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The Rescue Operation Grows
Submitted By Picard on 11/02/01
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To find the most recent part, use your browser's text search feature to find @***@

 Links to other Parts:

Part 1: Not Alone

Part 2: A Spy Unrealized

Part 3a: The Journey Part 1

Part 3b: The Journey Part 2

Part 4: Horizons

Part 5: Stranger Things

Part 6a: Frozen Part 1

And now, Part 6b.

 

***

Orion Wilson checked the linkage between the gravbeam and the jet for the second time. The jet was nestled safely in the rear cargo bay of one of the shuttles. Behind him, situated under the dorsal doors, the submarine sat submerged in it's transport tank. He glanced at his watch. Launch in ten minutes, and his work here was done.

A loud 'ping' echoed through the bay. Orion winced and covered his ears as the pinging repeated several times. "A little warning, next time!" he shouted at the tank. The sub's top hatch opened. 

"Sorry, Orion, did you say something? I couldn't hear." 

Orion scowled at the grinning Speffin Jay. "Very funny, Spiffy, but I installed the mikes on that sub, and I know what they can and can't pick up. Human voices fall into the former." He paused, puzzled. "You're piloting? Where's-"

"He's working on something else right now," Spiffy explained. "Maybe a redesign, but who knows. Anyway, I know how to steer this, and besides, I'm not alone. Glast's here too."

"Why?" Orion asked. "Do we really need to put 3 more people on the line?"

"It helps to have someone to analyze distorted messages," Glast shouted from inside. "Now that we know approximately where he is, I should be able to pick up any degraded comm signals and maybe clean them up a bit." 

"Fair enough," the technician said. 

A faint whine filled the bay as the engines started up. "Attention passengers, this is your pilot speaking," Hunter's voice said through the comm system. "I've just been informed that we're to leave ahead of schedule, and must ask that the bay be cleared of all nonessential personnel."

"Nonessential?" Orion glared at the nearest bay camera. "We'll see who's nonessential when you wipe out in a sand dune, Hawkeye!" 

"At least I have a vehicle to wipe out in," Hunter shot back. "And I think that an icicle would be more likely, given the circumstances. Thanks then, Orion. Unless you want to come along for the ride."

Orion considered making a rude gesture at the camera, but then decided that it wasn't worth the trouble. "I was just leaving," he said, and stormed out of the shuttle.

"All talk still," Spiffy muttered. "Someday, you two are going to have to have a match to prove that either the buggy or the jet is better." 

"Better start a betting pool, then, Spiffy," Hunter replied. The whine grew to a roar as the shuttle powered up fully. "And you probably should strap in. It's supposed to be a bumpy ride."

***

"Shuttle is away," Dustin Brown reported. "ETA is 1 hour and 15 minutes."

"Anything from the search party?" Falconer asked.

"Nothing yet."

"How much time on the clock?" 

"30 seconds."

The clock ran down the numbers quickly. At 5 five seconds, the comm came to life.

"Ares Base, this is Solar Flare. We have found an artificial object, repeat, artificial, embedded in the ice. Do you copy?"

"Solar Flare, Ares Base. We copy. Nature of object?"

"Made of titanium. It's located at the spot where Spiridon was when we lost contact. Opaque to scanners. Can't tell what's on other side. It's underwater, so we need some help. Is the sub mission-ready?"

"Solar Flare, Falconer. Sub is en route via shuttle. ETA is 1 hour, 15 minutes. Second jet also en route. Analysis of lost transmission?"

"Ares Base, Futureboy. Spitfire was conscious and coherent when we last heard from him. His transmission indicated that he'd found the object. There's a line running through it's surface, possibly a door. He may have fallen through." 

"Any clear way of opening it?"

"Nothing. Something in the water's making detailed scans impossible."

A brief crackle marred the communication as Jackal interjected. "Aubrey, if I went down their in my buggy, I could shed some light on its origins."

"How so?"

"I can tell if it's terrestrial or not. That at least gives us something to go on if we need to get inside of it."

Falconer deliberated briefly. "Alright. You can go down in your buggy. But have Jay keep the grav beam on you at all times."

"Copy that. Jackal out." 

The channel closed. Falconer sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Things were just getting stranger and stranger...

*** 

As Jackal watched Jay's jet rise out of the crevasse, a loud rumble filled the air. He looked up. Above them, the first shuttle was finally coming in for a landing. "Supercheese, Jackal. You took your time."

"Jackal, Supercheese. You try getting through wind storms and across half a planet in one of these clunkers, and then you can tell me that I took my time. What's the situation?"

"You're just in time. I'm heading down, and we need a new signal relay. You're the best candidate."

"I already know. No problem." Johnson opened a second channel to the jet. "Doc, I've got the med bed set up. If you want to double-check the settings..."

"Sure. Somebody else has to stay on the surface, and I think that I can be of the most help up here."

Jackal waited as Jay landed the jet, let Futureboy off, and took off again, ending in a hover over the buggy. "So, how's this gonna work?" Jackal asked.

"Simple. I lower you down with the grav beam, follow, and lead you to the object. Like walking a dog."

"Except no dog in its right mind would be anywhere near here."

"You sure about that, Jackal?" Kestrel laughed inwardly at his joke, then switched on the grav beam. Jackal's buggy was lifted into the air. "Alright then. Polar spelunking, take two." He deftly maneuvered the linked vehicles back into the chasm, down towards the river running below.

***

In Sickbay, Seb was sleeping. Or at least, he seemed to be. 

"Under house arrest, eh, Maize?"

"Lab arrest, and it's not bad. I have access to all my work, so I'm keeping busy."

"Good, good. So, can you tell me what's going on? Doc left a while ago, seemed to be in a hurry."

They've lost a buggy somewhere on the North Pole. It fell into a crevasse, and now they've found a large metal object about half a kilometer down."

"For someone under restrictions, they sure tell you a lot."

"Comm records are more or less public, if they're sent through regular channels."

"Espionage. That's not going to help you if they find out."

"Probably not. But I consider it more important to know what's going on then for them to know that I know, for now."

"Hmmm. Metal construct, you said? Do you think it's--"

"Probably. So once they realize what it is, it should be easy for them to get in."

"Did this happen the last time?"

"What do you think?"

"I'm guessing it did, but you're the only one who knows for certain. Who's missing?"

"Just Spitfire. So far, this would have happened regardless of your appearance."

"Hmm. What about..."

Maize heard the lab door open. "Later," he said, then turned his attention to his visitor. "So, you have questions for me, I presume."

The Security Chief nodded. "Flynn would have been here too, but he has work to do on the vehicles. And he's been reading over a set of old reactor diagrams again."

"He won't find anything wrong with them," Maize said.

"Alright then," Krieger said. He rolled a chair over and sat down. "Quite simply, you've raised a lot of questions. And since Seb's asleep right now, you're the easiest way to get answers."

"So am I being interrogated?"

"Not at all. You don't have to answer. But let's start simply. First, are you from the future?"

"Yes."

"Do you have knowledge of what's going to happen?"

"Yes."

"Alright then. What is the outcome of this incident on the surface?"

"Here's where we run into a grey area." Maize tapped his fingers together. "If I tell you what's going to happen, you will assume that it will. Consequently, there is a possibility that it will not happen that way. This leads to a change in the timeline, and thus, each time I give you the answer I lose more answers that could have been useful at a later time."

"I'm not going to go and tell everyone that Maize said that everything was going to be okay," Krieger said.

"I know. For now, it's safe to tell you. That way you can at least confirm what I've said is true. But you must promise not to tell anyone until after this incident has passed, and I would prefer that you didn't, even then. I have no wish to become the designated oracle."

"Alright. But before you tell me what's going to happen, one more question." Krieger paused to gather his thoughts. "You said that a change in the timeline would affect how accurate your foreknowledge is. What about Seb? Isn't he a change?"

"Yes," Maize said. "Seb's presence, however, will have the most effect on long-term knowledge. For the immediate term, probably a month at most, I should be able to predict with about 90% accuracy what will happen."

"Alright. So what's going to happen down there?"

"Well, you see, what the team has found, the metal object, is..."

***

"Careful," Jackal warned. His buggy was very close to the water. 

"Relax," Kestrel said. "We're almost to the object."

The buggy's headlights shone down into the water. It was obvious where the river-bottom suddenly dropped off for a meter. "Alright. Lower me down," Jackal said. 

Kestrel carefully changed the grav beam's length. The buggy dropped below the water, and the energy usage climbed rapidly. "Jackal, I can only keep the beam on you down there for a few minutes. Then I'll have to bring you up or drop you."

"Just a little lower. I've got a good read, but I want to set down on it."

"Alright..." The buggy sank down through the water until it came to rest on the metallic surface.

"It's titanium alright," Jackal said. "Coated in a ceramic and what seems to be an inlay of carbon nanotubes. Definitely Tier 3 tech. Composition is familiar. Seems to be standard spacecraft hull design..." Suddenly, the readings rapidly dropped in resolution. As Jackal tried to understand why, his buggy began to fall. "Jay! Pull me back out!"

Kestrel saw the energy usage drop to almost normal levels. He reeled in the beam. Below, Jackal's buggy dangled over a gaping hole that had opened as if to swallow him. As he watched, fascinated and shocked, the door sprang shut again, having missed the archaeologist. "I think we just found out where Spitfire is," Jackal said. Kestrel's response was to start steering them back to within comm range, so they could report what had just happened.

***

"Med bed looks to be in order. Good job, Johnson." Futureboy began mentally preparing himself for all scenarios. Worst case, emergency surgery to relieve brain swelling. Second worst, making sure that Spitfire stayed motionless for a long while. He loaded up a hypo with a sedative, then another with a local anesthetic in case of surgery. 

The wall comm in the medbay beeped. "Doc, you there? Base wants you to check in."

"Got it, Ariel. Patch me through." 

Lizzle started speaking almost immediately. "Futureboy, anything new?" 

"No. Still waiting for the next shuttle. Can we assume another hour?"

"Less. They're avoiding atmospheric reentry until they're above the site. That should shave 30 minutes from their time. ETA is half an hour."

"Still too long. He's been down there almost an hour and a half now. He didn't sound disoriented, but...I don't know. Maybe I should have gone back down anyways."

"Back down? Wait, are Jackal and Jay-"

"Yep. Jackal thought he could figure out whatever that thing down there is."

There was a pause on the other end as Lizzle relayed the news of the second cave dive. The link resumed just in time for Futureboy to hear the tailend of a minor expletive. "Futureboy, this is Falconer. Next time you hear from Jay and Jackal, you tell them to get back to the surface and stay there until the next shuttle arrives. No one else is to go down there until then."

"Got it. Anything else?"

"Nothing now. And I've been asked to tell you that your patient is fully recovered, but asleep."

"Excellent. I'll check on him again when we all get back."

"Alright Doc. You just keep thinking when, not if. Falconer out."

***

On the other end, Lizzle glanced at Falconer, puzzled. "What do you mean when, not if, Aubrey? They talked to Spitfire. He was awake and aware."

"I know, but with Jay trying to steer both a buggy and the jet back through that ice, we could wind up losing someone else. Wish I'd thought of that earlier."

"No use crying over spilled milk," Babbage said from the science station. "And I'm sure they'll be fine. If anyone can get a jet through an ice maze, it's Jay."

"I hope so. Meanwhile, anything new on that comet?"

"It wasn't a comet, that's for sure. It was too big to have gone unnoticed, taking into account partial burn-up. Similarly, it wasn't going fast enough for a normal impact from orbit. Finally, there is not enough iridium in the region to suggest such a big comet."

"So what then? A lava flow?"

"That doesn't explain the cooling." Babbage glared at his screen. "There's something familiar about it, but I don't know from where."

"Keep at it. Meantime, I seem to remember Flynn wanting me to talk to Maize about something. I'll be in the lab if you need me." Falconer walked out of the MIC. Now, to find out why the heck Flynn had had Maize confined to the lab.

***

Christian Krieger was just walking out of the door when Falconer rounded the corner. "Commander."

"Chief. So, Chris, you talked with Maize?"

"Yes. He's not telling much, but I can fill you in on the details if you swear to secrecy. Also, I have something to show you in the Security Center."

"Alright." As they walked to the security office, Krieger explained what Maize had told him. 

"Basically, our head of Research is a time traveller after all. Those rumors were probably the best cover possible, but now that Seb's shown up, he can't keep pretending. He's told me how this situation is going to end. However, I'm something of a control group. I'm not supposed to give that information to anyone else until after the crisis passes. Otherwise, we might mess up because we know too much and expect things to go a certain way."

"Can you at least tell me if we get our man back?"

"I'd rather not. You see, I want to be absolutely sure that he's not some con-artist before we start relying on his predictions. And from what he's said, if we start doing that, the future ones lose accuracy. Temporal dilution, he called it."

"Fair enough, but I need to know."

"Alright. We do get Spitfire back."

Falconer breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks. That's a relief."

"Welcome. Now, about what I've found. Or rather, what we've found."

They stepped into the office. Zam was working at the computer, still glasses-less. "Zach, anything new?" Krieger asked. 

"Nothing. But I have figured out a way to clean the systems. The problem is reinfection. Any of the vehicles on-board computers, or a transmission from Earth could carry the virus. I've set the tach-com's computer to filter out the virus and log the number of times it encounters it."

"Alright. But tell Aubrey what you found."

"The vector of initial infection was from software in waste-disposal. Someone switched an almost identical version of a counter with this one." Zam held up a digital counter, with computer connection wires running off of it. "I checked on the manufacturer already," he went on. "The company that makes this went out of business while we were in transit. All records were lost. As far as leads go, this is a dead end, but I've been able to wipe the virus from it while leaving it intact."

"It's great that you figured out how to get rid of the virus, Zach," Falconer said, "but I hear a catch. What is it?"

"In order to purge the systems," Zam explained, "We need to de-network the computers and restore them one by one. And we can't re-network them until after all of them are clean. Vehicles too. Although the ideal situation would be to have all the vehicles on station at the time, I know we have a schedule to keep. I can rig a comm unit between the vehicles and the station to filter the virus out of transmissions as well. However, to do that, I need a clean computer first."

"Alright. When do you want to do this?"

"As soon as possible," Zam said. "Tomorrow, if it'll work."

"We'll mention it at the staff meeting today. Good work." Falconer walked out. Krieger looked at the security cam outside the R&D lab. After a few minutes, there was still no Falconer. "Guess he's not going to talk to Maize," he said. "Good."

"Or," Zam interjected, "he could be going to sickbay."

"Joke's on him, then," Krieger smirked. "Doc gave Seb a sedative. By the time he wakes up, this crisis will have passed."

***

The static on the jet's radio broke suddenly. "-repeat, return to surface ASAP. Commander's orders. Again, Jay, this is Futureboy. If you can hear this, return to the surface ASAP."

Jackal responded and relayed their discovery. Futureboy was noticeably surprised. "It was obvious it was artificial, but a spacecraft? What's a spaceship doing buried in the ice?"

"Don't know. Can you patch me through to MIC? I want permission to go back down, maybe get inside the ship"

"No need. Orders were clear, no exceptions. Aubrey wants you, Jackal, and everyone else topside until further notice."

"But Doc, we don't know where in the ship Spitfire is. We're not sure how big the ship is, and it's better to start looking now."

"My hands are tied Jay. I'll relay what you found, but if that door just closes and opens without any jet accessible controls, there's no way we could get someone back from this side. And since Spitfire's didn't fly back out, I'm guessing there are no controls on the other side, either."

"Understood," Jay begrudgingly acknowledged. "Returning to surface. ETA 30 seconds." He cut the comm line.

"Jay." Jackal's voice now. Jay flipped open the channel to the buggy. 

"What is it, Jackal."

"I've been following the line of the ship since we left the airlock, and as far as I can see, this river follows it. Also, I've seen a few whirlpools disappear at various intervals. They seem to be malfunctioning locks. Assuming that they're all the same size, that ship has been taking on over 200 gallons of water each time a lock opens and closes."

"What's the point, Rob?"

"My point is that that water has to go somewhere. So either that water is being used for something, flushed out of the ship, or stored."

"So?"

"If it's being stored, then it should be sinking further into the ice. If I can get down near the edge of the ship, I can take measurements of different high water marks as I resurface, then estimate how long this ship's been here."

"Are you sure?"

"Completely. And running the calculations will give us something to do while waiting for the sub."

Jay grinned. "Well then, seems those orders weren't quite clear. Or rather, the grav beam is about to suffer an unexpected power loss." 

"Ready when you are."

"Cutting power in 3, 2, 1, 0." The grav beam holding the two craft together cut out, and the buggy splashed back down into the water. As Jackal carefully drove to the nearest edge, Jay reopened the channel to the surface. "Doc, we've had a slight malfunction with the grav beam. Stand by. We'll be back up soon."

"Grav beam malfunction?" Futureboy sounded skeptical. Jay thought. Maybe some fake static? No. Honesty was the best policy. Or at least, partial honesty. "The grav beam cut out and Jackal fell in."

"Cut out? Flynn checked over that unit personally. What happened?" 

"Power fluctuation. Probably happened because of the sudden changes in energy use back at that airlock."

"How far away is he now?"

"I'll have to move out of range to get him. Be right back."

"Alright. Don't take too long. Futureboy out."

Jay didn't answer. Keep up the illusion, he thought. The Doc had fallen for it, hook, line and sinker. Now, hopefully, Jackal would get some results, and no one would be the wiser.

***

Futureboy stood and started to walk out of the shuttle's bridge. Then he noticed the lit 'IN CONTACT' indicator on the the data feed between Jay's jet and the shuttle. "Strange..." He tried sending data. Maybe it was a glitch. The file seemed to go through. He turned the machine off, turned it on, and then tried to access the file via the jet's computers. It was slow, but the file was there. "Out of range, huh." He reached for the 'CALL' button, then paused. Jay must have his reasons for lying. Probably, Jackal's 'accidental' fall had been intentional. They were stalling for time, and they'd only do that if they had found something. Again, he reached for the button, but then decided against it. More fun to wait for them to get back and grill them when they least expected it. Futureboy smiled. This could be fun...

***

Spiridon had reached the bridge, though he had had to abandon his buggy in the process. He panned his flashlight's beam across the room. No one was there. The panoramic windows were closed off by emergency shieldplates. All of the chairs and stations, as well as the floor, were covered in a thin layer of long settled dust. Another mental flash took him to the long ago day where he had been given a tour of the place. "The Commander takes center chair, the helm and flight sensors are up front, and the comm/damage control station is here, at this screen," Flynn had said. 

"What about the support structure," Spiridon had asked. "Isn't it bad to have the most important structure on the ship up on this...outcropping? Wouldn't it get sheared off in a crash or reentry?" 

Flynn had laughed. "No, the structure is secure. If anything broke off, it would be..."

With dismay, Spiridon remembered the part of the ship most likely to be lost. "The antennae!" He ran to the comm station, as if by moving faster he might undo some damage that had already been done. The emergency batteries were still working, and the startup diagnostic ran. The first item on the list sank his plan: send/receive: offline. "Shoot! Okay, options, options." A few taps and the damage control board lit up. Hull breach in the forward section, where a shield plate had been prevented from closing. That could be an exit, but it opened into solid ice. Two airlocks opening intermittently, one upstream from the one he'd fallen into. Engineering was unlit, everything shut down. The emergency generators were working, but the batteries were recharging slowly, and most were stuck at 25% capacity. The crash and deep freezing combined with continued minor losses from the airlocks had not been kind to them. "Okay, what about signalling?" The main antennae had broken off, and the backups were in storage with ice preventing them from opening. That left...either the buggies comms (which he already knew were useless here) and the internal comm system. "Well, when life gives you lemons..." A quick system test told him all he needed to know. Half of the intercom speakers were out, and the only location that he could transmit from was the bridge. But the speakers in the airlocks checked out. Now, if he just had a way to tell when someone got close to the locks... He turned on the microphones in the locks. The rush of water greeted his ears. Now he had a way to listen, and a way to talk. But both would be drowned out whenever the lock opened. He needed to jam them shut on the outside. With a sigh, he started the long climb back down to where he had left his buggy. His stomach growled. "Looks like I'm going to miss lunch."

***

Falconer stood next to a medbed in Sickbay. Every minute or so, his eyes darted to the readouts. They had remained steady the entire time he had been there. He reached out his hand as if to wake the man on the bed, but then stopped and withdrew it. The medical staff had warned him to let Seb wake up naturally. He leaned against a wall, and waited some more. 

The readings hardly flickered, but slowly, the movement behind Seb's eyes slowed, then stopped. He opened them and glanced immediately at Falconer. 

"You've woken up early," Aubrey said.

Seb ignored the greeting. "I take it you're here to question me?"

Falconer nodded. "Maize has already said all he's going to say. Now I'm asking you: what happens next?"

Seb sat up and yawned. "If I tell you, will you mess things up?"

"What do you mean?" 

"If I tell you, and you take action using the assumption that what I tell you will happen will, you could throw off that prediction, along with any future ones. It's not some magical prophecy that is guaranteed to come true, no matter what happens."

Falconer nodded. "So, that's what Chris meant. But what if I don't act on what you tell me?"

Seb shook his head. "No, if Maize told Krieger, that's his business. Krieger isn't in a position to make the decision that would alter the chain of events. You are. And any new information I tell you will influence your decision." 

"So I have know way of knowing if you actually are telling the truth about where and when you're from?"

"Would having one of our 'predictions' confirmed really do that?" Seb argued. "We could be con men, playing an elaborate trick. Though knowing Maize, he'll have given Krieger specific figures which he can check later."

"And if the figures don't match?"

"Well then, Commander, you have every right to throw us in the brig. But for now, I'd like to get back to sleep." Seb rolled over and pulled the med bed's sheets up to his neck. The EEG monitor slowly settled into the pattern of the sleeping mind, and Falconer finally stood and left. With nothing new to work off of, there was no choice but to wait. And since Chris had given him a 'spoiler', as it were, by telling him Spitfire would be fine, he might now change things so that they didn't. The uncertainty of the future had returned, in a different form. Whether this was good or bad, he didn't know. An old story popped into his thoughts: "And the Zen master said, we'll see."

***

Water rolled off Jackal's buggy as he surfaced. Almost instantly, the jet's grav beam caught him and lifted him out of the river. "That took longer than I expected," Jay said. "What did you find out,"

"Just a bunch of numbers right now," Jackal replied. "I've got to run some calculations, but my rough estimate is that this thing has been here for under a decade."

"Under a decade? If something this big crashed here from orbit within the past 30 years, let alone a decade, we'd have seen it!"

"I know," Jackal said. "I can't explain it. Also, something about the size and shape of this thing is bugging me. It's seems almost familiar."

"Right, Jackal. A mystery spacecraft under the North Pole of Mars is familiar. Had any close encounters before?"

"Not alien, Jay. No, I think this thing is manmade."

"Well, whoever made it, they did a heck of a job hiding it."

"Not really," Jackal said, as they started back towards the chasm opening. "Anyone with any sense would know we'd check the ice caps when we arrived."

"So someone knew we were coming?"

"Someone," Jackal agreed. Then he remembered the strange, flying thing he and Spitfire had seen the other day. "Or something," he thought to himself.

***

The airlock proved more difficult to wedge open then expected. In the end, Spiridon simply blasted away at a portion of the inner door until it buckled. With the airtight seal broken, the door should remained closed, due to certain safety features built into it. A remote check via the microphone confirmed it: the flow of water had stopped. He climbed out of the buggy once more, then opened up the wall panel marked Airlock Sound System. He examined the wires carefully for damage, then ramped the volume to maximum and switched on the test-unit. A high pitched squeal erupted from the speaker. Even though it was behind the thick metal of the door, Spiridon still had to cover his ears. The sound progressed from a high shriek, to a soprano, on down through the scales to a bass rumble, then switched off. Satisfied that he could be heard, Spitfire drove back up the length of the ship. Now he would have to wait, listening to whatever the microphone picked up. Listening, alone, in a cold, dark room. Spiridon felt a cold shiver run down his spine. Maybe he would spare some battery power for the e-lights, after all.

***

"Contact with the jet restored," Lizzle reported as Falconer reentered the MIC. "Jay has Jackal's buggy in tow and will be clear of the chasm within 5 minutes."

"Good. Tell him to make a report from the shuttle as soon as possible." Falconer sat down as Lizzle relayed the order. He was still thinking about what might yet happen. A glance to his left confirmed that Krieger was now at the security station on the bridge, talking with Zam. It wasn't Krieger's shift. Did he know that something important was going to happen?

As if he knew what Falconer was thinking, Krieger looked up. "Aubrey, could I talk to you for a minute?"

Falconer stood and walked over to Krieger. The security chief had brought up a diagram on his screen. "Zam filled me in on our little problem," he said, "And I've worked out a plan to bring the systems back online, gradually. Environmental systems are the priority: we'll take all of them offline and reload them first, starting with atmospheric recycling. That should take maybe half an hour, less if we sever the connections between the rest of the computer system first."

"How do you plan on monitoring the life support systems if they're cut off," Falconer asked, mildly disappointed that Krieger hadn't wanted to talk about what Maize had told him. 

"Thought of that. We'll use the comm system and have one person watching the actual readouts and relaying the info." Krieger pointed back at the diagram. "After the E-systems, we'll take care of main memory storage,  then the comm systems, and finally the vehicles, which we'll clean one at a time so we can keep some operable. Last on the list is reactor control. We'll be running on batteries for a while, but after that, as long as the tach com filter works, we should be fine."

"How long?" Falconer asked.

"12 hours, give or take half."

"I don't know, it seems as if reinfection would be too easy."

"We could do a complete wipe if we had a clean computer with enough processing power and memory," Zam said, "But that would mean the base would be offline for the duration. The best time we probably could manage would still be an hour, too long without having to resort to rebreathers or oxy tanks."

"The AV?" Krieger suggested.

"Naw," Zam said. "I checked her systems on a hunch; flew over so as to avoid wireless contact. No good; she's been infected as long as the rest, sending station keeping info back and forth."

"One thing we know for sure, though, is that it doesn't make sense to try until everyone else is back," Krieger finished. "If we did it all before, we'd run the risk of reinfection when they returned." 

"Can the vehicles be cleaned in advance?" Falconer didn't like the idea of being without transportation for the duration."

"Yes, but we'd have to set up a different way of communicating. Wireless could reinfect them." Zam paused for a moment, considering the options. "The best way would be to use a laser telegraph. We could still receive their transmissions without running the risk of infecting them again, though." 

"Coordinate with Flynn and Orion. I want at least half of the vehicles in the launch bay cleaned in advance." Falconer noticed a worried look on Zam's face. "Problem?"

"You realize that any vehicles we clean will have to be stored powered down and unconnected to their charging cradles?" Zam asked.

"Yes, I do," Falconer said. "But all exploration missions are canceled until further notice. No one should be needing them, and they'll have enough of a charge in case of an emergency." He turned to Krieger. "Anything else?"

Both men shook their heads. Falconer returned to his seat, aware that Krieger was watching him, just as Falconer had watched him earlier. "The only two people with any idea that something is going to happen," Falconer thought, "and we can't discuss what that something is for fear of preventing it." 

***

In an extraordinary feat of aerial maneuvering, Kestrel brought the jet to land inside the shuttle's launch bay, exactly where it had been just hours before, nose pointed towards the doors, ready for launch. Futureboy was there to meet both pilot and passenger. 

"So," the doctor began. "What did you find?"

"Nothing, really," Kestrel said. "Just a system malfunction. 1 in a million, could have happened to anyone."

"Cut it, Jay. In case you forgot, your data uplink isn't linked in to the part of the comm system that you can turn off. I know you've been in range the whole time." 

"Alright," Jackal admitted, "you've figured us out. I ran a test to see how long it's been there. Can't have been more than 10 years, less maybe." He explained his method, with Futureboy nodding as he understood it. 

"So that makes two large vessels that appeared near Mars within the last few years. You'd think our satellite system would see something."

"With no geostationaries? That system's for research, not surveillance. The gaps between their orbits are big enough to fly a space station through, let alone a ship."

"Okay, Doc, now that you're in on our little secret, what are you going to do?" Kestrel shifted nervously."

"Do?" Futureboy queried. "The grav beam cut out, and Jackal took the time he was waiting to take some measurements. Nothing wrong with that."

A laugh spouted from the intercom. "Though Flynn might not like it when he finds nothing wrong with it," Ariel Johnson said. "And relax, I can keep a secret too."

"Since we seem to be in no danger of punishment," Jackal said, "I'd better report these findings to base." He walked out of the bay, headed for the main comm station in the control room.

"So, what do you think it is?" Futureboy asked.

"It looks like it was designed for space travel; the airlocks are circular." Jay scratched his chin. "The features are hard to make out through the ice, but the mapping suggests that it has, or had wings. My guess is a multi-purpose explorer." 

"Alien?"

"Hard to say. You could ask Jackal."

"Hate to interrupt your UFOlogy," Johnson said, "But the second shuttle's almost here. You should get up here to coordinate with them."

"And I guess I'll have to tell Iain that we don't need his jet after all," Jay said. "Too bad. He's been looking forward to flying it here."

"Well, at least with the sub, we should be able to fix this," Futureboy said. "And none too soon. Too many mysteries for one day."

"Don't even say it, Doc," Jay said. "There are probably more just waiting for an invitation."

***

With a few lights on, the bridge was slightly less frightening. Still, being alone down here was not where Spitfire had wanted to be spending his afternoon. He was hungry, the cold was starting to get to him, and thirst had started to gnaw at his throat. He supposed that there was plenty of water on the ship, but it would be difficult to get to it with the plumbing shut down to conserve power. Maybe if he hooked the buggy's systems into a pipe, he could get some flow. Or he could just go open one of the airlocks, and get all the water he needed. All the ice cold, freezing water… He shivered just thinking about it. That was probably a bad idea. Besides, there was still some time. Although he would probably be better off waiting inside his climate controlled buggy. If he just ran the controls for the mike and speaker through the wireless…

A loud, familiar ping emanated from the speaker. Spiridon turned the volume up to the maximum, and waited with bated breath. If it was what he thought it was… The ping repeated, louder this time. Again, louder still. Soon, it became necessary to turn back the volume. And still the ping grew louder. There was no mistaking it: it was the telltale sound of a sonar! And the only people nearby with a sonar were…

Spiridon didn't even bother finishing the thought. He pressed down the TALK button. "Mayday, mayday, mayday. Can you hear me? This is Spitfire. Mayday, mayday…"

***

Inside the sub, Glast noticed a spike in received sound that was out of sync with the pattern of the sonar. "Got something!" She pulled on her headphones, set the computer to filter out the sonar echo, and waited.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday. Again, this is Spitfire. Can you hear me?" The message was quiet, but getting louder. 

"Ahead slow, Spiffy." Glast concentrated on the volume of the message. Louder, louder still, louder…then, suddenly the message stopped changing in volume. It just repeated, loud and clear. "I think we're where we need to be, Spiff." Glast switched on the sub's mikes. "Spitfire, come in Spitfire. This is Glast. Do you read? Repeat, Spitfire, do you read?"

The answer was swift: "Glast, Spitfire. Read you loud and clear. You're right over the airlock I fell in through." 

"Great! According to the echo-map…" Glast glanced at the terrain map generated from the sonar data, "we should be able to rest across the opening, so we can pull you up. Open it up and let's get out of here!"

There was a brief pause on Spiridon's end. "That…might be difficult. This airlock's jammed open. It's the only way I could think of to make sure the water didn't mess up the sound. However…" another pause. "There should be another airlock back about 20 meters. I can meet you there…just one thing. Once the lock is open, how are you going to lift away from it?"

"That," Glast explained, "is where the jet comes in handy. Meet you at the lock in 10 minutes." Glast waited for Spiridon's acknowledgment before switching on the radio. "Jay, Glast. Bring her down, we're going to need some help."

***

"Contact confirmed!" Lizzle reported. "Kestrel is moving out of range to assist. They're going to try to pull Spitfire out through a closer airlock."

"We'll give them 10 minutes," Falconer decided. "After that, send Hunter down for recovery." He sat down again. "Now, we hope for the best."

***

10 minutes remaining

***

Kestrel maneuvered the jet rapidly through the passage. Behind him, Johnson was ready at the controls of the grav beam. "ETA to rendezvous with sub, 2 minutes. They're a lot closer than the lock we saw. Not sure why."

"Who cares why," Jay replied. "Less chance for something to go wrong the less distance we travel." A piece of ice broke off and splashed into the water as the jet grated against a wall. "Like that!"

***

Spitfire slid down the ladder to where his buggy was parked. He hit the deck a bit harder than he'd planned, but was otherwise fine. He clambered into the vehicle and sealed the canopy, did a quick pre-flight, then turned it around and sped back down the corridor. He almost missed the lock, but noticed in time to screech to a stop. He climbed out again, then found the lock controls. Now, to wait for the tell tale thump of a sub touching down…

***

The sub sped through the water, but the current was slowing its progress. "ETA, 2 minutes," Spiffy reported. "And have you figured out how we're going to pull free with Spitfire, before the lock closes?" 

"I've got an idea, but I need to brief Johnson on it." Glast spoke across the commlink between the sub and the jet. "Supercheese, here's what we need to do…"

***

8 minutes remaining: 

***

The jet and the sub converged on the lock at the same time. Despite some misgivings with the plan, Jay agreed to follow it. The sub touched down with a loud thud. Almost immediately, the lock yawned open. The sub settled down in the space, then activated it's shield. The flow of water stopped. Sensing the cessation of the pressure change, the inner doors opened. Spiridon could briefly be seen scrambling into his buggy. Glast triggered the sub's grav beam, and the buggy was lifted off the floor. 

***

7 minutes remaining:

"Okay Supercheese," Glast said. "Now, for the tricky part." She pulled the buggy as close to the sub as possible, then shunted power from the shield to the grav beam . The inner lock doors slammed shut, shaving an inch off the buggy's tires. The outer doors began closing as well, halted only by the sub's frame. Water began pouring in around them. Glast carefully brought the beam to a 95º angle from the emitter, holding the buggy slightly up and out of the lock. "Now, Supercheese, now!" The jet brought it's beam to bear, lifting the combined buggy and sub up and out. The doors kept closing, though, grating against the sub. Suddenly, the sub stopped. It was stuck.

***

6 minutes remaining:

***

"Not good, not good at all…" Glast ran through the options and picked one. "Supercheese, shift the beam to the buggy and get Spitfire into safe water!  Now!" The jet pulled the buggy away from the sub. Glast cut the beam power. The moment the buggy was clear, she powered up the shield. The sphere expanded out, forcing the doors back…and preventing the water that would allow the sub to propel itself away from filling the lock. Glast waited until Spitfire's buggy was safely released, then initiated the next step in the plan. "Okay, Supercheese, get ready to lock onto the sub and pull. When I drop the shields, grab us." Johnson acknowledge, and Glast cut the shield. The sub started to fall, then was lift up by the jet. It had almost cleared the lock, when the outer doors slammed shut on the sub's grav beam generator, holding it fast. The jet snapped back at the sudden resistance.

***

5 minutes remaining: 

***

"Darn it…not enough power to pull them loose," Johnson said.

"Take power from the grav cushion and give to the main jet," Kestrel said. "We should be able to pull them free then."

As the jet's main thruster kicked in, a metallic screech came from the connection between the generator and the sub. Rents began appearing in the metal. Abruptly, the generator tore off, completely severed. The jet shot up, sub in tow, directly for the ceiling. Kestrel killed the grav beam and diverted the power to the emergency thrusters. He managed to turn the jet out of its nose first collision, but the side of the canopy clipped the ice. Johnson's head violently hit his console. His head lolled back; he was unconscious. 

***

4 minutes remaing:

***

The first cannonball performed on Mars settled into residual waves. The sub surfaced, slowly. Glast called for a sound off. "Glast, here."

"PB&J, here."

"Spitfire, alive and well."

"Solar Flare, here." Kestrel noticed Johnson's silence. He turned around and saw his co-pilot's condition. Blood had begun to flow from Johnson's nose. "Glast, Johnson's hurt! I have to get him to Doc ASAP!" Without waiting for a reply, Kestrel sped back along the passage, leaving he sub and the buggy to make their much slower progress home. Spitfire drove his buggy onto the sub's back, and the strange piggy back processed along.

@***@

3 minutes remaining: 

***

"So," Spiridon began, "What have I missed?"

"Not much," Glast replied. "You singlehandedly halted all other operations. Congratulations."

"Not my fault," Spiridon replied, "and I've found something very interesting." He filled them in on his discovery of the AV1. 

"That's impossible!" Spiffy exclaimed. "We would have seen evidence of a crash!" 

"Not up here," Glast said. "The snow and wind would have covered it quickly. Though that still doesn't explain the refreezing."

"Seems that Occam's razor's broken," Spitfire commented. "The base didn't blow up by accident, the AV1 survived, and the old team might not be dead." He shivered thinking about what he'd seen. "I don't know what brought the ship here, but I went up and down almost half of it, and it was completely deserted." Silence followed, as the three explorers thought about what that might mean.

***

2 minutes remaining:

*** 

The wash from the jet's engines threw water into the air, where it quickly crystallized in the cold. Kestrel spared a second to glance back at Johnson. The technician was now slumped over his console, but was still visibly breathing. "Just hang in there, AJ," Kestrel said, turning forward. He saw the light at the end of the tunnel. This was going to be tricky… He cut the the throttle, switched all power he could afford to the grav cushion, pulled back on the controls, and threw the throttle to full. The jet's nose pulled up towards the Martian sky just as the thrust took effect. With a roar, it started lifting up and out of the chasm. 

*** 

1 minute remaining: 

***

"Hunter's ready to go, Aubrey. Just give the word." 

"They've still got 50 seconds, Doc." The commander's voice was filled with concern. Futureboy glanced at the digital readout next to the comm. It was still counting down. No sign yet.

"Hunter, go airborne and move closer to the pit. Be set to dive in."

"Copy that, Doc." The second jet lifted off and hovered towards the edge, nose angled down. 

"Still no contact." Futureboy glanced at the display again. Had time sped up? It now read half a minute. "Aubrey, I'm having Hunter start down at ten seconds."

"Understood Doc. Just hope you don't have to."

The clock ran down to 15. 14. 13. 12. 11. 10. Futureboy gave the go ahead. The jet nosed over the edge slightly, beginning a controlled descent.

"Hey, Doc, is it just me or is the wind getting louder?" 

Futureboy paused in his thoughts. Now that Hunter mentioned it, there was a growing rumble, like thunder, almost like… "Hunter! Get away from the edge! Pull up!"

The pilot had already realized what was happening, and had done a midair 180. He had just cleared the edge when Kestrel's jet soared out of the crevasse, angled down and engaged its landing legs. The excess momentum sent it spinning around by 200º, and past the nose of the shuttle to face the landing bay. Kestrel brought it in as quickly as possible. The moment he touched down, he began shouting over the comm. 

"Doc, this is Jay! Spitfire retrieved, on his way back. AJ's unconscious, needs a med bed immediately! Get down here!" Futureboy sprang from the console, racing for the landing bay. On the other end of the line, Falconer stood, both glad and worried. They'd done what they'd set out to do, and recovered their lost man…but at what cost to another?

***

To Be Continued.

 Author's Note: Well, after 10 months, the longest and least often updated part of the story is done. And now, we need to talk. As you've seen, these stories have been getting longer and longer, needing multiple pages to store. So, what do you think? Should installments be limited to 1 page? Or is this jumping between parts alright with you? Also, as always, other feedback is appreciated.

Addendum, 16th May, 2013: I have been stalled on this. That is about to change. Minor edits have been made to this installment, mostly grammatical corrections. Now I just need to build momentum on Part 7. Apologies for the wait.

Sincerely,

Picard

 
Music is from Babylon 5. Thanks to MacDane for teaching me how to add music.
Note: If you think that I should change the music between different parts of the same installment, please say so in a comment.

» Comment on Document Threaded Hybrid Flat 15 Comments
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 week - 24,924v
Posted 2011/02/01 - 16:16 GMT
Awesome!
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 day - 9,350v
Posted 2011/02/01 - 16:31 GMT
What is it?
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 day - 5,467v
Posted 2011/02/02 - 8:27 GMT
Thanks for adding me, Picard! And so awesomely!
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
2 days - 5,444v
Posted 2011/02/03 - 0:48 GMT
dang. i cant wait till i come in!
 
 
i love these stories picard!!!
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 week - 32,767v
Posted 2011/02/19 - 14:56 GMT
*Quietly walks in*
 
Bam!
 
Thank you, that is all. 
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 day - 3,859v
Posted 2011/02/21 - 13:58 GMT
Haha, I love B5.  Though the choice for music was a little odd... something like Grey 17?  Or Lowtown.  Something like that.  Maybe spacey. 
 
But, pretty good.  Also, my charcter is just fun.  Though in actuallity, if you had veichles not connected to the network, IE, working and operational just not connected to the network, you could then take each individual buggy and scan it, purge it of the virus, but still have it operable, but no communication between it.  Unless it was a localized one with other veichles.  Or you could send the equivalent of e-mails.  Slower, but almost guarenteed of no virus, because in a e-mail you can scan it before opening it to have the virus pop out.  And technically, you could take everything offline and then purge the main commo system, and have each thing that is purged of the virus put back on, but eveything with no virus, is offline.  There is multiple possibilities.
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 week - 31,378v
Posted 2011/04/10 - 5:25 GMT
Oh can i be in their as the lazy,funny,brain damaged stupid guy?
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 week - 32,767v
Posted 2011/05/13 - 0:28 GMT
Did you read Aubrey's post? Or were you too concerned about getting the first comment? DON'T BAM OLD POSTS. Leave that to the Sticky system.
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 week - 31,378v
Posted 2011/05/29 - 2:56 GMT
Wow still loving this story!
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
4 days - 13,245v
Posted 2011/10/02 - 16:33 GMT
lol! Its a great story picard. Nice Work :)
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
3 days - 9,368v
Posted 2011/10/02 - 17:05 GMT
Cool story :)
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 week - 31,378v
Posted 2011/10/19 - 1:05 GMT
I loved this story.
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 week - 32,767v
Posted 2011/10/19 - 1:55 GMT
Repeating the question at the bottom of the post for those who won't catch it:
 
"Author's Note: Well, after 10 months, the longest and least often updated part of the story is done. And now, we need to talk. As you've seen, these stories have been getting longer and longer, needing multiple pages to store. So, what do you think? Should installments be limited to 1 page? Or is this jumping between parts alright with you? Also, as always, other feedback is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Picard"

 

I'm not sure what you mean, but I can see limiting the amount of story on each post as a good thing, because this one did get somewhat easy to get lost in

» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
2 weeks - 32,767v
Posted 2013/05/17 - 7:00 GMT
wahooo! more stories on the way! :p
 
keep up the good work Picard, love these stories that you are writing 
 
(in replay to: Addendum, 16th May, 2013: I have been stalled on this. That is about to change. Minor edits have been made to this installment, mostly grammatical corrections. Now I just need to build momentum on Part 7. Apologies for the wait.) for those that missed that part
» Reply to Comment
Re: Mars Explorer Story Series Installment 6b: Frozen, Part 2
1 day - 5,467v
Posted 2013/05/17 - 21:56 GMT
The master returns! ^_^ now I have a good feeling.
 
Good to see you back Picard, the Fanfic scene is back down to business. You're on, old friend!

» Comment on Document Threaded Hybrid Flat 15 Comments
 

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