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Chapter 20: Bailey & Bud

Bud Asuda felt the warm tingly feeling between sleep and consciousness. He tried to stretch his arms but unyielding plastic thwarted his effort. He opened his eyes in a panic. He relaxed a bit when he recognized the face of his pal, Bailey Stewart. Bailey opened the plastic doorway to the stasis chamber. The room around him was white, silver, and sparklingly clean. He was surrounded by stasis chambers and medbeds.

"Boy, am I glad to see you!" Bailey said, slapping him on the shoulder.

"Where are we," Asuda asked. His memory was hazy and disjointed. He remembered their last orders. They had been on their way to carry them out, and then... nothing.

"On an officer's lifeboat. This is where they brought us after they snatched us. Forgot to take your stimulant, eh Bud?" Bailey said, clearly amused. "They grabbed us, drugged us, and then brought us here to put us in stasis. Our mole, Leroy, was in their group and set my chamber incorrectly so that I'd come out of it. I thought, what the heck? I could use a nap! And the next thing I knew I woke up after the ship made a crash landing. I don't know if Leroy did something wrong, if he betrayed us, where we are, or who is in control of this craft."

"Great. Any good news?"

"Yeah, we survived the crash, man."

"Well, that's something," Bud replied. He stretched, yawned and performed some simple martial-arts forms. "Okay Bailey, let's assume Leroy was still friendly: he would have stashed some helpful gear for us when our 'nap' ended." He worked out a kink in his back while he scanned the room. "Still, assuming Leroy's friendly motives, other reasons your chamber wouldn't open... toxic environment? If conditions were bad enough (or protracted) the mechanisms could malfunction. A crash landing could jar the mechanisms into operation..." Bud furrowed his brow: something glaring was missing.

"Crash... Crash... Crash LANDING! Bailey, we were a long way from any planet..."

"Well, let's see what we can find out about our current situation." Bailey moved to a table on the far side of the room where there was a computer terminal. He tried to login.

Bud got to his feet. It was somewhat difficult to walk because the floor was noticeably slanted, but he managed to find his sea legs. He looked in the cabinets in the medbay's walls and beneath the stasis chambers but found no useful equipment. "Ah well, chin up mate! Still half a room plus medbeds to search," he heard his Aussie friend Leroy's voice in his head say. "No! There's no way he betrayed us," Bud thought to himself. "No way."

Bailey's attempt to access the computer system had been more successful than Bud's search. "Hey Bud! According to this we've crashed on a planet orbiting Rho-1 Cancri. We're light years away from 82 Eridani and it's been a really long time since the original crew was around. Something about radiation. Oh wow, man, it looks like we've been asleep for at least a couple hundred years!" Bud gazed into an empty cabinet. His jaw dropped. Bailey kept reading. The records of the intermediary period were scattered, broken and often told the story of only a small portion of the ship. It was clear that the radiation cloud had been disastrous for everyone and everything onboard in some form or fashion. Bailey took his eyes from the screen and looked at Bud. "Holy shit, man. It's like waking up in the Twilight Zone."

"Dude, did your training cover this, 'cause I missed the Twilight Zone contingency course?" Bud was visibly shaken. He reverted to his ingrained training by attempting to assess their situation. "Okay, 1) unknown duration, but centuries-long sleep. 2) sketchy records since disaster. So... it's unlikely much of the original crew survived. Emergency protocols would have activated, apparently with less than optimal effect. Who (if anyone) is running the show? I doubt this ship deployed itself... 3) this planet was not our destination. Is it habitable? Already inhabited? Hmmm... Bailey, did your search turn up how much damage this lifeboat sustained and the viability of repair?" Bud leaned on a nearby medbed for support. "C'mon Leroy, you remember that night in Green Sector? Throw some shrimp on the barbie," he muttered to himself then resumed his search.

Bailey quickly typed at the terminal:
The computer spit out an abbreviated list:
/COMMANDER: n/a--in care of maintenance crew b54, hangar 12
/PILOT: Captain Nike Thomason/marine corps
/data stream interrupted/error 8370
"Hey Bud, the pilot, Nike Thomason/marine corps, is the only crew member listed."

"Thomason ... Marine Captain Nike Thomason ... Pilot...," Bud pondered as Bailey continued typing. "I wonder if she's the one I sparred with a time or two on Deck 9? I wonder if they still have sunrise Dim Mak sessions by the lake?"
/last flight logged approximately 3.436 hours ago/whereabouts unknown
/emergency landing protocols initiated
/landing and stable implantation of anchors achieved
/shipwide damage
/injuries reported: 1
/two secondary hull breaches
/one primary hull breach
/weapons inactive
/life support protocols functional
/secondary computer damage
/unauthorized id
/access denied
Bailey read the results to Bud. "Any luck over there?"

"Well, it depends on what you call luck, my friend." Bud stood in front of a door with a window. Through the window, he saw a room with two operating tables. One of the tables was occupied. "There's someone--looks like a woman--in there, and she's not moving. Hmm, we'd better hang tight until we find our gear."

Asuda resumed his search. After what seemed like an eternity, his persistence was rewarded. In the bottom of one of the medbeds, there were two backpacks. He proudly showed them to Bailey then rummaged through one. It was stocked with a utility belt (utility knife, rope, ammo pocket, holster and radio scanner), ultrathin all-weather gear, rations, a programmable sonic bomb, a pistol and ammunition. "Now I knew old Leroy wouldn't let us down!" He donned the headset, holstered the pistol, tucked the knife into a sheath in his boot, palmed the bullets and shouldered the pack. He carried Bailey's backpack to him.

Bailey had given up on getting any more useful data from the terminal. Bud helped him with the headset and loaded their pistols. "So, about that woman," Bailey said, "surely she's not alone?"

"I agree. She's probably not alone. Probably wise to assume the worst until we know otherwise." Bud handed a loaded pistol to Bailey.

Bailey handled the pistol uneasily. "I'm just a tech. I keep things running. I'll be counting on you to take care of any unfriendlies that we meet."

"Handling 'unfriendlies' is what I'm here for." Bud holstered his loaded pistol and performed a sidekick/half parry-jab and a complicated break-dance/soccer kick. "I'm hoping we'll make some new friends along the way..."

"As do I, but we have no idea what's happened to the ship or what's out there now. For all we know, the ship could be under the control of some sort of creatures that are native to this place rather than the crew. We can't take any chances."

"Roger that, Bailey." Bud focused his Chi then led Bailey to the window. "Looks like she's wearing a Warden uniform. We may be looking at the one reported injury," he said quietly. He turned on the radio and spoke into the headset. "Here's where I take point, and you cover my ass. I'm going in. Try to keep out-of-sight while keeping an eye on me. If I run my hand through my hair, come in blazin'. If I look up and then left, stay loose. If I scratch my chin find cover or a place to hide, preferably both."

"Fair enough."

"I'll keep my radio on, just in case." Bud did a combination moonwalk/robot-electric slide to the door controls (martial-arts had broadened quite a bit by the 23rd century.) He silently mouthed 'UNITY' to Bailey and opened the door. Bailey watched Bud enter the room and examine the contents.

Amanda lay on the operating table, unmoving except for her steady breath. There was a tube connected to her arm at the elbow. The tube led to a device on the table which emitted a regular beeping noise. It echoed from the sterile walls. Another tube was connected to a mask that partially covered her face and another was connected to her lower leg. A computer screen at the foot of the table read:
PULSE: 62, RR: 55, PO2: 97, BP: 98/55, T: 39C
A closed door at the top end of the sloping floor was the only other exit. With a wink of acknowledgement, Bud motioned for Bailey to stay put. Bud removed a ration bar from his pack, tore the wrapper and took a large bite from it then moved toward the door.

Bailey heard distant noises from behind the main door to the medbay. He dashed into the room with Bud. "Someone's coming," he whispered and pointed toward the far door. "Let's hope you don't have to use those moves for real, eh?"

"Rhaawjrr," Bud said through a mouthful of ration bar. He dropped to a 'crouching crane' form beside the operating table and drew his pistol.

A feminine android wearing a long kaftan with large pockets moved cautiously to keep her balance on the uneven floor. Her name was Shlitzfarl, or Shlitzee. A purple mohawk protruded from her head where someone had affixed it centuries ago as a joke. Inertial dampers in the biomedical storage room had protected the contents of the shelves and the precious life-saving fluids in the refrigerating unit. Shlitzee gleefully removed and inspected some of the fluids. The way they bubbled and moved was nothing short of beautiful to the robust robot. She selected a few beakers to place against the bulkhead where she could gaze at them while she went about her work.

Not all of the ship's equipment had been so lucky. No one had told her the ship was being prepared for departure, and many of the things that had been left lying around had been damaged or destroyed. Repairing medical equipment wasn't in her job description, but only two medbots had survived the crash and they were both strictly patient-care oriented. One medbot was still out performing triage; the other was docked while it monitored their new patient. The intravenous pump that she was working on finally hummed to life and vibrated at the right frequency. A human hand would not have been able to detect the vibration, let alone quantify it, but Shlitzee could and she knew that it was now working properly.

Her list of things to repair was getting longer, but she was enchanted by the bubbling beakers. "A few more minutes won't hurt," she rationalized. Perhaps another inventory check would make her more efficient? She replaced the beakers in the cooler and began enumerating the cooler's contents.

Another priority 'Malfunction-Repair' signal squealed inside Shlitzee's head, high-pitched and multi-tonal. Her sensuous reverie was broken. "Damn," she cursed in a husky feminine tone. "Damn! Damn! And damn again!" She selected a few of the cooler's contents and, with robotic speed, deftly mixed a cocktail in an empty beaker. She consumed a portion of the contents: 2.3873 liters. Shlitzee stuffed her Kaftan's pockets with several canisters of premade, prepressurized 'mixers' and powered up her builtin laser.

Feeling more efficient by the nanosecond, Shlitzee burst through the biomedical storage room door that led to the operating room. "I'm comin' ya bastards," she said with an affected slur. "An' I'm goin' fix that respirator... permanently!"

Bud was startled by the robot's entrance. He was more startled that he recognized it. He spit out the contents of his mouth. "Shlitzee?" He couldn't decide whether to hug Shlitzee, or shoot her. Some robots had more 'personality' than others: this one had so much that he'd recommended a total memory wipe and component strip half a dozen times. Each time the requisitions got screwed up and she lucked into service and upgrades. Eventually she became a star informant in gratitude (people often forget that robot's have ears.) "How in the hell did a robot like you end up on a ship like this, Shlitzee?" Bud smiled.

Shlitzee couldn't believe her photoreceptors. Officer Asuda? Drinking buddy and best 'friend' a bot could have! Shlitzee recorded the location, velocity and direction of the various food particles projected from Asuda's mouth and compared the results with similar ejecta that Shlitzee had previously recorded. The patterns were remarkably similar.

"You know this robot?" Bailey faced the robot. "Shlitzee, we've been out of touch for a while. Maybe quite a while. Have you been online since the radiation disaster? What's happened to the ship and the people on it?"

Shlitzee was further irritated at having to slow down her communications in order to be understood by humans. It took them forever to say what was on their minds! "I haven't forgotten that metal press 'accident' at the factory," Shlitzee addressed Bailey. "Don't play coy with me, Sailor! I've been online and out-of-my-mind for 500 years! A little 'cosmic death' zapped most of the Organics and the big tub just kept cruising. The first hundred years were the worst. The second hundred, those were the worst too!" A device snaked out of Shlitzee's body and a miniature vacuum drained the remnants of 'frothy liquid bliss' from the beaker which she still held: 1.6127 liters. Her left photoreceptor focused on the empty beaker and faintly glowed. "If I hadn't had some 'friends'," her photoreceptor glowed brighter, "I'm sure I'd have lost it! Does that give you an idea of 'what's what'?" Shlitzee dropped the empty beaker into a recycling unit beside the operating table.

"Unholy, Plastibrained Visage of Doom!" Bud lowered his pistol, but he didn't holster it. "What are you? Bartender on this Loveboat? That metal press accident wasn't Bailey's fault." Bud groped through his hazy memories. "That was Jenkins, 'ol sumbitch!" He smiled, somewhat mischievously. "Bailey tried to throw you in a chemical vat, 'member?"

"Chemical vat!" Shlitzee glared at Bailey.

"Testing her memory, are you, Bud? If you're referring to that beer or two that might have been spilled on her, that's one thing, but that's about the limit of it for chemicals. I don't recall any vats, although I do remember one brawl that you started with a few people being thrown through windows. Maybe your memory is the one that's not recovered. Come to think of it, maybe none of our memories are really working that well."

"Beer, fights, windows," Bud pondered. "My memory problems lie in narrowing down which drunken fight with broken windows..."

Bailey faced Shlitzee. "Anyway, you're probably still our best bet for reliable data right now."

Shlitzee ran diagnostics on her stored memories. Images flashed by of 50,000 liter barrels; chemical sensors indicating 'beer' on the breath of several inebriated humans; plastibonders; a mohawk wig; a face that resembled the one called 'Bailey'; fuzzy images from the bottom of a barrel. "Yeah, my systems are working just fine!"

In a blur, Shlitzee gave the operating table equipment a once over, plugged one of her data leads into the beeping instrument panel then removed and retracted it. "Everything's fine here too! This bimbo a 'pal' of yours?" Shlitzee pulled a tube from the table, connected it to her chassis and purged 1.3432 liters from her storage tank.

Bud re-examined Amanda. "Never met her."

The sound of a door opening in the outer medbay caused Bud's heart to skip a beat. He contemptibly remembered Bailey's warning; the familiar sight of Shlitzee had made him forget it. He crouched, raised his gun and made eye contact with Bailey who was hiding behind the open doorway. Bud crept toward the open door, mindful of his freshly spat rationbar on the floor.

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