Author Topic: Chapter 18  (Read 8469 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 18
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:01:42 AM »
Chapter 18

Simon tried to steady his breathing, as he worked out what had happened. Whatever it was had affected the main power lines and the backups at the same time. They were supposed to be separated from each other, so they could cover for a power failure.

His first instinct was to go back and help 'Gent. Without power, the airlocks wouldn't pressurize or depressurize, but they could still be sealed by hand. There would be a dropoff in O2 efficiency, but they could still get in and out of the domes. It was a good thing the air pressure difference between the inside and outside wasn't that big. No, there was nothing he could do to help 'Gent right now. Sealing an airlock was at least a 2-person job, and 'Gent didn't know that they could be done manually. Simon shook his head and ran back towards Harmony. Bez at least did know, and he would help Simon get into the larger dome.

The trick was getting his attention. The power failure had probably already woken up the entire dome, but no one would know that Simon wasn't inside until they did a head count. He ran to the eastern airlock and found the outer door closed. Fervently hoping the inner one was still open, he began pounding on it with his fists. Hopefully someone would hear him, and put two and two together.

It took a few minutes of steady thumping with both fists, but eventually Simon could make out flashlights shining against the inside of the dome above him. Someone had heard him. A little later, and the grinding noise of the outer door slowly opening greeted him. It was hard to tell who was inside, but Simon thought he recognized Bez's blocky shoulders and Tycho's hair color.

"Simon! Are you all right?" It was Bez all right, with Tycho and Torin behind him. "What are you even doing out here?"

"It's a long story," he said briefly, wondering how he would eventually explain it. "I'm fine, but Argent's not. He's stuck in the greenhouse. Could you go and bring him back here? Oh, and is anyone else missing?"

Bez shook his head. "Adam just did a head count. We're all there except the two of you. We don't know about the girls' side though. We haven't heard from them."

Simon grimaced. For all he knew Diana was in trouble! "Did Noah say what was wrong?"

Bez and Tycho shared a concerned glance. "He hasn't said anything at all. Look, we'll go and get Argent. You go inside and talk with Adam. Maybe you can figure out what's going wrong, cuz I sure can't."

Feeling a cold pit in his stomach, Simon nodded, and they went their separate ways. Torin stayed with him and they slowly closed Harmony's outer airlock. Hopefully Argent was ok, but Simon couldn't think of any reason he'd be in trouble right away. Once they were finally inside the dome, Simon could see what Bez had meant. There were at least four caretaker drones in sight, but none of them were moving. Some of the younger boys were clustered around them, poking and prodding. No response.

Feeling sick, he ran to find Adam. He was in the common room with John, talking quietly while Massimo had gathered the other boys around and was trying to keep them calm. Simon walked over to them casually, and Adam gave him a sharp look. "Where were you?"

"Long story," he said quickly. "Argent and I were stuck away from the group. Bez is bringing him back now. What about the girls though? Have you spoken to Sarah or any of the others? They’re probably freaking out by now."

Adam shook his head. "We're not allowed to open the middle door without Noah's permission; you know that. Until he reboots or restores himself or whatever, we have to follow his rules."

"That's the problem," Simon said carefully. He looked around, and then lowered his voice again. "This is more than just a glitch, Adam. Whatever shut down our power also hit Noah himself." He gestured to the caretakers. "The drones need Noah's constant input to function. The only reason they'd all freeze like that, all at the same time, is if there's something wrong with Noah himself!"

Adam's face went a little pale, and he glanced over at John, who looked just as shaken. "You're sure about that? What could have done this, anyway?"

"No idea. If lightning struck one of the transformer stations between the power plant on the mainland and here, it would cause a blackout, but all of the drones have internal power. It wouldn't affect them. Whatever it is, we're on our own for now. Trust me on that."

"Maybe we should open the door, just this once," John put in quietly. "'The Lord helps those who help themselves,' after all. We're all going to have to learn to do without Noah eventually anyway."

"That's not actually in the Bible," Adam reminded him darkly, but then finally nodded.

He stepped over to the wall dividing the dome in two, towards the unassuming door in its center. Though unlocked, opening it had carried such a stigma for so long. Even Simon, who'd gone through it himself in secret, could sense the importance of this moment. Taking a deep breath, Adam opened it and stepped through.

"Adam!" A female voice exclaimed from the other side. Simon followed him, and found Sarah, Patricia, and Abby waiting for them. "Are you all right? We can't get any response from Noah since the power went down. What is going on?"

"We don't know exactly. I just wanted to make sure you were ok."

As Adam reassured them, Simon craned his neck to find Diana. There was no sign of her in the common room, but then most of the girls were probably in their rooms still. "Is anyone hurt?"

Sarah looked aside at him, and then gave him a sympathetic smile. "Diana's fine, Simon. She's with Saal right now, singing a lullaby. Saal gets anxious easily, and especially now."

Simon took a relieved breath. Before he could ask to go see her though, another voice spoke up from behind him. "Adam? Bez is back, with Tycho. They think they know what's wrong with Noah."

-.-

"It's a CME," Tycho said darkly, a few minutes later in one of the classrooms. All of the first class boys were there, clustered around his telescopes. After Adam had convinced Sarah to send some of the girls to take care of the younger boys, he'd gathered them in here for a sort of meeting.

"Ok, and what is that?" He asked impatiently.

"Coronal Mass Ejection. Think of it like the mother of all solar flares," Tycho explained, circling around to his more powerful scope. "About four hours ago, a bunch of sunspots started popping up all over the surface of Siagis. Noah noticed it, and told me. We were watching on this beauty," he tapped the larger scope briefly, "when the power went out. I saw the CME happen. Still can, sort of, through the other one."

At his insistence, Simon leaned in to look through the smaller telescope. There was a black obstruction right in the middle, to keep people from burning their eyes out looking right at Siagis, but around that black circle was a yellow sheen. Stronger in some places than others, and slowly expanding. "That's the Coronal Mass Ejection?"

Tycho nodded. "Basically, Siagis dumped a bunch of its stellar matter into the system, and it's flying out away from the star. Don't worry, it'll miss us by a lot, but one of the side effects of a CME is an electromagnetic pulse. A global one, from the sheer size of this one. Anything electronic, from the smallest drone to our entire power network, would be damaged or destroyed. Only stuff that was off at the time, like these flashlights, would be ok."

Bez took in a deep breath. "So... every single one of Noah's drones were affected? Even the ones in charging pods when it happened?" He paused. "No, wait. He's got a maintenance yard where he does repairs on drones. Those would have been completely off when it happened. So we're not completely screwed. Just mostly."

His language would be surprising any other day, but right now it seemed appropriate. Tycho looked to the side, out of the dome. "The cell samples in those modules should be ok. They're shielded against EM discharges, and they have their own power sources to keep the cell samples cold. I'm more worried about the Hail Mary. There are still at least four modules up there in orbit. An EMP might cause her to fall right out of the sky!"

Simon and Bez shook their heads in unison, and Simon spoke first. "The Mary is EM-shielded too, like some places back on Earth. So is Noah's core drive, up in the mountains. He told us a while back." He glanced at Bez. "The transmitter, you think?"

"Sounds about right," he agreed.

"Someone want to fill me in?" Adam said, his earlier impatience intensifying.

Now it was Bez's turn. "There's nothing wrong with Noah's core drive or mainframe. Most likely, it's the transmitter he uses to control the drones. If the EMP shut that down, he'd be blind and deaf, and unable to do anything. He's all alone right now, and not able to help us. He can't even help himself!"

"Where exactly is this transmitter?"

Bez grimaced. "It's up in the mountains, near his core drive. At least a hundred kilometers away."

The group took a collective breath at that. The trip would take days, at least, and that was assuming Bez and Simon were right! The problem might not even be the transmitter at all.

"All right," Adam said after a moment. "Without any drones, we can't expect food shipments anytime soon. Massimo, Argent, you know our food situation better than anyone. We've got over a hundred people in the dome. How long can we keep them fed, with what we've got right now?"

'Gent and Massimo talked it over for a few seconds in undertone, and then 'Gent looked at the rest grimly. "A week at most. We can ration that, but some of the infants need food that we don't have much of. For them, we'll be out in a few days."

"And the good news just keeps coming," Adam said sourly. "Bez, what about the life support system? Can it function without Noah?"

"Uh, yes and no. It's designed to work only with constant input from him, but I can bypass that and get the scrubbers going on manual. Someone will have to keep an eye on it 25/7, though. Until I can do the changeover, we're shallow breathing."

Meaning the O2 filtration wasn't happening at all right now. Simon and the others had all been taught about the electrolysis system (which definitely needed power), and how it produced their oxygen. Without it, or the filters, they had maybe four hours of air in here. "How long do you need to do the changeover?"

Bez hesitated. "It'll be close," he admitted.

"Then get started," Adam ordered. Bez nodded and rushed out of the room, presumably to the southeast end of the dome where the filters were kept. Taking a deep breath as if hoarding oxygen, Adam turned to Hippo. "If he needs longer than four hours, what can we do to buy him some time?"

Hippo considered for a moment. "Hypoxia's no joke. In about four hours, we'll start getting headaches, and feeling short of breath. Confusion will set in, and some people will probably start thinking that everything is super funny. The best we can do right now is conserve our oxygen. That means getting everyone to bed and hoping they stay asleep as long as possible. The kids especially, because they breathe so fast."

Adam nodded. "I'll tell Sarah as soon as we're done here." He hesitated a moment. "What about drinking water? It hasn't rained in a while, and our desalination process needs power to work."

Massimo spoke up quickly. "That's not a problem for now. Noah has a large tank of fresh water outside the northern greenhouses for irrigation. We can tap into that if we run out of the water in the dome."

"That's something at least," Hippo put in. "Dehydration would only make this much worse. Speaking of the other greenhouses, can we cycle people out to them? To use the air in them to keep people going while Bez works on the life support?"

"No," Adam and Simon said at the same time, and then looked at each other. Adam took another calming breath, apparently. "Without power, every time we open the airlocks, we lose a bunch of oxygen. For now, we should only leave the dome for things that are absolutely necessary."

"Like fixing Noah," John put in sourly.

"Actually I'm more worried about getting the power back on," Adam explained. "Without power, we don't have any electrolysis, which means eventually we'll run out of air no matter what Bez does to the life support system. The solar cells are just on the other side of the strait, right? Just a few hours away on foot. Without the maglev, we'll have to swim, but I've made it farther than that before. Simon, what would it take to get power back on?"

Simon tried to think about what he'd read about EMPs. "I'm not sure exactly. If it was an EMP, it probably blew every fuse in the transformer station just outside the solar cells. If I can replace even one of them, we can get a trickle going again. The more the better, though."

"You mean if "I" can replace one," 'Gent cut in unexpectedly. "No offense man, but you're not the best swimmer. I'll do it myself."

"You... can replace electronics?"

'Gent gave him a wide smile. "Don't look so shocked. Who do you think set up the wiring in my greenhouse? Massimo, back me up here."

"He did, when we reset the door code to keep Noah out. It was pretty impressive," Massimo admitted.

Simon remembered the electrical engineering classes they'd taken together, and that 'Gent had shown more aptitude than most, but it still came as a surprise.

To Adam as well, it seemed from his expression. "All right. Simon, can you help Bez with his work on the air scrubbers?"

Simon shook his head. "Not a chance. Bez has been working on those systems since he was twelve, but they're way beyond me. If I tried to help, I'd just get in his way. We all would."

They all paused right there, as the sky outside got even darker. Abednego was setting now, and it would be a few hours before the others started to rise. 'Gent shook his head. "Even if we can get power back, we're still starving in a week or so, and the infants are dying even sooner than that! We're trying to bail out a sinking ship here. What we need to do is plug the hole itself. We need to get Noah back!"

"How? Even if we can get a few rollers working again, it would take days to get all the way up to his core drive," Adam pointed out.

"Not if we use that," 'Gent pointed out at the shuttle plane outside. "That baby could get us out to Noah in a few hours! No one's used it for days, right? That means it was off when the EMP hit. It should still be able to fly!"

Simon felt a cold hand grip at his insides, as 'Gent turned to face him. "They need to know, man."

"Know what, exactly?" Adam asked, a dangerous tone entering his voice.

"Simon can fly that plane. He's been training with Noah in secret, to become a pilot," 'Gent said proudly, and Simon felt even worse. "He even built a whole simulator in one of the closets near our rooms. I've seen it myself."

The whole group looked at Simon, some with surprise and others with skepticism. "You?" Hippo said just shy of being openly scornful. "Didn't you hurl on the flight down here in the first place?"

"Just after that flight, actually," Simon whispered.

"It's his way of facing his fears," 'Gent went on in that same tone from before. "He can do this, people. Instead of just saving most of us, let's save all of us!"

"It's not that simple, 'Gent!" Simon objected fervently. "I've only been training for a few months. I've never even been behind the controls of a real plane!"

"No time like the present," 'Gent said simply.

Simon felt like his mind was spinning at a thousand kph. He couldn't fly an RC drone, much less a plane! Even if Diana was willing to try to fly it in his place, how was he going to sneak her on board? And even if by some miracle they succeeded, and managed to fix Noah, people would definitely find out that she'd been along for the ride!

"All right," he responded finally. "I'll, uh, check out the plane's electronics and make sure it's fit to fly."

Adam let out an incredulous chuckle. "All right then. I'll ask Sarah to get the kids to bed as soon as possible to conserve oxygen. The rest of you, those who aren't going with Argent on his repair mission, should sleep, too. The more the better."

"Actually, can I be the one to take that message to the girls' side?" Simon put in, thinking quickly. "I want to tell Diana I might not be around for a few days. Or to say goodbye, just in case," he said, not entirely lying on that last bit.

After a moment, Adam gave him a somber nod. Giving him a genuinely grateful smile, Simon rushed out of the room.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:12:04 AM by Daen »