The growing hum in her headset was the first indication that trouble might be afoot. The clang of her pulse pistols slamming into one of the lift tube’s magnetic rails sounded its arrival. Spun through the air by her carbine being yanked from her grip, she watched in horror as the others were sucked onto the rails by the ever-increasing magnetic forces. The horrible sound of Minsc and his battle gear crashing into a rail made her actually thankful she wasn’t wearing battle armor for the first time in weeks.
Those feelings of relief evaporated like water on a hot stove once she looked down. Trouble had brought friends. Not only were the magrails active, but one of the lift cars was heading right for them. With the others trapped, the car would crush her rescuers into paste.
She had to do something to stop it. And she had to do it quickly.
The sight of Imoen trying to inch her way down one of the magrails drew her eye. The flippant young human’s outstretched hand scrabbled against the tube wall, just centimeters from what appeared to be an access panel. Sensing the human’s plan, she kicked off the tube wall and flung herself downwards, aiming for the panel.
As she hurtled down the tube, she quickly realized that in her haste, she’d misjudged the distance and kicked too hard. She was going to miss the panel all together and likely slam right into unyielding wall. With no time to correct her trajectory, she reached out for the rail, hoping to use it to at least slow herself.
The magnetic rail loomed large in her vision as streaked towards it. Straining as hard as she could to change her speed, she thrust out her hands, fingers hunting for handholds. Fingers slid across the smooth surface like it was ice until her left hand caught the in seam where a lift car’s emergency brakes linked. Hanging on for dear life, she used the handhold to swing herself up towards the access panel just outside of Imoen’s reach.
She hit the tube wall with a painful thump and had to scrabble to keep from flying off the wall. Not even looking at the young woman suspended above her, she ripped open the catches and flung open the panel. Inside, she saw a number of controls and circuits. On the far left was another panel covered with black and yellow diagonal stripes and the word ‘Emergency’ stenciled on it. On the far right was three bladed lever. In between the two were bundles of neat wiring and rows of crystal control wafers.
Not being much of a technician and short on time, she scanned for any text that might illuminate the purpose of some of this equipment. Above the three bladed lever was stenciled ‘Emergency Magrail Cutoff – Pull Down to Engage.’ Silently thanking the gods for the mind boggling obsession all militaries with labeling, she reached out and grabbed a hold of the lever and pulled.
The lever didn’t budge.
Frowning, she shifted her grip and braced her knees against the tube wall to give herself better leverage and pulled harder.
The lever still perversely refused to move a centimeter. And now the lift car was only 2 decks below them.
“For the love of Avoreen, move you thrice damned piece of Alliance junk!” she shouted, hauling on the lever with all her might. The lever fought for a second, and then as if by divine providence, gave way.
Mazzy’s celebratory whoop died on her lips. Whatever divine forces had been at play certainly weren’t on her side. She still had the lever gripped firmly in her hand, but that lever was no longer connected to the maintenance panel.
For a moment, all she could do was stare dumbly at the broken piece of equipment. She blinked, trying to clear her vision of this horrible sight. When it refused to do so, she hurled it against the far wall and followed with an emphatic, “Oh frell!”
She was out of time. She didn’t even need to look down to check. She could feel the building pressure wave of air from the rising lift car and hear the crackle of the lift car’s driver motors as it rode the electromagnetic differential. If she was going to do anything other than watch her rescuers be turned into so much bloody paste, she was going to need another solution.
Disregarding the wiring and circuits as a lost cause due to her lack of technical training, she chose the yellow and black striped panel. Ripping the panel right off its aged hinges, she flung the warning plate behind her. Underneath was a second lever. Not even bothering to read the placard above it, she reached in and grabbed a hold. Bracing her feet, she stared up into the darkness and shouted, “Avoreen, please, let this work!”
With all the considerable strength of her diminutive frame, she pulled. This lever thankfully moved. The ancient metal held this time as it moved from the closed to the open position, locking into position with a satisfying click.
As soon as it locked, the world around her went mad. Klaxons screamed and brayed as a few long dormant emergency lights sputtered to light. One ancient light exploded in a shower of sparks as the long dormant filaments overheated. As she ducked molten bits of plastic, she heard a deep boom sound beneath her. Soon, the whole lift tube reverberated with the horrible screeching of metal against metal.
Deafened by the cacophony, Mazzy ventured a look, wondering what new horror she’d awakened. This time the fates were with her. Instead of an onrushing lift car, she saw the pressure doors between this deck and the one below grinding shut. She couldn’t even celebrate her victory, as streams of sparks flying from the lift car’s emergency brakes forced her to dodge and weave until the leaves of the pressure door finally cut them off.
Finally, the massive doors ground shut with a resounding clang. The klaxons fell mercifully silent, a silence punctuated by a single, loud thump. Apparently the lift car’s emergency braking systems hadn’t been up to the task. Shrugging, she turned to the panel and actually read the label above the lever she’d just pulled. In clear bold text she read ‘Pressure Door Control Lever. Emergency Use Only. Do Not Use When Lift System Operational.’
“Somehow, I think the board of inquiry will understand my breaking of that regulation,” she said to herself. The crisis abated, she turned away from the panel and looked up the lift tube. Instead of seeing free floating equipment and a grateful crew, she was confronted by the same situation from before. The others were still trapped to the magrails. An untenable situation, even if there was no current threat to turn them to pâté.
Still, she had to do something. The question was what. Without the pressure of an oncoming lift car, she actually had time to study the control panel. The purposes of the two lever systems she’s already divined. And with the magrail cutoff being broken, that left the wiring and the control wafers. Both were neatly grouped and clearly labeled.
Not that the labels made any sense to her. They consisted of a short numeric code and what had to be shorthand for various systems. She was sure they meant something to technics who were 500 years dead, but to her, they were so much gibberish. They could probably decipher the difference between ‘0243LiIlCir’ and ‘2563LiPrCmd.’ However, they made as much sense to her as a Dohlmani atmosphere painting. She could tell there was meaning in both, but she was damned if she could figure it out.
Confronted with such a dilemma, she opted for the classic non-technic’s approach. Which was to start randomly fiddling with things. She grabbed the first handy cable and tugged on it. The aged fiber cable easily slid out of its port and a few of the control wafers dimmed. Cables still in hand, she looked around, searching for some discernible effect. There was none.
She pulled a few more cable groupings, all of them sliding out of their ports with ease. The reward for all of her efforts was that the few remaining functional lights in this section of the lift tube began to blink at a most obnoxious rate. Sighing expansively, she stared in at the remaining cables and circuits, trying to figure out what to do next.
For lack of a better option, she grabbed the remaining cables and yanked them free. They all came loose and the rest of the illuminated circuit wafers went dark. The magrails frustratingly continued to hum merrily along, entirely unaffected by her efforts. Temper fraying at both the perversity of the inanimate and her own lack of technical skills, she thumped her head against the smooth surface of the tube interior.
It was then she noticed the hammering. It wasn’t very loud, barely noticeable over the hum of the magrails, but there was a pattern to it. Wondering what it was, she looked around, trying to locate the source. The source was Imoen, trapped less than a meter above her.
As soon as she looked up, the strange human scout started gesturing rapidly. She was shouting, but she heard nothing but static due to the magnetic distortion. Since she obviously wanted her attention, Mazzy decided to kick her way up there.
Stopping just centimeters in front of her, she listened to Imoen’s suit speakers hiss before saying, “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I can’t hear anything you’re saying.”
The look Imoen gave her spoke volumes. Big, thick ones with gold trim on the spine. With a carefully maintained straight face, she replied, “Okay then. Moving on to more important topics, you obviously wanted to get my attention but you can’t talk to me. So, a simple solution presents itself. I ask questions, you answer by slapping the wall. One for yes, two for no. Understand?”
Imoen slapped the wall once. The she folded back all but her middle finger while giving Mazzy a big, bright smile.
Mazzy’s lips thinned. Dryly, she replied, “I see we understand each other.”
“Alright. Now, you wanted to get me up here for some reason. Is that because you have an idea on how to deactivate the rails?”
“Okay, but the emergency cut off lever broke and I already tried pulling the wires,” she said, gesturing to the fiber cables floating free in the tube’s zero gravity. “That didn’t do much. I’m not much of a technic,” she admitted.
One slap. Followed by another big grin.
“Yes, yes, I admit it. But petty name calling will do little to actually get you and your crewmates off of the magrails,” chided Mazzy. “Now, are you going to assist me or shall I leave you here and try to work with one of your more lucid companions.” Mazzy’s eyebrows lifted just slightly. “Like Minsc.”
Imoen’s eyes narrowed for a second before she responded in a way that Mazzy, while only knowing her for a short time, recognized as typical for the young human. She stuck her tongue out at her. And then very deliberately, she slapped her hand against the tube wall one time.
Eyebrow arched, she queried, “And how do you intend to do that? You’re trapped and I don’t have the necessary technical skill. You’d have to tell me what to do, and the magnetic field is screwing up your vox circuits.”
Imoen stared at her intently, making sure that she locked eyes with her. Mazzy held her stare for a long moment. Then, she flicked her eyes downward. Then she did it again, and this time Mazzy followed the eyes down to the helmet joint. As Mazzy pursed her lips in thought, Imoen slapped the wall once.
Nodding, Mazzy asked carefully, “You want me to open your helmet seal?”
“Alright,” she said and climbed closer to the trapped woman. She wasn’t completely familiar with the suit design, but all environmental suits operated under the same basic principles. She reached up to the neck of the suit and ran her fingers over the composite flexible armor searching for the emergency catches. Up near the ears, she felt two small panels. Flipping them open, she found two small buttons.
“I’m going to pop your helmet releases now.”
Imoen nodded slightly.
Mazzy punched in the two buttons. A sharp pop filled the tube as the composite edge of the clear faceplate separated from the rest of the helmet. Mazzy grabbed the edge and pulled it up, clearing it from Imoen’s face. “Took you long enough,” Imoen grumbled pleasantly.
“My apologies, Imoen, but I had been rather occupied with keeping you from being crushed by an oncoming lift car,” replied Mazzy tightly.
An eyebrow arched slightly to be followed by a smile. “Big happy thank yous for that Maz. I mean that. If I could hug you, I would, but I’m kinda stuck here.”
“You are welcome Imoen, but please don’t call me Maz. And freeing you is my next concern,” she said with a smile. Pointing downward, she asked, “So, do you think if I describe the circuits in the panel down there you could guide me through the process of disabling the magrails?”
“Yeah, but I’m not going to do it,” she said plainly.
Mazzy boggled. “What?”
“I’m not going to guide you through disabling those circuits.” There almost seemed to be a hint of a smile around her eyes, but the stunned Mazzy couldn’t see it.
“Do you want to stay stuck here until some zombies come to murder you and your friends?”
“Absolutely not,” she stated with complete conviction and sparkling eyes.
“So why won’t you help me rewire the panel? I can’t do it myself!”
“Apparently. But I’m still not going to do help you rewire that panel.”
Frustration boiling over, she shouted, “Why in the name of Avoreen not!?”
“Because it will take too freaking long,” explained Imoen with a straight face.
“So, who is going to do it?” shouted Mazzy “You? Stuck there on that rail like a speared lagafish? If you don’t help me, how am I going to deactivate the rails?”
Imoen smiled and Mazzy had to fight a distinct and powerful urge to punch the redhead. “Because silly, you can just use the access panel up on the next deck and try the emergency cutoffs up there. Much faster.”
The response left her sputtering in the face of that implacable smile. Finally, she sucked in a deep breath and managed to calm herself. Eyes narrowed, she replied, “You could have just said that from the first.”
“I could have, but then I wouldn’t have gotten this great chance for entertainment,” Imoen answered frankly.
“And what’s to stop me from leaving you and your perverse sense of humor stuck to this rail?” fired back Mazzy.
“Cause I know you won’t.”
Mazzy glared daggers at her. For the briefest second she wished that she was actually capable of proving this infuriating bigfoot wrong. But she couldn’t, it would be against everything she believed in. The fact that the human even knew it only made her angrier.
Not even dignifying the smug comment with an answer, she kicked off up to the next deck. Quickly spotting the panel, she jetted over to it. Dragging herself to a stop not far where the one named Valygar was pinned, she flipped open the panel cover. Beneath lay the same circuits and levers as the one from the deck below.
Giving the emergency magrail cutoff lever a speculative look, she reached in and wrapped her hand around the handle. Eyes closed, she said a quick and silent prayer to Avoreen to hold the metal lever together for at least a few more minutes. And then she pulled down.
This time, the lever didn’t break.
The results were immediate. The terrible hum of the magrails faded into of blissful silence. It lasted only a moment before it was shattered by a different sound. The joyous shouts of the now free members of the Gorion’s crew.
Smiling faces surrounded her as they pushed themselves away from their magnetic prisons. Armored hands clapped her on the shoulders and head as congratulations as emphatic as Minsc’s “Minsc and Boo thank little Mazzy for freeing us from the Evil wall so that we are free to do battle! And Larry thanks you to!” to the very restrained and succinct, “Thank you,” from Valygar.
She found herself smiling. Not just a little twist of the lips, but a full-fledged face splitting grin. It’d been so long since she’d smiled like that, certain facial muscles actually complained about the strain. That only made her smile more.
She felt like part of a group again, part of this ragtag crew. And it felt amazing.
A voice cut into the pink cloud she was floating on. “Alright people!” interjected Captain Varnas, “Grab your gear and let’s get a move on. I don’t want to be here when the blasted deaders figure out we’re no longer glued to the walls!”
The others quickly pushed off to fetch the gear that the magnetic forces had pulled loose and set about securing it again. The magical moment ended, but the feeling of belonging didn’t. Still riding that high, she quickly gathered up her free-floating equipment, and as she stuffed one of her blasters back in her belt, she felt an armored hand on her shoulder.
Turning her head, she found herself face to face with the captain of the expedition. There was actually a smile on his face. For the first time, she didn’t feel any tension between them, something she’d been very aware of, even if she hadn’t understood it. He was silent for a moment before he finally said, “Fentan, thank you. You probably saved all of our lives.”
She wanted to brush off the thanks as unnecessary, but just from the tightness of the smile, she realized it had taken something for him to say it. “You are more than welcome, Captain. But all I did was what you would have done in my place.”
There was a slight pause before he answered, “That may be the case, Fentan, but still, thank you.”
Bran nodded and then turned away. Gesturing upwards, he ordered, “Onward and upwards people. Onward and upwards!”
A Space Odyssey Chapter 19
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