Deep Deadspace, Vale of the Silent
The fact that he was aware of feeling the thick, viscous fluid on his skin was the first sign something was very, very wrong.
Normally, a pod pilot set up properly for flight was entirely unaware of his physical being – instead he was aware of himself as being the ship itself, not a mostly-naked creature plugged with wires and tubes submerged in a pool of ectoplasmic goo.
A shock ran through his spinal column, surging in and out of the leads. It was all he could do not to gasp. While the lungs could withstand some amount of fluid (it would generally be coughed up or absorbed), a deep inhalation could be fatal. Ironically, with a modern blood oxygenation system, unlike the ancient capsules that relied on nose tubes, a pilot with lungs full of hydrostatic fluid would only be mildly impaired during flight as the lungs attempted to figure out what to do with the stuff, but then begin to asphyxiate immediately when disconnected from the pod back on station. Those who survived the initial shock of that switch and were able to cough up enough to dry out still often developed pneumonia that lasted for weeks or months.
He heard (within the aural sensory areas of his brain of course – his ears were covered by a watertight set of cups, rendering them effectively useless) a voice cutting in and out, unmistakably female but not able to make the leap from sounds to words, like a shorted-out fluid router or one beyond its range.
The capsuleer reached around to the back of his head, and gave the main neural lead a twist. He felt the lead sink in and lock, reseating it properly. The surging effect stopped.
The voice was suddenly crystal clear.
Capsuleer Rhavas, can you hear me? Please respond.
He knew the voice, but it took him a moment to process who it belonged to – or more accurately, what.
“Aura, what happened?”
Recovery prototcol 425.12 was initiated approximately 2 hours ago. I am pleased to see that it was successful, sir.
In the advent of a prolonged state of unconsciousness with low brainwave activity, step-escalated electrical induction of the spinal column and brain may be attempted pursuant with CONCORD statute 425.12 in order to either revive or terminate the clone and trigger the transfer mechanism. Since we are far outside normal spacelanes and typical clone transfer distances, I am pleased that in your case you were revived rather than terminated.
“You’re just authorized to do that without an order from me?
It is only authorized as a last resort and under orders listed in a living will on file with the capsuleer himself or his company of current record.
“I don’t have one. And I didn’t think TORAH had a mandate.”
That is correct, sir. Neither case applied. The doctrine of your new corporation, however, is eight months.
“Aura, what the hell do you mean? First of all, why are we even talking about “prolonged” anything, and what new corporation?”
Sir … you have been in a coma for more than eight months. In that time, your ship has floated here, quietly awaiting your reawakening. Your brain activity has slowly increased during your rest, and you seem likely to make a full recovery despite your injuries and the electroshock. However, the Corporation of Noble Sentiments has disbanded, and based on Republic law your license has been reassigned to Native Freshfood.
You have been in a coma…
“I know, I know, I heard you. Just give me a minute.”
He tried to recall what had happened just before he blacked out. Disappointed in the failures of Arek’Jaalan to produce what was needed and Hilen Tukoss’ prolonged absence, Rhavas had determined to take matters into his own hands and fly to Jove space, the hard way. It almost certainly was doomed to failure – either of the mechanical variety or Jovian rejection of his entry request. Worse, there was little likelihood that a visit to Jove space would do him any good relative to “getting real answers”, but a visit to PE1-R1 VII would have completed his research, and would have highlighted a particularly troublesome outlier.
Only one possibility really made sense.
“They caught us, didn’t they?”
You were waylaid in LS-JEP by Sansha’s Nation ships, sir. While you were able to kill all of your attackers and set your flight path toward PE1-R1, the initial warp to the deep safe tore you loose from the moorings within the capsule, pulled out your neural lead, and collapsed your brainwave structure.
Caught in the final system before leaving gated space, buffeted by explosions and hit hard enough to knock his sockets loose. “That kind of crap doesn’t happen any more, Aura.”
I place the likelihood of sabotage at approximately 98.4%, sir. Most probable saboteur is Sansha’s Nation, most probable cause is Project Catapult.
“How are they faring in Eram?”
Arek’Jaalan Site One is still functional, but largely in a state of hibernation. It is being maintained but has been abandoned by most of the scientists. Hilen Tukoss is still absent.
“Prognosis on being able to return to Empire successfully?”
Odds of Revenant safely returning to dock in high security space currently calculated at 68%. However, the burning scanner is now fully online, so the odds of your personal return by clone are well over 99.99%.
That gave him pause. “State of the crew please, Aura.”
All dead, sir. Per your orders, flight path took us too far out of any system to receive a timely rescue or resupply, and the fact that you were in a coma rather than dead left me unable to transfer most command authority. I was able to execute the Crew Chief’s command to stop engines and drift in your absence, but it didn’t slow us down enough. Most died of dehydration.
Many capsuleers would have cared little for this fact, but to Rhavas it was an enormous weight of guilt. He was an undead captain flying a gruesome, spaceborne charnel house.
“State of the business?”
Hephast Gehrt and a skeleton crew occasionally respond to multi-hop hail signals between here and Villore, sir. They are spotty at best but odds are over 50% that your assets and core staff are still intact.
“Thank you, Aura. Let’s head home.”