an electromagnetic burst, and while Zahra was not quite blind and Yakov apparently could see well enough Gillis probably saw nothing but the lightless inside of an opaque visor.
She sighed and tugged him away from the now-ruined relay bank which had produced the short. “Gillis, say something so I know you didn’t cook your damned brain on that arc.”
“S-suit’s dead, Zahra.” Gillis mumbled. “I’m a dead man, aren’t I? Atmospherics need power.”
“After that stupid move, I wish.” Zahra clapped the side of his helmet. “There’s a passive backup. Good for about five hours of work. Our suits are dead too.”
“Hells, I’m sorry.” Gillis reached up and tapped on the outside of his helmet. “Bet it’s dark out there.”
“The lights are still on.” Zahra honestly didn’t know why; perhaps the simple circuitry of the portable work-lights they’d brought with them into the tight compartment had simply proved too hardy for the EM surge. “Yakov’s going to have someone bring us some fresh powerpacks so we can finish this.”
“Finish?” Gillis repeated uncertainly. “I don’t know what happened there. That conduit shouldn’t have power unless the ship is powering engines on the auxiliary circuit. Are you sure this is the right place?”
Zahra would have consulted her virtual schematics, but they were as dead as the rest of her suit. “Schematics aren’t that hard to read. It’s the right place.”
“But...” Gillis grabbed Zahra’s helmet and pulled it into contact with his own, so she could hear him whispering. “Something must be very wrong.”
Prying herself free, Zahra turned around to glance in the direction Yakov had gone. “How very wrong?”
“A lot of things have to go wrong for the auxiliary net to be powered at all.” He flailed blindly toward the exposed conduits and ductwork he’d been in the process of clamping aside when the short had happened. Their job didn’t relate to the auxiliary power system at all – they had come to replace a simple structural integrity hardpoint that lay behind the splayed guts of the ship with a more powerful, newer module. “For it to be powered at the same time as the mains, Zahra. That’s-”
“Not good, yeah, I get it. No safety margin, no place to dump a power surge.”
The tech nodded his mirrored helmet. “There’s no way the whole backup power system is charged. It has to be a local fault. Is there anything damaged?”
“Short of what you just fried?” Nevertheless, Zahra grabbed one of the work lights and played it across the exposed innards of the ship all around them. “This all looks fine to – wait.” She had spotted something in garish magenta winking back at her from among the ship’s interstices.
“What is it?”
Zahra stooped closer to the brightly-colored anomaly, unwilling to touch it. The object squatted in between a pair of thick power conduit bundles, though thin, cable-like extensions of the same material were thrown out in several directions. “I have no idea, Gillis. It’s colorful and lumpy. Almost looks like a fungus.”
“In hard vacuum?”
Zahra tapped one of the ducts hanging low over the object. "No heat or air here, so probably electronic. It’s got itself plugged into the auxiliary power line and half a dozen other things.”
The blind tech made a despairing noise. “Don’t touch it.”
A hand roughly grabbed Zahra’s shoulder and spun her around. She found herself staring into Yakov’s nearly mirrored helmet visor. “Shift boss is sending Taube down with a bag of powerpacks. She’ll be here in-”
“Never mind that!” Gillis shook Yakov. “Zahra, show him what you found.”
“There’s power where it shouldn’t be, so Gillis had me look around. I found this.” She pointed behind herself toward the magenta mass nestled in the conduits. “Seen anything like it before?”
Zahra turned around, wondering how nearly blind Yakov was behind his visor. “Like that big lump of...”
The foreign object was, of course, no longer there.
“Ain’t seeing anything, Zahra.” Yakov grabbed the work-light and peered into the space near where she had been pointing.
Despite herself, Zahra shuddered. She had no doubt it had been there – and that whatever it was, it had moved when her back was turned. “I... think we need to call up for a full decontamination.”