4 min read

Bare Metal | Chapter Four

Bare Metal | Chapter Four
Photo by Maria Teneva / Unsplash

The Surface
Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean

Searing daylight flooded the cabin through the lone porthole in the ceiling as the EAM breached the surface and rocketed towards the heavens. This only lasted a moment though, as gravity asserted its hold and the vehicle came crashing back down on its side with a bone-shaking impact that jolted Emmett to his very core. A few moments later, the craft automatically reoriented itself and up became up and down became down again.

Emmett unclipped his harness and wriggled free. He clambered on the seat and pressed his face to the thick polycarbonate dome in the ceiling and looked out. Relief washed through him when he saw the spindly legs of the surface station looming nearby. The structure appeared to hover above the water, beckoning to him. He made quick work of the exit, breaking the seal and flinging open the hatch with a loud clang. The EAM, like the command capsule, had dual hulls pressurized to one atmosphere, negating the need for decompression measures. Emmett scrabbled up and out of the coffin-like enclosure and sucked in a great lungful of polar air and smiled so hard his face felt like it would split in two. A cloudless blue sky stretched across the heavens. The ocean shone like mirrored glass.

He donned his gloves and double checked the seals before plunging his hands into the frigid sea water and groping around for the tether. The line extended from an attachment point just below the water line on the EAM, and ran all the way to the base of the habitat, a few dozen meters away. His fingers closed over the carbon fiber cord and he began collecting the remaining slack. He stuffed the loose cable into the EAM by the armful as he hauled it in.

A few minutes later, the leading edge of the escape capsule bumped against the southwestern leg of the habitat. Emmett let out a whoop of excitement and looped the remaining tether around a cleat. He took a few seconds to rest, massaging his aching arms and shoulders as he prepared for the final stage of his escape. When he was ready, he grasped the nearest ladder rung, and began hauling himself skyward.

***

Emmett grinned with anticipation as he reached the narrow service catwalk encircling the base. He was beyond done for the day. All he wanted to do was collapse into his recliner with a cup of coffee and close his eyes. The rest of the world could wait.

He passed his wrist over the door sensor. There was no response. He frowned. A second attempt produced the same result. A bad feeling started to build in his stomach as he realized what this meant. He was about to try one more time when suddenly the southern horizon strobed chalky white several times in rapid succession.

What the hell? Emmett rubbed his eyes and blinked away afterimages. Seconds ticked by in eerie silence. He almost didn’t notice the noise at first. Low, almost below his hearing, the rumbling built steadily until it became a dull roar, like a far-off locomotive in the deep of night. The sonic barrage ramped up to an almost unbearable crescendo before abruptly, it ceased. Emmett shook his head in confusion as a preternatural silence settled over the world.

He followed the catwalk, scanning the horizon, searching for the source of the noise, but there was nothing to see. Eventually, he found himself back where he had started.

A cold breeze kicked up as he stood there, reminding Emmett that he needed to stop messing around and get back to figuring out how to unlock the door. He could figure out the mysterious sound later.

He scratched the side of his head as he stared at the door. A complete power outage shouldn’t be possible, yet that was exactly what had happened.

It made no sense.

He set off on another lap around the perimeter, considering his options as he walked. Exercise had often been the genesis of some of his best ideas. Plus, it kept him warm. The answer came to him halfway through his second lap. He had forgotten all about the automated supply ship that deposited his provisions into the hold every three weeks. That might be his way in.

Emmett returned to the ladder and descended until he arrived at a treacherous looking network of suspended footways spiderwebbing across the bottom of the platform. The cargo door was situated in the gloom in the center of the web. He eyed the footing. Then the ocean below. One misstep and he would be going for a long swim. Emmett pushed aside his trepidation and zipped his survival suit closed, then he took a step forward.

To his relief, the cargo access port was easily accessible from the catwalk even though it hadn’t looked that way from the perimeter. Emmett traced his fingers around the outline of the opening like a blind man, searching for something he could use to get inside. He had almost made a complete circuit when something caught his eye. Is that— He stood on his toes and inspected an oblong indentation a few millimeters deep. On a hunch, he jammed a finger into the impression and gave a sharp push. The door groaned and shifted. He shoved harder, and with a pneumatic hiss, the entire panel retracted until it was no longer visible. Emmett didn’t hesitate for a moment. He grabbed the lip of the opening and pulled himself inside. It took him a second to orient himself amongst all the shipping cartons and random supplies scattered about the room, but he knew this place. Once his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he set out toward a flight of stairs which terminated at a nondescript metal door.

He was safe, for the moment.

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