Lights and Shadows Update #2

Resurrecting an old project after not doing anything with it for a while is not an easy task. You have to go back through old material, read closely, see if it still matches your original project vision, and then make changes to bring it all into line. The bright side of this is that the story you continue with is often better than the one you originally put aside.

After taking the past few days to go through it, I’ve finally gotten caught up with my L&S reading and am ready to move the story forward. So, on that note here is an excerpt from a little farther along in the story. Enjoy:

Moreau slid down his helmet’s reflective shield as he stepped outside the outpost building. Visibility was next to zero and he cursed every step as he trudged through blowing sand that threatened to sandblast the outer layers of his environmental suit and his helmet lights did little pierce the darkness. The personnel carrier was right where they had left it, the vehicle still listing to the broken side and partially obscured by a sand drift. The helmet’s Head’s Up Display went a long way toward his navigating to the vehicle. He drew up to the vehicle and cleared away a panel on the underside. After fumbling around inside it for a few minutes, his hand touched a series of buttons marked with braille for easy identification and a new display screen appeared on his HUD. The diagnostic display didn’t fill him with hope.

“Finch, you read me?”

“Five by Five, Moreau,” Finch said. “How’s it looking?”

“Not good,” Moreau said. “I might be able to jury-rig something that will get her moving, but she covered in sand. The Bad Weather Sequence is online, but I have no idea how bad it’s going to look under there.”

“It’s going to take a few seconds for the polarity generators to come online but when they do, you should be able to turn on the auto jack and get a better look at the damage.”

Moreau watched as the sand drift began to fall away from the vehicle. I don’t like this. I’m not a mechanic.” He rubbed his arms. “I can feel this crap through my suit.” He crouched and used his gloved hands to scoop away mounds of sand from the undercarriage. “This is a real mess.” When he had cleared a tunnel, he got down on the ground and stuck an arm underneath. “I can’t see the auto jack.”

“It’s tucked away in a slight bulge just aft of the backup polarity controls. You’ll find it by feeling around for two raised bumps. Press them at the same time and it should lower almost immediately.”

“This is crazy.”

“You’ll be fine.”

Moreau grunted as he felt around. When his fingers came across the indicated bumps, he gave them a press. He felt the vehicle shake as a flat plate lowered itself to the ground. “Why would the controls for these things be out here instead of inside the cabin? Doesn’t make any sense to me.” When the gap increased, he stuck his head underneath and shined his lights around. “Uh oh.”

“Did you find the axle damage? How bad is it?”

He tilted his head, running the lights from the wheel wells to the gearboxes. “The Good News is that Axles Two and Three aren’t broken so repairs won’t be much of a headache.”

“I sense a but coming.”

Moreau nodded. “The Bad News is that the linkage module that connects them to the gearbox is missing.” He said. “It looks like something just ripped them out. I think Horace the Hologram was here.” He pulled himself from underneath the carrier. “Anything you need me to bring in?”

“We’re going to need the camping gear and the portable security equipment.” She said. “I’m having trouble getting the internal biometrics back online. You may want to grab a couple cases of the emergency rations. No telling how long we’re going to be here. As soon as I get biometrics working again, I’ll work on the security scanners so we can start looking for that part.” She paused. “Why would the hologram disable our vehicle? It makes more sense to drive us away than to make sure we’re stuck here.”

Moreau grunted as he hit the carrier’s ramp release. “There’s a lot that we still don’t know at this point and we need backup in the worst way. What about Communications?”

“That’s going to take some time,” Finch replied. “The main array’s offline and the Machinery Room’s blocked off due to Lockdown Partitions on each compartment. I’m working on releasing them, but the Computer Core’s taken a lot of damage. There’s a backup hardline communications system what was installed when the outpost first went online, but it hasn’t been used in years.”

“I doubt that anyone’s used it since the satellites were put in orbit. Do what you can do with it. I’m on my way back with our stuff.” Moreau said as he entered the carrier and collected the needed supplies. He stacked them on a small anti-gravity sled and towed them back inside the outpost.

She’s been busy, he thought as he hung up his suit and entered a reception room elevator. The overhead lighting still flickered in places, but a working elevator system meant not lugging bulky crates down the emergency shaft.

When the doors reopened, he was surprised to see the wall monitor displaying crisp interior and exterior views on split screens and a number of workstations glowing with power and activity. He tucked the anti-gravity sled in an out of the way corner. “I see you’ve been busy.”

Finch smiled as she raised a magnifier from her eyes. “It took some parts swapping, but I managed to cobble together enough to get the primary systems online.” She pointed to the Commander’s alcove. “I’ve tied in the systems to feed everything through the Commander and First Officer’s stations.”

Moreau walked up to the Commander’s console and sat down in front of the terminal. He smiled as he pulled up a red and green status display. “You did good. Now we can finally get a clear picture of what we’re dealing with instead of things jumping out at us from the shadows.” He studied the display quietly for several minutes. “The station logs stop about two weeks ago. That means the Autolog’s was taken offline.”

“Autolog?”

“Alliance regulations require that every installation and ship keep an automated recording system in case of disaster or mishap. Outpost 19’s system has been turned off.”

“Maybe they wanted to keep what they’re doing off the books.”

Moreau studied the readouts some more. “It doesn’t make much sense since it totally isolates them from the outside world.” He scratched his chin. “No official record of station activity after two weeks and then the station is put into Lockdown. That makes me think Alliance Intelligence Op.”

“Well, the outpost was doing classified research for the Alliance,” Finch said, settling in at the First Officer’s station across from him in the alcove. “There would be a degree of redaction needed.”

Moreau frowned. “Some, yes, but not every record for the entire period.” He turned away and rubbed his eyes. “Man, I am tired. Any luck cracking that encrypted data?”

Finch shook her head. “Damned adaptive ciphers are giving me fits. Just when I think I have the key, the code modifies itself and I have to start over. It’s almost like it’s alive.” She typed in a command on her keyboard. “I sent you the Commander’s personal files.”

Moreau opened the files and began reading. “God, this is some dry reading.” He looked over at the corpse. “You really lived for your work, didn’t you?”

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