Annie wasted little time getting to work as Ashur’s ship raced away. She knew she had been betrayed and there was no use being angry about the situation now. To get out of this mess, Annie would need ideas, and for that, she would need to think hard. She calmly disrobed from her captains uniform, hanging it neatly in her locker. She checked around the room, knowing she was alone, but wanting to confirm that it was the case. From under her bed, she pulled out her secret weapon. The starship pajamas were a little small since she seemed to have grown, but they hadn’t served her wrong yet. They were the perfect tool to help her sort out the problem.
Four days until her power shut down completely, and that was only if the ship stayed perfectly still. By the time a rescue ship could get to here, she’d be long dead from the lack of life support systems. She needed a solution, and she’d need to be economical with her time and the ship’s energy. First things first, she would have to shut down all non-essential resources on her ship. The problem was determining how many things could actually be considered non-essential. It could take her hours to work it all out, and those were hours she could be spending trying to find a real solution. Still, she knew a few things that weren’t required without having to think about it. So she’d start there.
It took about a half hour to power everything down, but it was difficult to know how much time that really bought her. It was time to admit that she was out of her depth. She needed to call in the experts. Unfortunately, each of them would cost power, some more than others. Nav could possibly give her information, but his big robotic body would guzzle up several hours worth of energy within minutes. She could contact Mark, but she was nearly a lightyear from Terra Secundus at this point and the energy costs to send a message that far was quite astonishing. She could try to flag down a passing ship, but she’d have to start scanning to find one or send out a message that would scatter all around her. Both of those things, of course, cost power. That left only one more option. Kaori.
Annie doubted that Kaori was in cahoots with Ashur, more likely she had been kidnapped. Kaori’s suit had a short range communicator. With Ashur speeding away, she was likely out of range. Annie supposed she could boost the signal somehow. Unfortunately, she had no clue how to make that happen. It seemed the lesser evil was to wake up Nav, have him quickly teach her how to boost it, then put him back asleep before he burned through too much electricity. It wasn’t a good plan, but it was the only one she had.
Annie stared intently at the inactive droid. Once she hit the switch he would have only two minutes to give her the life-saving information that she would need, any longer and it would take an unacceptable amount of electricity. This consultation was already costing around an hour of life support. It costs energy to make energy, apparently. Annie took a deep breath and switched her first mate’s power switch and a stopwatch at the same moment..
Nav’s face lit up with green light, immediately the body stiffened up and saluted.
“Glad to see you ma-” he started.
“We don’t have time,” said Annie. “Ashur took Kaori, additionally, the cells he gave us were fake. I need to find an improvised way of generating enough energy to get us to Relic. How did you sustain the ship’s systems when we were stranded nine years ago? You have one minutes and fourty eight seconds, so speak quickly.”
The Navigator hesitated for only a second as he processed the information. He handled the situation like the professional Annie knew he was.
“I saved the working fuel cells for the actual journey back to port, the repairs, life support, and my own energy needs were largely solar paneled.”
“That doesn’t do me much good mister Navigator. We’re nowhere near an active star. Plan B, I need to get in contact with Kaori. Can you find me a way to boost the ship’s transmitter? Kaori may have a theory on the creation of a makeshift power source.”
Nav nodded, but said nothing, immediately pushing past her to grab a data book. He began tapping keys at lightning speed.
“The transmitter should be simple enough, it’s just a matter of rerouting the short-range transmission into our long-range system. A bit of rewiring and some coding in the ship systems.”
“Is that what you’re doing right now?”
“The coding yes, but the wiring will take time that I don’t have. I’m leaving you instructions.” He typed with inhuman speed. “Be aware that it’s going to cost you more power as she gets further away. You should be able to consult her for a few hours today if you go quickly with minimal energy loss, tomorrow or the next day will cost you a great deal more.”
“Any way I can find out exactly how much power is remaining?”
Nav glanced slightly at the bridges monitor.
The screen lit up with a set of numbers written in a lime green hue.
“I’ll keep a fraction of my intelligence online to monitor the power levels.”
A countdown to the end of her life. Wonderful.
“Is it possible for you to keep any more of your systems online?”
He shook his head as he worked.
“Only my subconscious and most basic functionality, it will be enough to help you control the ship with voice commands, but no more than that. It will cost about six hours worth of power.”
“Will you be able to help me any more than that?”
“It would be like talking to sleeping man and hoping it will affect his dreams. It’s a long shot.”
Annie’s eye twitched, six hours was a lot of time.
“Do you think it’s worth it?” she asked him.
Nav froze in place, as though unsure if he should speak his mind. The urgency of the situation forced him to say it anyway.
“Then we’ll do it.”
Nav took barely a second more before he placed the databook decisively down beside the ship wheel.
Annie checked her stopwatch, only a few seconds to spare.
“Anything else I need to know?”
He looked her right in the eyes. His light flickered as he thought. If he was designed as a sentient AI, Annie supposed he would have looked concerned. Nav was, however, a simple ship interface, and she knew such things were beyond his programming.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
Her alarm tore through Nav’s words. She didn’t hesitate, flipping a switch to deactivate it. Whatever he was going to say couldn’t have been worth the extra energy.
Annie had work to do and a lot of it. She took the databook in hand and got reading.
Step one, make your way to the engine room.
She left the room with determination. The Nightingale would not be her tomb.
Inside the bridge, the monitor continued to count down to the end.
No matter what she did, Ashur would not open the door. She pounded on it, she pleaded with him, she even threatened to hurt him once she got desperate. Nothing helped. At first she thought she could hack into the controls, but of course, they were all on the other side of the magnetically sealed door.
It wasn’t fair, just when she started building a life for herself, Ashur took it from her. Hours ago she was a mechanic on a starship, the most beautiful piece of technology she had ever seen. Now, Kaori had returned to what she always used to be; a lonely junk girl in a filthy home.
She couldn’t handle it.
Kaori was never one to wail when she cried, for that behavior was a sign that someone was crying for help. No one had been there to save Kaori in the trench, and she expected no one to save her now. When she was a quiet and broken mess, curled up by the doorway, that was when Ashur finally opened the door.
She had thought to see him with a big evil grin, but instead, he looked grim, as though he took no pleasure in what he had done.
“Why?” was all she asked.
“Partnerships are temporary. You need to learn.”
He looked at her, trying to make eye contact, but Kaori wouldn’t cooperate. With two clawed fingers, he picked up his spider bot from off of his shoulder.
“You. Take control of the bridge. If Kaori attempts to enter, shut down everything and activate security.” The mechanical spider chirped in acknowledgment, but Kaori knew the words were meant for her. Little robotic legs skittered into the bridge and out of sight.
Ashur looked at her with alien eyes and Kaori forced herself to look away. She didn’t know how long he stared at her before leaving, she didn’t care. The clanging and grinding of the ship had bothered her before, but not today. She let the horrible reality around her fade away as she began trying to revert her mind back to the way it had been a month ago.
There was some scrap scattered about the hallway.
Kaori could use an arm.
Hours passed as she drafted a blueprint and gathered parts. The old arm had been made from the best parts she could find over weeks of searching. It had been built as an act of defiance, she built that arm to show that she mattered. It reflected who she was, small, tough and full of tricks.
Her new arm would be crude, built from pieces she found on the floor or in shelves. The creation would be bigger than her old arm, junkier too. She felt a rage inside her as she worked, a cold fire she had never felt before. So she designed an arm full of rage, full of strength. She felt sheets of shame at what she was, and the arm showed it. It would be ugly, but it would be unbreakable. That suited her just fine.
She was so busy sketching the final touches of her plan that she barely heard a voice in the room with her.
It wasn’t Ashur. It was a girls voice. A child’s voice.
“Kaori, if you can hear me, I need your help.”
She looked about before her eyes settled on her pressure suit.
“Kaori? Damnit, did this not work?”
She rushed to the suit and scrambled to press the button.
“Glad to hear your voice, Ms. Amaris. Are you okay?”
Kaori wanted to say yes, but glancing at the blueprint she had written out, she knew it would be a lie.
“Ashur didn’t hurt me,” she said instead.
“Good. I’ll be able to arrange a rescue once we get to Relic, but I need your help getting there.”
“You need my help?”
“Yes Kaori, I need an improvised generator and you’re the biggest genius I know when it comes to improvised technology.”
A genius? She had never had that word applied to her before. It meant smart. She didn’t feel smart, her only real talent was reassembling trash.
Except that no one else could do it quite like she could.
Looking back she supposed she was even exceptional at it in the trench. Zaiah was perhaps her only peer with his gigantic scrap suits, but even he needed a team of a dozen scavengers to help him.
She might be a worthless scavenger, but she was the best one there was.
Still, the task wouldn’t be easy, even for her.
She remembered grimy old manuals and books she found in the trench, it was some of the most useful knowledge she had learned down there.
Fundamentally there were only three ways to generate electricity. Kinetic motion was the most common, but there was also the possibility of creating a charge from chemical reactions or converting light energy from a star directly into electricity.
Due to the lack of a sun or a large supply of reactive chemicals, that left kinetic energy as the only option.
At first Kaori had assumed that kinetic energy meant turning a crank with your bare hands or running on a treadmill. The truth was very different. The goal was to turn water into high-pressure steam so that it would turn a crank far faster than any human could. It was a bit complicated, but she was sure she could make a working design.
“I’ll design. Most things are easy, but four hard parts. Get them while I plan.”
“Big magnet, really really big, make sure it’s flat.”
“Kaori we don’t have that on the ship.”
“Some asteroids magnetic.”
“How would I even find one?”
“Nightingale has magnetic sensors in the survey equipment, will have to angle all over space until you find one.”
“That’s going to cost me a lot of power. Is there another way?”
“No. Kinetic power only made with magnets and copper wire, no other efficient way.”
“Do we have copper wire?”
“Yes, engineering room has lots, that’s second thing to get. Will need to turn wire into gigantic coil two meters wide and twenty meters long.”
“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that there’s nowhere in the ship big enough for that, do I?”
“Make coil in space, small generator wouldn’t work, has to be external to ship.”
“Fine, what’s next?”
“More water, much more. Find a comet, same as the magnetic asteroid, use survey equipment.”
“That won’t leave me with much power left Kaori.”
“Have to work fast.”
“Fine, what’s the last thing?”
“Nightingale has missiles, yes?”
Her captain was silent for a time, not liking where this was going.
“The Nightingale is equipped with a payload of four space-based torpedoes suitable for ship to ship combat.”
This time she didn’t respond at all. Kaori thought it was a brilliant solution to the problem.
“Will need uranium core from torpedoes, keep in the shielding for now and save other missile parts.”
“Miss Amaris, are you saying we build a nuclear reactor in my ship?”
“Small one, outside of ship.”
“How on lost Earth did you learn how to design a nuclear reactor?”
“Nuclear technology old, replaced by fusion power now. Lots of outdated fission technology in the trench. Old textbooks had information too.”
“You learned nuclear science by sorting through the trash and reading a few books?”
Well, when she said it like that it sounded ridiculous, but Kaori had mastered a great number of technologies that way. Plus, with modern materials, nuclear power was far easier to work with than two hundred years ago.
Kaori heard the little captain growling with frustration on the other end of the call.
“Is there really no other way?”
“Other power solutions only enough for life support, powering light-drive takes too much energy for anything less.”
“So I have the choice of building a small generator that can save my life but won’t get me to Relic, or build a nuclear reactor out of scavenged technology and space rocks like an absolute madwoman?”
“Well then, do you have any advice on how to safely handle uranium?”