Logbook entry

Zinnsei / 15 Jul 3305
I don't believe in ghosts - Part 5

The Janus Protocol

Commander's Personal Log, 27 APR 3305.

I felt my hand let go of the grate and rocketed towards the empty maw of the cargo hatch. Napoleon was gone. He had been standing right next to the cargo hatch as if he was simply watching the action transpire. I was grasping desperately for something to break my head-spinning descent towards outer space and for a sickeningly long second, I was certain that I would slip straight into the black with my punctured RemLok suit the only thing to keep me alive. And then my flailing arm caught hold of something and my departure was somewhat slowed. I shot outside into cold, black and unforgiving space.

I instinctively closed my eyes as I passed through the hatch. I felt my injured should slam against something and felt myself being hurtled in another direction. I opened my eyes in time to see one of the hydraulic struts shoot towards me. Panicked, I grabbed for it and by some miracle, my uninjured arm caught hold of the strut. I slammed to a halt in the roar of escaping air from the cargo hold and the strain of it almost tore my arm from its socket. I yelled in pain and panic but when I wasn't thrown farther, I was able to bring my fear and panic a bit under control.

I had to think fast!

I tried to pull my way back into the cargo bay but the rush of air was too much to fight against. Instead, I tried to find a service hatch or small access way back into the ship that I could perhaps launch myself at. There was nothing. I remembered during the preparation for this mission, going through the layout of the old Anaconda that most of the service hatches were located dorsally and that very few were actually underneath the vessel. I cursed loudly. The closest would be on the keel of the ship, right underneath the observation bridge.

A sudden jolt and jarring sensation told me that it was time to move. The hatch was closing and if I didn't get out of the way, I would be crushed to a pulp when hatch met hull. I made a split-second decision and pushed away from the hatch.

***

I was scrambling along the outer side of the hull, about 50 meters from the now hermetically sealed cargo hatch when the warning pierced my reality.

Warning. Oxygen Level low. Reestablish atmosphere immediately. Warning. Oxygen Level low.

I had not given the hiss from my suit a thought since ejecting from the cargo hold.

"Damnit!" I shouted into the RemLok visor that was already starting to fog up. Time was running out.

Racing against the little clock in the top right corner of my visor, showing 1:30 and rapidly dropping, I grabbed hold of an antenna and pulled myself violently towards the front end of the ship. Somewhere inside the ship, something was spooling up. I felt the minute shift in vibration and for a second before my mind's eye, I saw the ship jumping to hyperspeed with me in tow. That would not be a pretty sight. Not at all.

One minute of life support remaining, COVAS informed me. A split second later the dial read 0:55. The VI had trouble calculating the end-time due to the puncture in my suit. I did some quick calculation and deemed that I had about 25 seconds of life support left and with that in mind I pushed away yet again, aiming for a hatch I had no specific idea where was. Inertia jolted me as the huge sub-light engines fired up and I scrambled, trying to see past the condensation on my visor.

I cursed. Loudly.

Then I saw the airlock and I couldn't help but let out an exasperated breath of relief and fear. Clambering towards it, I knew I had only moments before the HyperDrive would kick in and I would be vaporized by the unknown forces of witch space.
I reached the airlock and yanked the release lever. The tiny plate chunked and slid back, revealing a very small chamber with exactly enough space to accommodate a technician or service-mech and the appropriate equipment. I dragged myself inside, feverishly thumbing the air cycle button to seal myself within. A hiss confirmed the re-pressurization and with a retching gasp I tore off my helmet, the counter flashing
00:00

As I lay gasping the image of Napoleon standing by the open cargo hatch came back to me. An onrush of memories pierced my mind as scores of forgotten sights reemerged in my visual cortex.
I remembered Napoleon's nightly visits, the accusing stare and his face filled with resignation as he silently contemplated me. At the cargo hatch, he had worn a slight smile as if to say "Hey, Commander. It's okay." It had seemed almost as if it was meant to be.
I pushed the idea away and focussed on my current predicament.

I was caught inside a maintenance bay no larger than the early escape pods from 3100 and the ship was entering hyperspace. I turned myself around in the small compartment while struggling to counteract the inertia of the vessel preparing to jump. Outside I caught sight of the Witch Space vortex enveloping the ship. My stomach lurched as the Anaconda crossed the threshold and departed normal space.

I bit back bile and bungled the release lever for the inner hatch.

"Blast!", I exclaimed while attempting a second time. I succeeded and as the ship came out of hyperspace, I tumbled from the opening into a service tube filled with tools and an assortment of EVA-suits. Behind me, the hatch slid shut, sealing me from the empty void outside.

I drew a deep breath, trying to gather my senses. I had come this close to being space dust and had succeeded in an unreal escape from and subsequently breaking back into the ghost ship that now housed only me and a horrible thing - a monster - in human form.
I felt the ship change vectors and had to grasp the inbuilt railing to avoid tumbling head over heels. We were in a hurry, it would seem.
The temperature rose as we passed the main star in this new system. Somewhere the enormous valves of the fuel scoop started slurping the unfathomable metric tons of hydrogen to replenish the depleting fuel tanks and I started making my way out into the main hallways of the ship. I knew I had to be careful. Hopefully, I would still be dead and gone to Leonard, but I knew I couldn't stay hidden for long. I just had to get to engineering. Once there I could shut off life support to the bridge and.. no. Leonard would be wearing a RemLok helmet just like me, and I knew for a fact that the emergency supply of oxygen was at least 25 minutes. More than enough time to reroute the airflow and ruin my advantage. I had to make sure that he could not retaliate from the bridge. He would have to come and find me - and that would even the odds, at least as much as they could considering his... state.

I made my way up to the observation deck. I arrived as we were exiting Witch Space again, a dimly glowing brown dwarf dominating the huge viewfinder frame. I marveled at the uninterrupted vastness of space, the observation deck allowed. But I couldn't get sidetracked.
I made my way to engineering and hunkered down next to a power coupling. I had a few options:

One: I could cut power to the helm and force Leonard to reroute it from either a bridge console or from here in engineering. Timed correctly, I could interrupt him before we steered clear of the next star, forcing the ship's VI to perform an emergency stop. But what would that accomplish?

Two: I could sabotage the ship's Frame Shift Drive, making sure that we didn't go anywhere for a long time - but that would leave me stranded out here regardless of the outcome.

Three: Let Leonard know that he hadn't gotten rid of me and that I was ready to put up a fight.

I tapped into the module system and locked life support with a set duration of 24 hours - the same amount of time an in-depth and complete diagnostic of the system would take. Now we were equally matched and I hoped this would give Leonard serious pause if he considered blowing another airlock. The loss of atmosphere would be too risky all the way out here. Afterwards, I told the system to run a diagnostic of every automated hatch and blast door on the lower decks, taking them out of commission for the same amount of time as the life support system.

Complete reset and reboot. Now we had our arena.

I opened a comlink to the bridge and drew in breath. Time to let the games begin.
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