“Yes. Things are good. All is good!”
“Yeah. For once, everything’s going great.”
Then the lights go out.
No lights. No monitor glow. Not even the LEDs on the lab equipment.
“Okay, stay calm,” I say. “Stay calm.”
“Why not be calm, question?” Rocky asks.
Well, of course he didn’t notice the lights go out. He doesn’t have eyes. “The ship just shut down. Everything stopped working.”
Rocky scuttles a bit in his tunnel. “You equipment quiet now. My equipment still working.”
“Your equipment gets electricity from your generator. Mine’s powered by my ship. All the lights are off. There’s nothing working at all!”
“This is bad, question?”
“Yes, it’s bad! Among other problems, I can’t see!”
“Why ship turn off, question?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Do you have a light? Something you can shine through the xenonite into my side?”
“No. Why would I have light, question?”
I bungle in the darkness, feeling my way around the lab. “Where’s the ladder to the control room?”
“Left. More left. Continue…yes…reach forward…”
I get my hand on a rung. “Thanks.”
“Amaze. Humans helpless without light.”
“Yes,” I say. “Come to the control room.”
“Yes.” I hear him skitter through his tunnel.
I climb up and it’s just as dark. The entire control room is dead. The monitors are off. Even the airlock window provides no relief—that part of the ship happens to be facing away from Tau Ceti at the moment.
“Control room also have no light, question?” says Rocky’s voice—presumably from his bulb in the ceiling.
“Nothing—wait…I see something….”
Off in one corner of one panel, there’s a small red LED. Definitely glowing, though not very bright. I sit in the pilot’s seat and squint at the control. The seat wobbles a bit. My repair job on it was subpar, but it’s anchored back to the floor again, at least.
Instead of the usual flat-panel displays found all over the control room, this one little section has physical buttons and an LCD display nearby. The light is coming from a button.
Obviously, I push it. What else would I do?
The LCD display comes to life. Some highly pixelated text appears, stating: PRIMARY GENERATOR: OFFLINE. SECONDARY GENERATOR: OFFLINE. EMERGENCY BATTERIES: 100%.
“Okay, how do I use the batteries…?” I mumble.
“Hang on.” I peer all around the LCD panel until I finally spot it. A little switch, covered by a plastic safety shield. It’s labeled “Batt.” It’ll have to do. I lift the shield and flick it.
Dim LEDs light up the control room—nowhere near as nicely as the normal lights do. The smallest control screen—and only that screen—comes to life. The Hail Mary mission patch shows on the center of the screen and the words “Loading Operating System…” appear at the bottom.
“Partial success,” I say. “My emergency battery engaged. But my generators are offline.”
“Why no work, question?”
“I don’t know.”
“You air is okay, question? No power, no life support. Humans turn oxygen into carbon dioxide. You will use all oxygen and become harmed, question?”
“It’s okay,” I say. “The ship’s pretty big. It’ll take a long time for the air to be a problem. It’s more important that I find the cause of this failure.”
“Machines break. Show me. I fix.”
Not a bad idea, actually. Rocky seems to be able to do pretty much anything. Either he’s gifted, or all Eridians are like that. Either way, I’m incredibly lucky. Still…how well would he do working on human technology?
“Maybe. But first I need to figure out why two generators would both die at the same time.”
“Good question. More important: Can you control ship without power, question?”
“No. I need power to do anything.”
“Then, most important: How long until orbit decays, question?”
I blink a couple of times. “I…don’t know.”
“Yeah.” I point at the screen. “First I have to wait for my computer to wake up.”
“Okay, I’ll wait faster.”
The computer finishes its boot process and brings up a screen I’ve never seen before. I can tell it means trouble, because the word “TROUBLE” is in large type across the top.
Gone are the pleasant user-interface buttons and widgets from before the blackout. This screen is just three columns of white text on a black background. The left is all Chinese characters, the middle is Russian, and the right is English.
I guess under normal operation, the ship changes language based on who is reading the screen. And this “safe boot”–equivalent screen doesn’t know who will be reading it so it’s in all our languages.
“What is happen, question?”
“This screen came up with information.”
“What is wrong, question?”
“Let me read!”
Rocky can be a real pain in the butt when he’s worried. I read the status report.
EMERGENCY POWER: ONLINE
ESTIMATED TIME REMAINING: 04D, 16H, 17M
SABATIER LIFE SUPPORT: OFFLINE
CHEMICAL ABSORPTION LIFE SUPPORT: ONLINE. !!!LIMITED DURATION, NON-RENEWABLE!!!
TEMPERATURE CONTROL: OFFLINE
PRESSURE: 40,071 PA
“The ship’s keeping me alive, but not doing anything else right now.”
“Give me generator. I fix.”
“First I need to find it,” I say.
Rocky slumps. “You not know where you ship parts are, question?!”