Chapter 19: Phaon


"Thanks, Bug," Joe nodded, accepting his restored rifle back from the alien.
"Scouting party to Thorn, we read you. What is your situation? Over."
While Jessine examined the computer terminal in the room, Thorn answered Raymont's query over the comlink, glad to hear that he was still alive.
"Dunno... we're... gathered, and Jessine is here... There are some more revived people around, and I think they think we're the enemy too! Let me get Joe to explain, I wasn't there..." Thorn handed the mike over to Grange. "Joe, don't blow our plans on the air please..."
"Don't worry," he replied. "I know what to say that will get them over here."
Putting on his own comlink, he spoke into the mike, "Hey guys, glad to hear from you at last. I can't talk too long but I just wanted to say that it's too bad you guys are missing out on all the fun. I've got two lonely ladies here and being the only man, handsome man that is, in kilometers, they can't keep their hands off me. We're having quite a party. Sorry you're missing it. By the way, we managed to revive Lord Rabastus. No doubt, once he's done fighting that combot that ambushed us, we'll be able to link up with him and find out what his plans with us are. Grange out."
"How was that?" he asked, turning to Thorn.
She scowled back at him. "Very funny, Grange. Very funny."
After examining the computer terminal in the room, which Thorn had pointed out, Jessine found that Thorn's previous words were quite true. The computer seemed to offer access only to those who knew the proper entry codes and that included no one in the party.
"Well, that's a dead end," Jessine commented. "I was hoping to call up a schematic of the ship."
"Raymont was able to scope out some of the layout when he was linked into the ship's circuitry via that computer he found," Thorn told her. "From what he said, the ship's been pretty badly damaged. Only the interior portions are intact for the most part."
"What now?" Joe asked dryly.
"Well, how about we continue with my plan for laying a trap, unless any of you have any better ideas?"
Joe looked up. "Well, we could engage in a little bit of wild passionate sex. I know you ladies must be going crazy by now having to control yourselves around me. So, since we're in such dire straits and I'm the last man you might see in our soon to be brief lives, feel free to give in to your passions." Joe smiled and slicked his hair back.
Thorn and Jessine looked at each other.
"As I was saying," Jessine continued, glaring at Joe, "if one of you could scare up some explosives, Bug here is a whiz at rigging spare circuitry. Could you come up with some sort of timer?" she asked Bug.
"Of course," Bug said as if offended.
"Well, I could find some explosives I think," Joe offered, assuming a more serious tone. "There was a munitions locker towards the direction of the cryochamber."
"Good," Jessine decided. "Maybe you could go and cover him," she suggested to Thorn.
"As long as he doesn't make any suggestions about sex," Thorn scowled.
"It was just an idea," Joe shrugged.

"Are you done yet!?" Thorn hissed, anxiously looking down the passageway. Monitoring her scanner, she could see that it had detected movement at the far range, though it's tracking ability was severely attenuated due to the amount of plasteel wreckage it had to scan through.
"Almost," Joe called back, propping his ill fitting helmet back up. Turning back to Jessine, he commented, "I think you'd better hurry. Thorn's got movement on her scanner and it's coming this way."
"I'm hurrying!" Jessine protested. She in turn looked at Bug. "Are you done with the triggering device yet?"
The diminutive alien moved all of hands in several directions, its compound eyes giving no hint as to what it might have felt as it worked.
"Done," was all it said.
"How does it trigger?" Joe asked, gazing with appreciation at Bug's unintelligible handywork.
"After a forty five second delay, it will trigger on movement of mass."
"Micro-changes in air density?" Joe asked.
"Why yes," Bug seemed surprised. "How did you know?"
"It just came to me," Joe replied.

They waited for what seemed only a few minutes before the tilted deckplates underneath them shuddered. Bits of plasteel dust and charred air wafted down the corridor to greet them. Thorn, monitoring her scanner had the following announcement.
"I still detect life signs, but they're weaker."
"Let's go!" Jessine barked and rushed out before anyone could answer. Joe and Thorn looked at each other and shrugged, and then followed Jessine as she danced over the spilled wiring and broken walls of the branch corridor they had holed up in. Bug, of course, was well to the rear.
As they came back to the corridor in which they had laid their trap, checking to see what they might have caught - or killed, they found that their explosion had collapsed the deck above them onto their level in a mass of destruction.
"So much for Bug's estimate of explosives?" Jessine huffed.
"Well, to be fair, it did say that it wasn't an explosives expert", Thorn offered in way of an apology.
"Hey ladies," Joe called back out to them, "Look at what we've caught."
All of them rushed forward to see what Joe had referred to. Laying very much alive, but pinned under a bulkhead, was the armoured personage of Margrave Rabastus, his Battledress scarred either from his battle with the ComBot or from the explosion.
"!" they managed to make out through the static that issued from the Margrave's helmet.

"Scouting party to Thorn, we read you. What is your situation? Over."
There was a click and Thorn's voice returned.
"Dunno... we're... gathered, and Jessine is here... There are some more revived people around, and I think they think we're the enemy too! After a pause, there was another click and a voice sounding very much like Joe Grange's could be heard.
"Hey guys, glad to hear from you at last. I can't talk too long but I just wanted to say that it's too bad you guys are missing out on all the fun. I've got two lonely ladies here and being the only man, handsome man that is, in kilometers, they can't keep their hands off me. We're having quite a party. Sorry you're missing it. By the way, we managed to revive Lord Rabastus. No doubt, once he's done fighting that combot that ambushed us, we'll be able to link up with him and find out what his plans with us are. Grange out."
Leon cocked an eyebrow. "What do you make of that?"
"He's lying," Solo retorted. "At least, I hope he's lying."
"I was talking about that Lord Rabastus," Leon told him.
"Oh, yea," Solo nodded. "I knew that."
"Sounds like they might've revived one of the ship's officers out of that cryo-chamber," Raymont added. "And it sounds like they were jumped by a combot, but if that's Joe talking, then they must've got away."
"I mean, he's not really their type, do ya think?" Solo asked, scratching his growing beard with his one hand.
Leon got up and walked back to peer into the next room, commenting, "If this was someone important's quarters then maybe their com station might be able to stop the self destruct. What's more if the person who set the self destruct was here" Leon said pointing to the decomposing corpse on the floor, "then he may have set the self destruct from here which is another reason why we might be able to shut it off from here."
Leon looked at his chronometer, noting that they had little more than two and a half days until the wreck's reactors exploded.
"We can probably come back here after rescuing the others. If we can't shut down the self destruct from here, then we could hopefully find the bridge, from where we stand the best chance of shutting down the auto-destruct." Leon said as he checked his weapons, ready to venture back into the corridors, looking for the rest of the party.
Solo shook his head wearily. "Brother Antheus set the self-destruct from engineering himself. He made a point of saying he took a lethal dose of radiation when setting it. I don't know about you guys, but the only play I know of right now to get a lethal dose of radiation is in engineering. He also said he didn't have the 'command' rank to shut off the droids ... but I got the impression he was able to 'enable them' instead of activating them. As if he hacked his way into the command codes. As for the ability to stop the self-destruct, I think that may have been a hack, too. There was one little program I found in his console. Maybe you can do something with it. All it asked for was a time."
"Why didn't Antheus make use of the med-unit? Raymont asked, "If he had taken a lethal dose."
"I don't know," Solo shrugged. "Probably thought he had blasphemed in some way and the silly bugger wanted a way out. Who knows."
"Well, I can certainly confirm that it is possible to take a lethal dose
of radiation in engineering," Raymont said. Turning once more to the enigmatic console, Raymont used the keypad to enter in "Genesis."
Nothing happened.
"Well, that did a lot of good. It turns out -I- have the Ono-Sendai computer link, and if neither of you wants to wear it I will. I feel compelled to mentioned that it fried my brain last time, 'cuz I had no idea how to use it. I might be able to do better, but I might turn into a puddle of goo again."
Raymont added, "And I'm of the opinion that we should take advantage of our newly recovered health and go find our companions, who at last report were under attack by a rather nasty combot. And who knows what this Lord Rabastus has planned in store."

x.p. Jessine - 10,873, Joe - 5358, Leon - 15, Raymont - 155, Solo - 15, Thorn - 5343

I want to try three different times on the machine. The first is the current shipboard time, as determined from the nearest convenient source. The second is five minutes previous, the third one minute hence. If it subsequently requests a location, current location is fine.

Raymont, having nothing better to do, decided to experiment a little with the settings of the strange machine, if that's what it was. Answering the console's query for a time, he entered in the current time, accurate to one one-ten thousandth of a second. Nothing happened except that the cursor moved down, requesting spatial coordinates. Raymont entered in coordinates approximating his own locations. Then a new prompt emerged, again requesting time. Not knowing what this new prompt meant, Raymont entered the current time.
Hmm, Raymont mused. He tried to enter the current time again, but nothing happened except for the invalid entry response. So, trying to get past this prompt, he arbitrarily chose a time five seconds from current time. In both cases, the times he entered continued to progress, their digits keeping pace with his own chronometer.
Raymont was about to enter the word Divinity when he had an idea. Instead, he typed in RABUSTUS. There was a slight shimmering and the chair Solo had thrown on the platform disappeared, only to reappear in mid-air midway between Raymont and where Solo and Leon were seated at the table.
Leon had noticed the chair and tapped Solo, to catch his attention as the chair fell to the floor.
"What the? Solo's jaw dropped down. The chair laid on the floor for only a few seconds before it disappeared again and reemerged back onto where it had been on the platform, occupying the same position.

x.p. bonus - Raymont - 850

"Whooooeeeee. Alright." Raymont shouted as the chair reappeared back into place. After taking a moment to calm down, he thought for a moment. "Well, I don't think this is our ticket out of here, but it's a start, it's a damn start."
Having had such luck with the strange machine, Raymont turned from the console and, fiddling with his Ono-Sendai, plugged it in.

At once he was on a world of electric light, each one a corridor, path towards what? Thinking that the whole virtual reality trip was a bit disconcerting, Raymont thought about shutting down the self-destruct. The way the computer visualized it, Raymont found himself hurtling towards a wall with a door in it, and he was left with out a key. He thought RABASTUS, but no key appeared. Just before he was about to collide with the wall, he thought the word Genesis. It was more to avert disaster than anything else. The wall disappeared, but only just, and he found himself in an empty room. The symbolism was apparent enough. The file had been erased.

Leon and Solo looked over and saw that Raymont had torn the Ono-Sendai link from his head. He screamed in frustration.
"What's the matter kid?" Solo asked. "Brain fry?"
"Naw," Raymont shook his head. "Just frustration. I can't seem to figure this computer mind link thing."
Raymont turned back to the dark console.
"What do you think of this?" he asked the two of them.
Solo scratched his head, "I still think it is some kind of time machine. In any case, I don't believe we have much time to play with it.
Raymont replied, "One more thing we could try, though, has anyone put in the current time, or, say, five minutes ago or a minute ahead? Would give us a pretty good idea if it's a projection or an actual temporal displacement. You know what, I think I'll try it."
Solo shook his head, "I already tried it. I put in a time 100 years in the future. See that chair on the platform? Still there, huh? I threw it on the platform after I entered the time. Of course ... it could be the timing mechanism for the Self-Destruct. Speaking of which. You know these Armored Exo-skeletons have radiation shielding. One of us could don the armor and head into engineering and take care of what we need to. What do you think?"
Raymont shrugged. "I'd be willing to give it a try, if we can't find another way. I can't say's I've had much experience with them, but it might be worth a try. I have a feeling that with the radiation levels down there as high as they are, we'd need a trip to the scrubber again anyway.
Solo jumped into the air and almost fell, due to an imbalance in body weight. Excited, he yelled, "Dia Damn it!! Not a time machine ... but a space time machine. Or a transporter. I say we gather all the goodies we can in the next two hours. Put it on the platform with us. Then we set it for Dicey's basement. We get on and go there. When the ship blows, the machine is destroyed and we wont have to worry about being pulled back. What do you think? Hell we could even travel back and forth to Dicey's and let her know what is going on so we can make room for more goodies. Then we buy a car and come back for the rest of the party!!!!!"
Solo then jumped onto the platform, grinned and said, "Do me! Do me! I wanna ride!" Then when he saw the apprehension in their eyes, said, "I know ... I know ... we should do some more tests. No time. Just do it! No Fear!"
Raymont, shook his head and glared at Solo. "Calm down old boy. The main problem with that is that we don't know how long it takes to haul us back. I don't think it does time at all, I think time is the return time. If you wanna ride, I'll send you to the others. Take the chair and try to leave it there. If that doesn't work, then we're gonna get one trip out and that's it, and we REALLY don't want to think about what happens if the machine maintains a lock on us while it explodes."
Solo jumped down, grabbed the chair and bounced back up.
"OK. I try to leave the chair. It it works, we take all we can and transport it. Then we get out the same way everybody else did. Agreed? There is no reason to send me to the others right now. Just send me across the room."
"That's probably a better idea," Leon added, having watched the whole interchange. "We don't know if we can establish a stable link with the others. And I heard about these machines in the military. They were only installed on the most advanced ships and even then there were problems. I don't know about you Solo, but I don't want to have any part of me sharing the same atomic space with some of this wreckage around us. And as for Dicey's, how do we know what the maximum range is on this thing? Travelling to Dicey's would involve, aside from knowing the coordinates, bisecting part of the planet itself. That's a lot of signal attenuation!"
"Alright! Alright!" Raymont decided. "A simple experiment. We'll send gung-ho here across the room, with a ten minute delay, alright?"
No one seemed to disagree so while Solo anxiously mounted the platform, feeling the slick substance of the dark material touching his feet where they had worn through his boots, both Raymont and Leon tried to use their scanners to provide the most realistic coordinates for Solo's transport. Raymont checked their equations on the Ono-Sendai.
"Kind of makes me wish that I'd paid more attention in Math class," Raymont commented.
"What did you say?" Solo asked anxiously. But it was too late. Solo felt a tug on his insides as if someone had grabbed a hold of his intestines. It wasn't painful, but it was somewhat uncomfortable and nauseating. Then he disappeared.
He reappeared instantly, with just a slight shimmer, on the other side of the room, his feet falling just a centimeter onto the floor.
"WHOOOPEEEE!" Solo ran over and grabbed Raymont and hefted him up by his one good arm. "Kid! You're a genius!"
"Thank's old man!" Raymont smiled.
Leon smiling, hugged both of them. "Well, I guess we just wait for ten minutes to pass by."
It was the longest ten minutes any of them could remember. As it passed, Solo began to shimmer, then he disappeared, only to reappear back onto the platform. There was a shimmer or scintillation on its dark surface, and then he just reappeared.
"Bingo!" Raymont said, nodding to Leon.

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