Continued from Part IV. Start from Part I here.
I gingerly made my way out of the control room, winding my way through the maze of hallways as I took my roundabout approach towards the power core. As with most ships, the power core was located towards the rear, where it would be close to the engines for easier conduit access, and further away from the living quarters in case of meltdown. Unfortunately, as the control room was at the bow of the ship, this meant that I had plenty of distance to cover.
As I hurried along, keeping my eyes peeled for potential dangers, I made sure to glance into each room that I passed. I was moving through the crew’s quarters, and normally these halls would be filled with bustling activity. My men should be running about, each with his own task to accomplish. Restocking, cleaning, checking levels for various internal systems within the ship – these were all vital jobs. But the rooms were deserted. I didn’t even see any bodies. The rooms looked neat, undisturbed, and spookily vacant.
At the end of this corridor, I reached a set of blast doors, pausing and gathering my wits. This was the access point to one of the larger cargo holds. The doors had sealed, but instrument readings claimed that the other side hadn’t suffered a breach and was still accessible. I had the override code.
I felt that nasty little sliver of doubt rearing its head inside my brain. Were the sensors malfunctioning? Was I going to open this door, only to be sucked out into the void of space? Was that what had happened to my previous iterations, forcing repeated reboots?
As I stood there, my finger poised over the access terminal, I glanced down, and noticed that there was some dirt on the floor of the hallway. For a moment I felt irritated, making a mental note to chastise whomever was on cleaning duty. A moment later, however, the significance of this hit me.
Reaching down, I ran a finger through the dirt, noting how it loosely stuck to my finger. There couldn’t be vacuum on the other side of this door, or the dirt would have been sucked away! Feeling more confident, I straightened up and keyed in the code on the access panel.
The door slid open with the slight whoosh of compressed air, and there was no sucking void on the other side. I let out the breath that I didn’t know I had been holding, and made my way inside.
There may still have been atmosphere inside the cargo hold, but the lights had gone out, and I carefully picked my way through the large stacks of crates in near-darkness. I briefly considered turning around and looking for a handheld torch to light the way, but I had been through this cargo hold many times before, and was able to see just enough in the dim near-darkness to avoid any collisions. In a few minutes, I had made it to the other side, poised to key in the code to open the blast door on the far side.
I raised my finger to the pad, feeling out the keys, but then paused. As I had slid my hand over the frame of the blast door, searching for the keypad in the darkness, I had felt something else, slight grooves in the frame. A moment later, my fingers found them again. The grooves were very shallow, no more than scratches, but there were four of them, and I realized, with a thrill of horror, that they aligned perfectly with my fingers.
I pulled my hand away from the keypad as though it was burning hot. In my head, I could see myself being sucked through the doorway as the blast doors slid aside, scrabbling uselessly at the side of the door to try and hold on as I was pulled out into the unforgiving void of space.
Sucking in a deep breath, I took a step back, away from the door and the void that must have waited on the other side. This must have gotten at least a couple of those reboots; those grooves were too deep to have been left by only a single person. I shuddered as I thought about that last minute of realization when, as they were being pulled out, the previous copies of myself must have felt the grooves and realized that this had happened to them before.
As my heart rate returned to some semblance of normal, however, I began taking stock of the situation once again. The power core was still severely damaged on the ship, and this meant that there was no way to access it for repairs.
I was, well and truly, stranded.