THE HUMAN SPECTRUM: PART TWO: DREADNOUGHT

2
Dreadnought
<Alright – power and fuel are green. Let’s get this over with>
Lt-Cmdr Ghan-K81 (Ganymedean Union),
‘The Jupiter’ flight-logs
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[Ladies and gentlemen – the MKIV-A200 quadsuit…] The instructor lifted herself to full height. Pacing back and forth, she demonstrated its controls. Each suit included a sophisticated life-support suite, tied directly to the user through a tailor-made seat. The instructor grinned, as she halted in front of the group. [As you can see, ‘suit’ is a misnomer. So we just call them chairs!].
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Falling, arrestor-rockets fired but Ghan still crashed onto the deck. The chair-legs bowed to cushion his fall, but it still hurt. The hull was only five meters deep, but with the ice-sheet the drop was closer to ten. While he seemed to be listening to the old man, Owan also monitored Ghans progress through com-exchange.
          <Ghan, are you alright?>. The Chair dulled or eliminated pain, but it also reduced performance. Commands choice of painkiller was far too powerful, and at only half the dose he was already finding it difficult to concentrate; hopefully it was enough for him to complete his mission. Ghan took a moment to gather his thoughts <I’m fine. Are you picking up my vid-feed?>.
          They’d trained with plans of the ship, but the ice-sheet prevented detailed scans. <Yes. Look around – Let’s figure out where you are>. Even the smallest movement was  exhausting, and Ghan now considered his chair an essential part of him, and his identity. In space the Jovians were unsurpassed; everything optimised for a life in micro-gee. With minds and bodies unencumbered, their orbital-habitats had expanded in every direction. But their limited experience of gravity had not prepared them for the impediment of earth’s gravity-well, becoming weak and fragile when compared to the Elites. Able to move freely in the null-gravity of their ship – The Jupiter – since planet-fall Ghan’s chair had ceased to be an extension of his body but a part of it; the interdependency of flesh and machine making it pointless to differentiate between his abilities and the quad-suit’s. To Ghan they were one and the same – he didn’t know where he ended and the chair began. Designed to move like a quadruped, each chair-leg also had a retracted manoeuvring wheel; he’d already raised himself above the deck with ‘wheels-down’. Ghan was in a narrow corridor, and turning on the spot proved difficult. Light from the opening spot-lit walls and floors with a rough metallic finish. Suddenly, light-fixtures flicked on, casting everything in a harsh green light and crisp shadows. The hull was obscured by a rack of large metallic-tanks.
           <The automated lights are still working> messaged Owan. The tanks were storage tubes for finished probes, held here before pick-up. <You’re in the bow. Vibration-readings suggest the main generators are on, but the lab is powered by a separate generator in the engine room…>.
          That was the other end of the ship! He thought. <You’ll need to go through the prep and launch areas. Shouldn’t take long, but watch your energy- levels>.
          He’d barely even moved, but still checked his HUD: 75% fuel and 95% power.
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The old man didn’t mind Khali’s attempts to distract him. Still, he’d been surprised to learn that while Jovian probes uncovered a frozen planet, they hadn’t discovered the cause. He explained how a solar-flare disrupted the planets weather; in eighteen months almost the entire surface had been covered by an ice-sheet, in what became known as the cataclysm. But it seemed unlikely they’d make the journey out of curiosity. And what did they want with his ship? On the surface Dreadnought appeared as a simple screening-lab, floating on the river. But hidden – below the waterline – was a factory. As Ghan moved forward, the corridor opened into a larger compartment. Gantries ran along each side, with ladders set at regular intervals, but they were too narrow for a chair. Elites had never intended for their Pioneers to operate the ship, so he’d have to make his way through the factory.
          In front of him, massive black-rubber bags filled the space from floor to ceiling. The last test before storage, finished probes were ‘fired’ using a rocket-sled – caught by a bag, a mechanism then loaded it into storage. A loading platform was recessed into the ceiling. Following a hanging cable back to the ground, he found a control-column sat on the deck, but the handle on top was beyond the reach of his manipulator-fields. Ghan pushed his legs, servos whining in protest as he stretched towards it. As he pulled the control, the legs retracted back as if the strain had hurt them. Pushing the suit had been draining, and worse the platform was motionless. Until – suddenly – a noisy mechanism brought it slowly towards the deck.
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He had to admit, he was impressed. He’d engineered them for space, but the suits they were wearing let them move on the surface with no major difficulties. The old man had been providing the location of other survivors to Khali when he recognised the sound of a lift moving. He asked with a grin “What was that?” But Khali just continued to question him.
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