Systerra 6500

Systerra 6500

Chapter 1:

Kip Owens awoke to a cold darkness…. disoriented and groggy. Groaning, he pulled himself forward, grasping each side of the strange angled container he found himself in. It looked almost like a tubular coffin, resting at an angle against the wall. As he pulled himself out and stood on shaking, unsteady legs, Kip’s eyes began to adjust to the soft electronic blue glow of readout lights scattered throughout the chamber. Looking around him, he saw that his container was one of a long row of exactly identical units lining both sides of a long hallway composed of battleship-grey metal. Many of the containers stood empty, their doors raised high overhead, and Kip could see that they contained full-body rests identical to the one he had just exited from. He rubbed his temples with his fingers, trying to remember what this place was, but to no avail. His thoughts were too sluggish and disjointed to come together no matted how hard he strained to try. There were a couple of still-closed “coffins” as he found himself thinking of them, some with pleasantly reasurring green lights glowing in the darkness, and others with much more ominous amber and red lights flashing. As much as he could tell, he seemed to be wearing a comfortable blue jumpsuit with some sort of Identification cards attached to the pocket. In the dim light of the corridor, no details on the cards themselves could be seen. Softly glowing arrows marked on the floor indicated that the correct path to take was to the left. The air felt cold and stale, and left a metallic processed aftertaste in his mouth.

“I need to look around this room” Kip thought through the dull pain of a waking headache,“and see if I can find anything that might tell me what’s going on here. I might even be able to scrounge up something useful.” Intuitively, he knew that something disastrous must have happened. Why else would he find himself, alone, in such a strange place? Had he been kidnapped? Experimented on? He shuddered like a man in a freezing winter wind for a second, chilled at the thought of the possibilities. But with an effort, he steeled himself to the task at hand.

The floor of the hallway felt cold to his exploratory touch. It was appearantly a section of metallic grating. As he peered about the room, Kip could make out glowing readings on the screens about him that indicated time, date, and various readings of the vital signs of the occupants of the tubes. A prominent manufacturing sticker boldly displayed the maker of the equipment was a company called “Cryodyne Systems” and the machinery was the property of the United Stated Department of Civil Defense. Again Kip winced; was that actually a real governmental agency? It sounded plausible but unfamiliar. Then, with a shock he took a double-take at the date: it read October 1, 2055. “How could that be right”, he wondered. “It’s 2010ish, isn’t it?”

There felt to be some accumulation of rough gravel in places underfoot that scraped against the metal surface of the grate based on the touch of his fingers and the crunch beneath his feet. Other than the chamber he previously slept in, there appeared to be only two other occupied coffins with blinking green indicators. “Great!” Kip thought,“Maybe someone in one of these things can tell me what the heck is going on.” But after a few hurried moments of examining the darkened exteriors of the stasis pods, he felt a shadow of hesitation overcome his thoughts. “No, it’s to early to do that yet,” he reasoned.“This place may not be safe at all. They’ve been in here for some time, it appears. they’d probably be safer and more protected if I left them be until I make sure that releasing them isn’t endangering them more.” He scratched his chin through the scruff of his beard. On a hunch, he reached out and knocked on the outside of one of the tubes with his bare knuckes, like tapping on an aquarium, but the peaceful rest of the figure within the frosted interior remains undisturbed.

Trying to move quietly and staying to the heavily shadowed side of the hallway, Kip slowly crept down the corridor in the direction indicated by the glowing arrows underfoot. He carefully peered into the deep blackness on either side of the passageway between each of the tube pairs, a nameless anxiety of the unknown keeping his progress slow until he was assured that each step of the way was not an immediate threat. The passageway, he noticed, was at a noticible incline upwards to the left in the direction he was travelling, perhaps 20 degrees or so by his estimation, and after a distance of about 50 feet appeared to stop at a 90 degree turn to the right. Nothing felt familiar about this environment at all. He had no tingle of recognition of any of his surroundings, and he realized that the entire scene seemed completely new to his senses. As he neared the turn in the passage, Kip noticed a sharp smell of burned electronics mixed with the scent of something more foul and rancid, like old meat gone to spoil.

With a tangible feeling of dread, Kip peeked around the corner and could see the form of a shadowy figure slumped just down a straight passage to the right. The figure was wearing what seemed to be a blue jumpsuit matching Kip’s own. The form was seated with its legs splayed across the passage, its arms hung limply at its sides. Its head was bowed, with its chin on its chest. A fresh gust of wind blew a strong concentration of that smell of decay directly toward Kip down the passage, causing him to wrinkle his nose in disgust. He could hear hear nothing save the sound of the passing breeze and the gentle beeps of the diagnostic equipment around him. There was no doubt in Kip’s mind that the unfortunate soul was very dead indeed, both from the positioning of the body and from the putrid smell. That confirmed his mental reservations on hesitating to revive any of the others. Something had to have killed this guy. But what? He could still smell the strong odor of burned electronics, had the poor sap electrocuted himself? Until he knew for sure, he needed something, anything, with which to defend himself. A pipe, a broomstick, anything at all at hand.

Kip scanned his immediate surroundings. He could make out some faded yellowed papers hanging on the wall in tatters, fluttering in the breeze. They appeared in the dim light to be official documents or permits of some sort, but he could not make out the details of their texts. And no potential weapons could be seen. He needed more information! Kip wondered at the dark overhead lights, and was curious as to why they were not functioning. Were they broken, or simply without power? Moving closer to one of the glowing readouts, Kip used its light to inspect the collection of badges hanging from a magnetic clip attached to the pocket of his shirt. The topmost badge was encased in hard clear plastic and displayed a small portrait of him on the left side of its surface, as well as an image of what appeared to be Kip’s thumbprint, and identified him as a civilian contractor. The top of the badge read “Civil Defense – Cryodyne Corporation” and the reverse side had a magnetic strip across its lower portion. Beneath that topmost badge was a bright yellow plastic card that also contained a magnetic strip. It read “Security Authorization: Technical Maintenence Grade C”. Hovering closely against the wall to utilize the minimal lighting, Kip also noticed a locked panel on the wall. In fact, it appeard to be one of an array of personal lockers of some kind organized all along the surface of the left side of the corridor. About 25 feet down the hall, directly opposite the crooked legs of the unfortunate figure, he could see the entrance to another passage to the left, continuing up. Much farther down past the body and the remainder of the row of lockers, Kip believed he could make out in the dimness that the corridor turned back to the right.

He began to feel his way down the lockers, and found them to be either locked or empty as he worked his way down the half of the hallway towards the figure. As he progressed, Kip began to make out a numbering system on the locker doors. In a flash of insight, he remembered seeing the designation D-13 on the back corner of his ID card. After finding the appropriate locker and swiping the card through the magnetic reader, Kip was satisfied to hear an audible click and the small door popped open. Inside he found his familar wallet and a small personal toolkit he used for his work on electronic equipment. This close to the corpse, however, he was able to see a hideous round burned scorch mark in the center of the unfortunate soul’s jumpsuit at chest level. The flesh was dessicated and old, drawn tight over the bones beneath, and wisps of black hair clung tightly to his skull. Whatever identification cards that may have hung from his pocket were a melted mass of fused plastic. From around the nearby corner to the left, Kip could hear a rythmic sound… like a repeated swoosh! thump! swoosh! thump! Farther down the row of lockers past the corpse and straight ahead of him, Kip could see that the corridor did indeed turn back to the right.

Still trying to get a feel for his surroundings and the potential threats contained therein, Kip crept up to the left corridor branch and peered around the corner. He could see what appeared to be a dirty plexiglass door just down the hallway, sliding across the hallway with a swoosh! then thumping into some rocks that look to have been placed to keep the door from reclosing tightly. Upon striking the rocks the door reopened, then tried again to close, over and over again . Perhaps someone left through the hatch, but was afraid of not being able to return inside the facility if the door closed so they blocked the door from fully closing, Kip mused. Beyond the doorway was a large grey metal hatchway, and what appeared to be a tunnel leading upwards at that same gentle angle through what appeared to be a whitish stone (perhaps limestone?) The floor was covered in small pebbles and leaves that had appearantly blown in from outside down the tunnel, but after lightly kicking a few piles Kip gathered that anything of interest here was probably picked over and scavenged long ago by those that passed here before him. Only after he got a little closer to the clear surface of the plexiglass could he make the word “DANGER” scrawled in a dark liquid (perhaps blood, he shudders) beneath the accumulated dust coating the portal. Kip tried to see beyond the airlock door, but could only make out so far as the interior of the tunnel outside and the weak sunlight filtering down from above. The tunnel itself looked barren and deserted. The airlock door had no visible manual handholds on either side of its surface. “Surely there must be a control mechanism here nearby somewhere,” Kip thought, examining the nearby walls.

About half way up the left corridor wall, Kip spied an alphanumeric keypad with a small cracked readout that read, simply: “Enter Command:”. There appeared to be a magnetic strip reader just below the pad, but it looked to be covered in some sort of corrosion, possibly blood, but Kip was not completely certain. Glancing at the cycling motion of the doorway, Kip thought, " My only point in trying this is that I would like to close the door securely, so I dont have any univited guests while I’m looking around." Unconsciously holding his breath, he slid his card through the magnetic reader below the pad. It was hard to tell if his attempt was successful as the door still continued its rhythmical thumping, but a small green light did briefly flash next to the keypad and the readout changed to “Access Granted”. Reassured, Kip stepped forward and bent to remove the obstructing rock from the path of the doorway. As he moved the stone, the door slid shut securely, and Kip could feel his ears pop as the interior was repressurized. Now to further explore the facility he found himself in.

Kip turned back down the corridor and continued around the short segment to the sharp right-hand turn. He carefully peered around the corner to scout ahead as unobtrusively as possible. The lights down that hallway were flickering, but as he scanned down the corridor Kip realized he was seeing a mirror image of the room he had originated from. A row of the blue coffins stood on either side, some open, some not. Kip gathered that this was some form of stasis project, but why he was involved or included he had no idea. “At least some power source here seems to still be functioning, if only partially.” Kip mused, “based on the flickering lights overhead here.” Kip examined the area, trying to get a feel of the logic behind the design, asking himself how can fix the shorting system, and get power to normal levels? From the general feel he gets for the layout, Kip surmised that this must be an external entry and exit point, so any command, control, or power sources would most likely be found further down in the bowels of the facility. Then he had a most umpleasant thought. What if, like him, the poor corpse had awoken and perhaps went out to survey the surroundings, but unlike Kip they met a most untimely and painful demise? Kip mentally fortified his resolve. That fate was not going to be the one awaiting him.

Kip moved slowly forward between the rows of coffin-shaped cryochambers, and searched as he went for anything he could helpfully use; whether as a club, or crude spear or light source. Just to the left of the entrance to the chamber, he spied what appeared to be a maintenance doorway, half obscured by the shadows. In the darkness, he must have missed its mate in the original tunnel. A quick inspection revealed another of the seemingly commonplace magnetic readers, and while a swipe of his ID card had no effect, swiping the yellow card resulted in an audible click and the door swung open to reveal a closet-type storage room about 8 feet square. In addition to a wide selection of replacement electronic components, there were also a few of the large pneumatic replacement pistons used to lift the doors of the cryochambers. One of the pistons was about baseball bat sized and would make an excellent club.

Kip picked it up and gave it a few test swings, getting a feel for its weight and balance. But the darkness of the surroundings left him uneasy. He began to search through the stored supplies and equipment around him, searching for active portable power sources like batteries and any type of flashlights or other illumination. His search was rewarded when he stumbled across a container drawer containing a stockpile of LEDs of red, green, amber, and white colorations, but found no batteries during his search. Storing a mixed handful of LEDs in his personal toolkit, Kip continued his search for an appropriate cylinder shape to use as the casing for a makeshift flashlight. He saw some plastic PVC conduit in 5’ segments that could work stacked against the wall, but he would have to find something to cut it with. He also found 2 spools of medium gauge wire. Kip knew he had a pair of wirecutters in his toolkit, so cutting the wire to the size he needed would not be a problem. He had hoped to find a bag or pack around to help him carry some of the components he might need, but saw none. The closest thing he found was a stack of folded plastic sheets in Sterilite containers. He quickly took inventory of his current supplies: plastic sheet used as knapsack, 5 red led’s, 5 blue leds, 5 amber leds, 20 white leds, PCV piping, 1 spool of wire, and an electronics tool kit containing both a battery operated and a plug-in soldering iron, an exacto-blade, and a pair of needle-nosed pliers with a wirecutter. The portable soldering iron still contained batteries, but if they still had a charge it seemed to be almost completely depleted. Looking closely, Kip spied a single covered outlet against one wall. Upon plugging in the AC soldering iron, he found with a rush of relief that it the outlet still had power.

Kip contemplated the components at hand. “Hmm…. I should be able to melt a piece of conduit off and open the section up on one side for the flashlight casing,” he thought. “I could also use the plastic drippings from melting the conduit as glue to hold my LEDs in place. It seems I have all I need, so what kind of chance do you think i have to Macguyver a flashlight here?” he chuckled. With a deep breath, he began. It took him a few minutes, but carefully trying to compensate for the low light and his weak shaking hands Kip was able to jury rig a working light from the components on hand. The weak batteries from the soldering iron still had enough power to light the LEDS, at least for a time.

Satisfied with the end result of his labor, Kip readied himself to continue his exploration further down the corridor. He finds he was most wise to take the time to construct a flashlight, in that as the corridor ends at a turn to the right there is no illumination at all. He carefully peered around the corner to the right, finding that while the rear hallway contained lockers, this one contained an array of switches and screens that are dark and appeared to have been burned by and electrical fire at some point. There was a hallway to the left that appeared to stop in an imposing looking security door, and another that headed straight on then turned to the right, presumably reconnecting with the original hall of coffins. A flicker of light briefly drew Kip’s attention on one of the lower screens as a monitor briefly flashed, trying to come to life. With a bit of tweaking was able to stabilize the image. It appeared to be a satellite map showing a large excavation of some sort, with coordinates reading “Latitude:30.043218 Longitude:-82.728687 Current Depth: -100.23 feet/surface”.

“That must be the location of wherever this facility is located,” Kip reasoned. “I wish it gave me more of a layout or diagram of the base layout. As things are, first things first. I need to find a way secure more power. Surely there is some kind of power grid I can access or repair. Second, I’m going to need some edible food and drinkable water. third, I’m going to need some portable supplies and a bag or backpack to carry them in.”

Glancing around at his immediate surroundings, thinking perhaps there might be a security desk nearby that would allow him remote access to a security camera network, Kip was disappointed to find none functioning. It looked as though that while there was a bank of monitors mounted like silent grey eyes, a fire or power surge had shorted out all but a single screen labeled “command room”. Several designated as security views of other areas were dark and blank. Kip squinted his eyes to get a better view of the hazy image on the single working screen. He could make out a brightly lit room full of consoles and electrical equipment. The image, so far as he could tell, was of the room just behind where he stood. A small half-smile curled the edges of his mouth. “That’s the room for me. Just got to find a way inside.”

By the glow of his cobbled flashlight, Kip could make out a small screen above a pair of magnetic card readers mounted on the imposing battleship grey exterior of the security door. Having had success in the past with his cards (and reminding himself that as a valuable asset he needed to keep those safe) Kip tried them out in the pair of readers. After a few swipes, the display on the readout changed to: “Welcome, Senior Consultant Owens. Please place your thumb on the print scanner to your right for identity verification -—→”. Kip glanced down, and noticed that the topmost reader did have an additional extension that could have concievably been a thumbprint scanner under an impressive accumulation of grime. Swiping at the coating of dust and corrosion, Kip cleared away the accumulation of who knew how many years of dirt and proceeded to slide his thumb over the scanner lens. He was rewarded with:

“Scanning… Identity confirmed!”

More amber colored words scroll down the readout:

“Menu Options:
1) Access Communications
2) Systems Status
3) Security Status
4) Remote Assistance”

Kip briefly considered the age old programmer joke, “Just hit control, alt, delete then type in the command format c:”. It brought a small chuckle, lessening the horrible tension he felt in the unfamiliar surroundings, if only a bit. Kip selected “Systems Status”. Glancing over the next panel of options, he found himself intrigued by what he saw. “REACTOR STATUS? There’s a reactor in this place? I sure hope it’s in better condition that some of the other stuff I’ve seen around here.” He found his finger selecting the choice for Reactor Diagnostics.

Fission Reactor 1: Control Rods inserted 100%

1: Fuel remaining – 73%
2: Coolant Temperature – 100 degrees Celsius and holding
3: External Coolant Intake Port Status: Error – Water source absent
- Proposed solution: Please submerge and/or remove obstruction from intake
4: Radiation Sheilding Status: Intact – External Sensor 4 offline

Fission Reactor 2: Control Rods inserted 100%
1: Fuel remaining – 69%
2: Coolant Temperature – 100 degrees Celsius and holding
3: External Coolant Intake Port Status: Error – Water source absent
- Proposed solution: Please submerge and/or remove obstruction from intake
4: Radiation Sheilding Status: Intact – External Sensor 2 offline

“That doesn’t sound good,” Kip sighed, scrolling down. “I wonder if the two reactors coolant systems were interconnected?” It turned out, they were components of one huge circuating system, which shared the same large collective coolant pool located beneath the engines to the front of the control room.

WAITAMINUTE!

ENGINES?

“What does that mean?” Kip was incredulous. “This whole place MOVES? I’m in some kind of ship or vehicle? What in the world is going on here?” From what he could tell, the coolant room and cores thenselves were sheilded from the control room and engines. There did not appear to be any additional sheilding mechanism in the design that Kip could employ, but from what he could tell it did appear that so long as this data was accurate (given the fact that some of the sensors appeared to be offline) the command center and engine room should have both still been sheilded from the radiation of the cores, at least until the remaining coolant in the pool was exhausted. The coolant appeared to have been renewed from an external source previously. Perhaps at some point the vehicle had been submerged in a body of water that had since dried up or been diverted – but in any case, the coolant supply must have become critical, and Kip surmised that the onboard computers began waking the sleepers prior to a critical meltdown point. Given the current status, that point did not seem to be more than days away, pehaps a few weeks at most, unless the coolant source was restored.

“Hmm. What I was thinking is that there must be a way to replace the rods. So I thought maybe it might have some mechanisam for the arms to put them into the nuclear pile to stop the reactions all together. But wait, the readouts show the rods are already inserted, so that won’t work. What I would like to do is completely stop the reaction in Reactor 1, and transfer all the coolent it contains into Reactor 2. That might give us enough coolent to get power going partially, maybe not anything else. At least give us enough juice to make everyting functional in here for a bit.”

Kip scanned back over the other options listed. "Huh. What is “Remote Assistance”? Let look at that." Kip pressed the selection for remote assistance. For a time the display changed to:

Searching for Network….

and after a time it read

Network not available – host position 10.6 km SW of current position.

Host Distress Beacon Acitve – Receiving

Kip found himself whirling in thoughts. "Unfortunately the two reactors share a communal pool of water. Apperantly the designers believed that having an external constant source of fresh coolant would be sufficient in a crisis. In dire straights, there are most likely explosive non-removable control rods that can be fired into the core to “kill” the cores, rather than rely on the ones that are moveable. Such a command would most likely be completed from the control room. In addition, from the previous readouts I’ve seen there are still other living people in some of these cryochambers. I don’t know the extent of the damage to the life support systems in this joint. If I kill the cores to prevent a meltdown and the battery power runs out with no failsafe mechanism to release the other sleepers, they would most probably perish."

He next selected the “Security” option from the menu on the screen. “Maybe someone has a few guns on hand somewhere around here. It’d sure be nice to have a longer ranged weapon than the length of my arm.” A floating diagram of the facility appeared on the screen, rotating in a three-dimensional format. Kip manipulated the image, searching and found a section designated “Security Control Room”, and a separate section marked “Armory” facing each other across the very center of the rows of cryochambers on Level 2. He looked around quickly, but found no printer nearby with which to print out a hardcopy of the map.

Kip decided to use this area as a temporary stash point for his gear. Its close proximity to the control room, and access to this diagnostic information, would be helpful if he were stranded here for any length of time. He set down his gear, keeping only the flashlight and his makeshift club, just in case.

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