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Before leaving the alpha ring they passed two more siphon intersections. Each time Johannes felt his guts turn with them. Behind them the gate closed as they manned the handles. “Back in the danger zone.” Giggling, near laughing Solomon pushed off from the gate.
“Would you shut up?” Closely behind Johannes floated through the long tunnel. “Bad enough that we are here, you don’t have to point it out.”
From ahead Johannes heard muffled laughter.
Grumbling he continued on.
Solomon stopped in front of a gate. He opened the first handle, but paused before continuing on. Puzzled he looked at the numbers emblazoned on the platings around. “That’s odd.” From his pocket he drew a pair of glasses. “You don’t have a connection if the power is out.” Johannes approached one of the other handles.
“Don’t open that.” Putting hia leaver back in the recess Solomon worked on his glasses. “I don’t need a connection, normally I’d be too embarrassed to admit it, but I kept getting lost on this ship in the beginning, so I downloaded the specs.” With a few gestures in empty air he opened the plans of the Horizon. “Just as I thought, this gate shouldn’t be closed, we’re not at the beta ring yet.”
Immediately Johannes pushed away from the leaver. “Is there a hull breach?” With a certain undertone of panic Johannes fidgeted in his pockets for his glasses.
“I doubt it, but we can’t know for sure.” Still studying the detailed plans he turned around a few times. “There,” pointing to the leaver that Johannes had wanted to open. “Next to that leaver should be a hatch. Open it.” Reluctantly Johannes did fumble with the opening mechanism.
A hydraulic hiss filled both men with a moment of sheer terror. “It’s a crawl space, leading along the cryogenic vault.”
“The what?” Still shaking the medical doctor turned around. “In case all rings would be destroyed, and the crew killed, some people had been put into cryogenic suspension, the ship would arrive at RV-p 296 and revive them, so not all was lost. It’s a little known fact.” He further explained that the crawl space would normally be depressurized too, but when a tube was flooded it too was as a security precaution.
After descending into the crawl space they closed the hatch. Other hatches led to other tubes, running parallel to the crawlspace and the tube they had come from, Johannes noticed. Once inside he understood why Solomon hadn’t thought about the crawl space in the first place.
It was incredibly narrow, without gravity that meant they had to be careful not to bump into anything. Next to them were circular lids, a tiny clear window allowed to look inside. People were visible. Johannes knew that they were in cryogenic suspension, but they seemed more like corpses in a morgue, their seemingly lifless features sent chills down his spine.
“Is there a way of knowing whether there was a hull breach in the section we’re circumnavigating?”
“Not for sure.” Solomon decided to go to the beta ring all the way, that way the risk was lower. “There are several tubes in the length axis, yes?”
“Jup!”
“How come the siphons were spinning around this one? Shouldn’t they be serving all tubes?”
Solomon sighed. Although he had the blueprints, he was not in the mood to explain. “Maybe it slipped your attention, but the siphon sections are a lot broader. To ensure safety during maintenance and repair they’re flooded as well, traffic is routed around them unless it’s unavoidable, halted if people are inside.” Solomon stopped, he reached to his right hip, only to reach into thin air. Close to panic he looked around.
This did not remain unnoticed by his companion. “What’s wrong?” He too wished for the sidearm, but seeing they were all alone with other humans and a bunch of cats noone saw fit to be carrying them. “There was a strange sound, not human, nor feline.” The cryogenic units had an independent power supply, but didn’t draw much of it, as they were well insulated from heat by the vacuum of the tubes and crawl spaces.
Still they didn’t tie into the main computer, other than their statuses they did not transmit any data, received none. Distraught by the noise Solomon went through the blueprints, surely the ever paranoid admiralty had insalled weapons lockers in the cryo crawl spaces. After a meter or two he had found what he was looking for. Disguised as a normal cryogenic chamber.
At first Johannes was shocked when his friend opened the chamber but welcomed the gun that floated towards him with gratitude.
“Don’t engage the laser! Just pull the trigger, the overcharged needles will do the rest.” Momentarily they continued through the narrowness.
After a few meters both held on to the rails, the other hand at the gun. Both had heard the weird noise. “Definitely not human or feline. Maybe the cryo chambers?” Johannes’ voice was begging for Solomon to say yes, but the Admiral just shook his head.
A slight draft in the direction they were heading made the two even more uneasy, suddenly a shape rushed by in the direction of a hatch, a moment later the hydraulic hiss of it closing called them to action.
Hastily the two floated to the hatch, immediately Solomon tried opening it but found it impossible. “Solomon.”
“It won’t open. ”
“Solomon!”
Still the Admiral tried to open the hatch, Johannes grabbed him by one shoulder, jerked him around. Opposite of the hatch, at the next cryogenic chamber sat a weird device that obviously wasn’t part of the ship, or the cryo equipment. An antenna of sorts extended to the small window, data in strange scribbling flashed on a small screen.
“What the hell?”
As soon as he had discovered the device Johannes had initiated a recording on his glasses. “I figure it is scanning the person inside, if we correlate it to the data readings from the cryogenic chamber we might be able to crack their language.” Grateful that the cryogenic chamber communicated wireless Johannes drew all available data from the subject inside.
Half in panic Solomon reached for the device, but stopped at the last moment, as he thought that it might be boobytrapped. “Can we seal that hatch? I’m not so eager for company right now.” Johannes kept recording the display, noticing that the symbols started to repeat themselves.
Feeling his heart beat in his throat, Solomon turned back to the hatch. It was sealed. But from the other side, meaning the creature could reopen it at any given time.
Quickly he reached for his gun. “Seal, not blast open!” Ignoring Johannes’ protest Solomon turned the UV laser on. Using it as a blow torch he welded the edges of the hatch shut. “I am sealing it.” The calmness in his voice had a soothing effect on Johannes. “Alright, I’m getting just repeats now. Let’s get outta here.” Johannes turned the recording off and began moving onward, Solomon looked again at the welded hatch. A small part of him was curious about what was on the other side, but for the most part he was just glad that a possible threat was locked away from him.
Sudden hisses drew his attention to Johannes. The oxygen propelled needles from his gun clinked against the hull of the crawl space. A hissing growl from farther ahead was the reply.
“What?” Johannes held on to the rail with his left, the gun in his right was shaking. “Another one of these things, maybe the same. While we stopped back there it could’ve double backed to the next hatch, could it?”
Solomon shook his head, ahead was no other hatch, except one leading to the Beta Ring siphon section. He too took out his gun, turning the setting from laser to needle. If in deed it was an unknown creature he didn’t want to kill it.
Unless necessary.
Something hit the wall next to the two men, leaving a scorchmark. Immediately both backed away a little, realizing that there was no cover for them, but the creature was sufficiently small enough to duck close to the cryogenic chamber lids. Another hit struck the wall above a cryo lid.
Solomon and Johannes returned fire with the needles.
With a screech the creature tried to flee but got struck. Immediately the electric discharge of the needles paralysed it.
Seizing its weapon Solomon left the creature defenseless, Johannes immediately grabbed its upper extremities, hoping that those were the the hands. “It’s small.” He noted, if it stood upright it might be as tall as his hip.
Examination would have to wait both decided non verbally as they heard ruttling noise from the sealed hatch. Quickly they pushed and pulled onwards to the hatch leading to the beta ring siphons.

 

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