Castaway Resolution – Chapter 28
“I’m dying, aren’t I?” Whips asked over his private channel.
He was pretty sure what the answer was going to be.
Laura was silent for a moment. Then, very quietly, she said, “Yes. Yes, you are, Harratrer. I’m sorry.”
“Thought so.” He tried to say it casually, but he could hear the pain in his voice too clearly.
“We’re working on it,” she said. “We’re not giving up, and you shouldn’t either.”
“Got. . . too many things to do to give up,” Whips said, studying the side display in his omni. “Franky and Hitomi are getting home and I’ll make sure of that, Mom.”
The way the sound cut out for a moment told him she’d started to cry. “I know you will, honey. None of my children would let anything happen to them.”
“Mom,” Whips said, then hesitated. Then he took a big breath — even though that hurt, a lot — and went on. “Mom. . . Laura. . . I love you, you know. All of you.”
“Of course I know that!” The flash of anger wasn’t directed at him, he knew; it was at the universe that might doubt it.
“Then. . . look, is there really a chance to save me? Really, not just. . . hoping?”
“There is, Harratrer. They’ve dug up my work on suspension of Bemmius, and I’m putting together the nanoinstruction set now, with help. I can do the updates to your nanos and the gelpacks with your omnis to transmit. It. . . it should work, at least for a while.”
Laura’s voice shifted to its professional mode. “Estimating the effectiveness is not easy, but . . . I think we can slow your metabolism and other processes enough to make it possible to successfully revive and treat you. . . oh, for at least a week and a half, maybe up to two or three weeks. If the suspension works.”
That last line told him how much Laura was pushing the edge of their capabilities. But . . . that’s not so different than what we were doing for the last year, is it? “If you get it in time, it’ll work. How much worse will I make it if I move?”
“Can you move? With those injuries –”
“Very slowly, yes. With lots of rests. If I use my nanos to reduce the pain and shock I can do some stuff for a while, I think.”
“I. . . I really do not like the idea of you risking any movement. Why?”
“I need to work on what’s going to get us home. There’s links that need to be set up for omni access to the ship controls, and I don’t want to try to talk Hitomi or Francisco through it by remote. Maybe we won’t need that access, but I’m betting. . .” he took another breath, fighting off the haze that had risen to cloud his thoughts. “. . . um, betting. . . yeah, betting that we will. I can’t see a way around doing something that connects us remotely, and the manual controls will be really hard for either of them to use.”
She was quiet for several moments; Whips took the time to recover his strength, focus attention on the jobs he was going to have to do. Finally, he heard her sigh. “Harratrer, I’ve said I don’t like the idea. . . but I know you’re right. Just. . . be careful. Too much effort, the wrong kind of effort, could make things worse. And we really don’t have much margin for ‘worse’, hon.”
“I know. Thanks, Mom. I’ll be careful.”
He switched to the public channel, even as he sent signals to his internal medical nanos to start reducing pain signals and prevent shock. He also, reluctantly, set up a bunch of interlocks that would cancel the analgesics if there were indications of significantly increased damage. Have to give Laura her chance.
As the pain ebbed, his mind sharpened slightly. Gingerly he tested his ability to move. His rear “pusher” manipulators were in better shape than his front ones, so he could probably push slowly forward. One of his arms was able to move halfway decently. Two of three eyes were usable. “Okay, everyone, this is Whips on Emerald Maui. I’m going to be surveying the nav and comm systems and seeing if I can get them both set up for omni access.”
“You sure you can do that?” Xander asked.
“Sure I have to, so I’ll do it somehow,” he answered.
“We were talking over here and Pearce asked why we couldn’t just coach you near to shore with some dead-reckoning — compass on Emerald Maui still works, we’ve got magnetic poles here, we could give you directions and you stop every so often, open the lock, and let us update the navigation. You wouldn’t have to leave the lock open until you got real close.”
“No can do,” Whips said after a minute. “Here, look at these clips from when Francisco was outside.” As they looked, he began the slow process of inching around the crash couches and heading for the control panel.
“Merde. I see what he means, Xander.”
“Yeah,” came the Sergeant’s voice. “You’ve got a damn good point there, son. Too much debris of all kinds floating in your way. You’d have to either take major risks or move forward at walking speed. And the currents ain’t helping you.”
“Right. And we can’t see the stuff in front of us with the window scoured the way it is.” The port was a milky-white; Whips wasn’t sure if they’d be able to see an island-eater through it.
“No way to clear the forward port? If you could just see, someone like Francisco with Hitomi to help would be able to get back to our area pretty easy.”
“We’d need a bunch of nanorepair dust to fix the scratches, or maybe a portside polishing rig.” He thought a bit. “Maybe, if we could reprogram some of the Nebula Drive dust, but that’d take a while, right?”
“Hold on.” There was a flurry of conversation between the more nanoprogramming-conversant members. “About a week and a half is our guess. If it’d work.”
“So that’s a maybe.” He finally pulled up in front of the console, lifted his one arm and, with difficulty, managed to coax the panel to open. “I have to get as much ready here now, before. . . um, before Laura puts me in suspension.”
“Right,” Campbell said. “You need my auth codes?”
“I had a subset. . . but yes, sir, if you could give me the whole set. . .?”
A low laugh. “Sure, why not? It’s not like I have to worry any of you are out to steal the silverware. Stand by for encrypted transmission,” he continued on a private channel.
Whips signaled his Omni to be ready. “Secured reception ready.”
It was a quick transmission, relayed from a no-frills spare omni that Franky had stuck on the hull just outside of the currently-open door. Whips tested the codes, saw the proper responses. “Got them. Thanks, Sergeant Campbell.”
“No problem. Let me know if there’s anything else I can get you.”
“Intact antennas?” he asked.
“Ha! Fresh out, I’m afraid.”
He narrowed one eye and adjusted focus. Yes, that was the right set of panels. Just have to make a few switchovers. He reached out, but his arm was not responding well. His extended fingers brushed the edges of the sunken panel, rebounded. He tried again, found himself almost missing it entirely. After several more attempts, he gave up. “Hitomi, can you help me?”
The little girl was there almost instantly. “What, Whips?”
“See inside that panel?”
She leaned over and looked. “Lots of lights and switches.”
“Right. So I’m projecting that into your omni as an overlay — got it?”
“See the switches I’m marking in red?” It was astonishing how much effort it was taking him to do even simple commands to his omni now.
“Push those switches, and only those switches, over to the left. I mean right! Right!” He felt a twitch in his damaged gut from the surge of emergine as he’d caught his mistake. If I told her to do it wrong and didn’t catch it, it might take a long time to realize why things weren’t working.
“You sure you mean ‘right’, Whips?” Hitomi was looking at him, worry writ large across her tiny face.
“Absolutely sure. All the way to the right.” He managed to make his one arm touch her right. “This one.”
“Okay.” A few moments later she stepped back. “Did it!”
“Francisco, see if your omni can connect to the nav controls now. Just connect, don’t do anything yet.”
There was a pause, then Francisco said from his position near the airlock, “Yes! It shows me controls are unlocked!”
Thank the Skies and Vents. Every time we fiddle with things on Emerald Maui I’m afraid I’ll find something else our misadventures have ruined. “Great!”
Whips took a few moments to re-focus. Even with the anesthetizing nanos, his body was telling him how badly injured he was. His mind was sluggish and his motor control wasn’t as good as it had been only half an hour ago. “Okay. First things to do. Check integrity of systems. I have the codes, comm systems are now unlocked for full omni access. That one didn’t need any physical override switches.”
In a voice that was just a little too filled with casual interest, Sakura entered the transmitted conversation. “So why is that, Whips? I mean, why are there physical override switches on the shuttle, instead of just programming?”
“Hmm. You know, I’m not sure. I just know it’s true of every vehicle I’ve ever seen. I think it has something to do with safety. Sergeant?”
“Huh. You’ve got me stumped too, Saki. Got the same impression as Whips, but can’t quite pull it up.”
“Goes back to the twenty-first century,” Pearce Haley said. “The first full automated vehicles that were deployed were all-computer controlled. And it turned out they could be hacked and controlled from the outside, which got people killed in at least three instances. Resulting law required that there be a physical layer isolating any vehicle meeting certain standards from external signals that could in any way affect the direct operation of the vehicle. In general there’s good reasons to keep it that way. For things like Emerald Maui, there are dedicated external communications for automated landing and such, but the bands and communications protocols of omnis are physically excluded, which prevents accidental interference in operations, too.”
“Wow,” Whips said. “Where did you pick that up, Lieutenant?”
“One of my degrees is actually in criminal justice, as Samuel could tell you, and one term we reviewed the criminal and civil suits surrounding those events.”
“Another degree?” Xander sounded both amazed and amused. “I knew you had some military training with the Sergeant, and a lot of medical technician training, and then you surprised us by advising on the best way to extract the ejector charge, and now you’re a lawyer?”
Whips felt a little better, having sat still for a few moments. He closed the panel door with only two tries and then keyed in his omni to run the shuttle systems, as Pearce replied “Not a law degree. Criminal Justice, which meant for me that I was qualified for law enforcement and private security positions. Good additions to have in my career.”
“Sure seems like it,” Whips said. “How’d you end up with the ejection systems knowledge?”
“Studied shipboard systems for crew support and safety as part of my training to work aboard Outward Initiative. Meaning mostly environmentals, but the safety ejection systems of all types were part of that.”
“Ooooh,” Maddox said with a tone of sudden understanding. “And that saved our lives, didn’t it?”
“What. . . oh. Well, yes, I suppose. . . yes, I guess it did.” Pearce sounded bemused.
It took a moment, but Whips finally understood what Maddox meant; when LS-88 (later Emerald Maui) had been cut loose from Outward Initiative, part of the boarding tube had remained connected to the shuttle, and it had been Pearce Haley who had figured out how to force the detach by detonating the charges meant for emergency launch. Had she not done so, many of the shuttle’s systems would never have switched to internal control.
“Okay, everyone, could we be quiet for a few?” Whips asked. “I’ve. . . got a few tests to do here. Need to concentrate.”
The others went silent. “Franky. . . Francisco, Hitomi, I’m going to test the drive systems. Just in case, I’d like you to come inside and close the door, Francisco.”
“I will.” Francisco reached up and removed the communications omni from its temporary perch, then triggered the airlock to close. Once it was fully closed and Francisco sitting on one of the seats, he said “Done! Go ahead, Whips!”
The first test was to make sure the rudder worked. It turned exactly as the designs, and prior experience, said it should, so next he checked the jet condition. All indications seemed to be positive, so he activated the jets for a quick burst — not enough to move them more than a few meters, but enough to show they were working.
Instead of the smooth whistling hum, however, there was a buzzing, whizzing noise and an uncomfortable jolt through the cabin. “Vents!”
“What is it, Whips? What’s wrong?” Francisco was obviously trying not to sound too worried; Hitomi wasn’t saying anything, just watching with her full intensity.
“Not sure. . .” He forced his brain to clear for a moment. “Ummm. . . hm. So that’s okay. But that means. . . ugh.”
“Should we open the hatch?”
Whips heard the words, but for a moment he couldn’t quite figure out what they meant. . . and that scared him. “I. . . yes, Franky. Open it and, um. . . put out the comm omni.”
Now what was it. . . oh, yes. “Something’s jammed in the portside jet.” More buzzing rumbling. “Aaaand it won’t come out easily.”
“Okay, we’ll look over the data, see if we can figure out what it might be and how to deal with it,” Sergeant Campbell said. “What about the comm system?”
The world looked . . . different. Kind of . . . ripply, even inside the cabin. That’s . . . not good. “Comm system. Right.” He triggered the omni to give a status scan. “Huh. Um. . . Yes. The comm system’s still mostly, um, running. Antennas are clearly missing. But no shorts, no malfunctions.”
“That might be salvageable, then.”
“Think. . . maybe, yes.” The strength of a few minutes ago had already entirely drained away.
“Harratrer,” came Laura’s voice. “Your vitals are not good. It’s time to try to put you in suspension.”
“You. . . ready, Mom?”
“Almost. Can you move yourself away from the control area, just in case?”
“Sure.” His rear pushers still worked, but they were even more sluggish than they had been a little while ago. Nonetheless, Whips was finally back near the securing points that could be used to lash him down. “Moved.”
“Francisco, get one of the Bemmie nanogel packs and bring it over to Whips,” Laura said.
“Thought. . . you could do it to my nanos.”
“I can and I am,” she answered, “but adding more can’t hurt.”
“They taste terrible.”
A laugh that had an edge of tears answered him. “Yes, I know. We don’t like the stuff either. But. . . it works.”
“I guess. But couldn’t. . . um, the kids, couldn’t they work the injectors?”
“I don’t want them trying injections on you when there are so many injuries all over. This will work well enough, and having a heavy coating of nanos on your internals won’t hurt at all.”
Francisco was back, though his shape looked strangely dim. Were the cabin lights on? They seemed to be, yet Franky and Hitomi just looked so far away. He did something with his omni — Whips heard, but couldn’t quite understand, Laura’s instructions — and then brought the pack towards Whips’ mouth.
Whips tried to grit his beak shut and the twinge of pain through the anaesthetic momentarily cleared the fog. “Ugh. Okay, just open the top. . . yes, like that.” He forced his mouth open. “Just pour it in, I’ll swallow.”
That was one of the hardest things he’d ever done, he decided. Swallowing nanogel really, really sucked.
Slowly, he felt a sort of strange, distant warmth beginning to envelop him. “M. . .mom?”
“Shh, Harratrer. It’s all right. You’re going to go to sleep now.”
“Franky. . . ‘tomi. . .”
“We’ll take care of you, Whips,” Hitomi said, tears standing out in her eyes even through the rising haze in his mind. “Promise!”
“Promise!” echoed Francisco.
With that word as a talisman, Whips allowed the soft heaviness to claim him and quiet darkness became his world.