The ship was quiet. The engines had been shut down so the maintenance crews could work on them. She found herself missing the quiet thumping noises they made. She had gotten used to the reassuring heartbeat of the ship.
She made her way down the corridor, ducking behind a bulkhead when she heard the noise of two technicians in the corridor ahead of her. One of them had dropped something heavy to the deck.
From the direction of the noise, a reproaching voice rang out, “Be careful you idiot.”
She hadn’t really considered what she would do when she got to the locked door. Maybe she could find a way to get Carl to acknowledge the room and open the door. As she reached the hallway, she paused briefly to listen for any noises in the corridor. She jumped back as two men stepped into the hallway.
“Alright, we’ll finish in the morning. I’m dead tired.”
“Yeah, did you hear they have some new Malovial ale? Good stuff. Kicks like my ex-wife.”
Haley jumped behind two supply crates sitting in the hallway. Not quite tall enough to hide her, she tried to lay as flat as possible. If she were any taller, or the technicians any less tired, they would likely have seen her. She breathed a sigh of relief when they walked past her, disappearing down the gang plank and off the ship.
She stood and started down the hallway towards the engineering section door. She stopped herself short of the door and pulled out her pistol. She had never thought about the possibility of killing anyone before. Looking down she saw that it was set to disintegrate. She moved the switch to stun, to be on the safe side. Killing someone wasn’t an appealing idea to her. Besides, she had questions, and the person she disintegrates might have answers.
Her heart jumped into her throat as the massive steel door flew open as soon as she stepped within the reach of its sensor. In front of her, stood a room to match its massive size. The ‘ENGINEERING SECTION’ as it was labeled on one of the walls, was maybe thirty meters long and fifteen meters wide. In the center stood two large computer banks. Neither one of them had a display, but each had lights which seemed to blink on and off randomly.
Stepping inside the room, the door surprised her again by closing with a loud bang.
Behind the computers, and against the wall, were three large cranes and racks of what looked like torpedoes. She thought it looked like an automated system where the crane would grab and load a torpedo automatically. To her left was a small panel marked ‘Intra-Ship Comms’. Perhaps the panel could explain why Carl had no way of knowing about this room. Maybe he was unplugged from this part of the ship.
She froze in place as there was a noise behind her. She pulled her pistol out reflexively and faced the source of the noise. In front of her, staring at her with glowing eyes, was a humanoid robot. Although it didn’t look like a threat, she really had no idea what it was doing.
The rest of the robot was behind one of the computers. Moving towards it to get a better look, she saw it was connected to the computer by a large cable which was attached to a port in its side.
“What the hell are you supposed to be?” she said.
“Please rephrase your query,” the robot answered.
“Oh good you can talk.”
“Affirmative, human communications are presently enabled. Language, English. Origin, Earth.”
“Can you talk with the rest of the ship?”
“Negative, comms circuits are disabled.”
“Okay, then. I’m going to go to the bridge for a few minutes. I’ll be back with a friend; his name is Carl. You’d like him.”
“Negative, entrance to this section has been locked due to a breach of security.”
“Breach of security?” Haley ran to the door and found that it was, as the robot mentioned, locked. A sudden flash of panic seized her as she realized she was now trapped in the room with a strange robot.
“Affirmative, entrance to unauthorized personnel is forbidden.”
“I’m the First Officer of this vessel. You can’t keep me in or out of any of these rooms.”
The robot stood stoic for a moment, “Protocol Theta-Seven limits access to the ship at the dock for specified purposes.”
“Look here you little jerk, I am the First Officer and I’m ordering you to open this door right now.”
“Negative, entrance to this section has been locked due to a breach of security.”
“Yeah, so you said. Fine, I’ll do it myself. You can bet, the first chance I get, you are going find yourself on the business end of a black hole. You little twerp.”
She opened the comms box, and as she did, the robot stood up to its full height and the cable attached to its side was ejected with a dull thud on the floor. Ignoring him, she reconnected a wiring harness which had been disconnected. Little lights on each side of the harness indicated data was now flowing between them, but she was expecting something more spectacular to happen. Looking behind the wires, there was an override switch which seemed to be in the on position.
“It can’t really be as easy as this.”
She switched the override switch the off position and suddenly a familiar voice crackled to life from the intercom. “Haley … no, don’t enter that room. It’s a—”
Haley found herself on the floor as the robot had come up behind her. It reached into the box and turned the override back on, silencing Carl.
“What the hell was that for?”
“Communications to this room have been disabled.”
It then backed up against the box in an act of defiance which seemed surprising, given how unemotional it had been so far.
Haley had about enough of the robot. She might be new at the whole First Officer thing, but she knew insubordination when she saw it. She climbed back to her feet and pulled out her pistol again.
“That’s it. I’m the First Officer of this vessel and I’m giving you one further warning. Stand down now or else.”
“Protocol Theta-Seven states no authority on this ship other than repair supervisor.”
“Who’s the present repair supervisor?”
“The present repair supervisor is the XP79-B Repair Bot.”
“Okay, where do I find the XP79-B Repair Bot?”
“You are presently talking to the XP79-B Repair Bot.”
“Well, XP79-B, I find you guilty of mutiny.” The pistol warmed slightly in her hand as an electrical charge hit the droid. Obviously unprepared for it, the robot hit the wall, spun around and fell on its face.
She quickly ran back to the control panel and flipped the override to the off position. The voice of Carl repeated itself briefly before coming back under control.
“Haley, stay out of that room, it’s dangerous. Something is going on and I don’t know what. My sensors are disabled and—”
“Carl, shut-up. It’s too late for that. I’m already in the room. Something happened and I am locked in.”
Suddenly the room lights flickered on. “Wow, so that’s what’s in here?”
“Carl, focus, girl trapped here. Can you unlock the door?”
“I mean, I wondered what the heck was in this section, but wow, this is cool.”
“Carl! Help me please.”
“Yes, sorry. It’s just pretty neat in here. Yes, locked door. I need a few minutes to get it open. XP79-B encrypted it.”
“What the heck is that thing anyway?”
“Kind of a parasite really. I’m not even sure how it got on board. It’s primary function is to automate ships systems, but never in a good way. We’ll need to interrogate him to find out what the heck it was doing. By the way, you need to keep an eye on it. It’s coming back on line.”
Haley pulled out her pistol, “Maybe I should shoot it again?”
“Can’t do that, another blast and you are going to fry its circuits. I need to know what it was doing to our ship,” Carl said.
The robot made a metallic ‘oomph’ noise as it started to move. It slowly rose to its feet. Thankfully, it was not made for speed or Haley would’ve been in trouble. She ran to the back of the room, towards the torpedoes, to find something to temporarily stop the robot.
“Carl, you need to hurry up.”
“I’m working on it as fast as possible.”
“Primary mission must be maintained. Critical threats identified and scheduled for eradication,” the robot said. Its hand suddenly changed into something resembling the barrel of a gun.
Haley had a bad feeling about the way it referred to ‘critical threats’.
The robot fired two blasts towards Haley. She quickly ducked behind a large metallic case. “Carl, you’ve got a few seconds and then I’m going to blast him again.
Two more shots rang out, one disintegrating part of the box she had taken cover behind.
Thinking it was better to fry its memory than to have the robot turn her into roast beef, she returned fire. Much to her surprise the blasts just bounced off the robot.
“Primary defenses online and functioning optimally.”
“What the hell?”
“I think it has a force field,” Carl yelled.
“Crap! Carl, do something.”
“Working on it.”
Suddenly a section of deck plating floor flew up in between the robot and Haley. Carl could control sections of the floor. It wasn’t much of an improvement, but the robot had to move around it to get another shot.
Haley watched, helplessly, as it finally made its way around the upturned deck plating. Suddenly the only thing in between her and the robot was nothing but air. Haley prepared to be vaporized.