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Chapter 22: Radio On

Chelydra and Bud listened while Nike quietly spoke. "We're a sitting target here if there are hostiles in the area. We don't know if this planet is inhabited, the level of technology the inhabitants might have, or whether or not they have the military capability to penetrate the ship or blow us to smithereens. We need to establish a camp off-site; secure the ship against would-be looters; assess ship damage more specifically (other than the fact that we cannot move and we have three breaches that we know about); assess repair time and do some intelligence gathering. And we need to do it fast. I suggest we send a two-pronged search party to assess the ship and find the dog. Bud, you and Bailey, perhaps, take one side, Chelydra and I, the other. We find the dog, scan for other physical damage, and scavenge for some food. In the meantime, I suggest we leave the bot and Percy under Arkady's leadership to do the technical assessments from here, where it seems relatively secure and they can keep an eye on Amanda."

"Roger that, ell-tee," Bud said.

"Sounds good to me," Chelydra replied.

With a natural, flowing motion, Nike pointed her hand like an arrow at an imaginary target. Bud was reminded of his Dim-Mak training. "That was you," he said. "Very nice." Nike smiled and dropped the tension from her shoulders. She felt almost giddy. The time spent had made her nervous, but finally they had a coherent plan. They returned to where Percy and Shlitzee were monitoring the computer.

"Shlitzee, can you monitor our transmissions," Bud gestured with his radio.

"Of course I can receive and transmit radio frequencies," she replied.

"Then this seems like our operational c-n-c." Bud waved his lucky domar and said to Bailey, "I'll flip you. One of us should hand over a radio to Chel and Nike before the sweep." He flipped the coin and put his hand over it. "Your call Bailey."

"Heads!" Bud lifted his hand. "Damn!" Bailey muttered, and handed his radio to Nike.

Bud began a slow, subtle variation of the Footloose Forever dance-of-discovery, incorporating the beads of sweat on his forehead. He fingered the raised surface of the emblem of the UEF before pocketing the coin. "That's why it's my lucky domar," he said, chuckling softly. Percy watched Bud move his feet to an unheard tune. He shook his head and laughed despite the circumstances. Shlitzee devoted a small, but annoying, portion of her capabilities to observe the emerging dynamic among the crew. She blue-shifted an eye and winked at Bud while her other processors queried repair and diagnostics reports.

Nike held the radio to her face and said, "radio activate!" A beep emanated from behind her ear, then light static. Surprised, she asked Bud, "did you hear that?"

Bud had his headset on. He nodded. Percy raised an eyebrow. He too had heard Nike's voice as if she were standing right next to him. "Uh, that's a 10-4 on hearing you on my end," he said.

"Yeah, I heard it too," Arkady replied. "I'm not accustomed to hearing voices in my head. Is that a nanite transmitter, or are you telepathic, Nike?" He scratched his ear at the thought of tiny bots living there. He was beginning to feel surrounded by robots.

"Well holy Rodan turds, are you telling me that I have nanites living in me? Where exactly are they living? And why the hell haven't we noticed this before now?!"

Nike's exclamation caused Arkady to wince. His headache had never really abated; it had only been forgotten while the welfare of his comrades was in question. Now his skull was in five easy pieces, some assembly required. In a low voice, almost a whisper, he said, "that comm device might have distributed nanoreceivers and transmitters to us... hmm, but I think those kind of nanites have to be installed, not just distributed like spybots. What kind of tech is this anyways?"

"Perhaps it was something specifically arranged for clones in case of a ship wide disaster. Anybody here take the Warden Cloning 101 elective?" Percy grinned. "Where's tech support when you need them! Never mind, I am tech support."

"Something tells me you're not all sharing my flashbacks." Bud pocketed his lucky domar. "Shlitzee, you know anything about this?"

"Hold up, flashback Jack," Shlitzee replied. "I'm still querying the position and status of Warden, our location, determining a minimum safe distance from the approaching meteorological conditions, and processing damage reports. First in, first out."

"I can help," Percy said. He searched the computer terminal for 'nanotechnology' and 'personal radio transmitters'. As he typed, he said, "I wonder why there's a slight delay in the transmission. Perhaps the transmission on Nike's end had to go all the way up to the Warden and back down to us. Kind of like the few second delay programmed into talk radio transmissions to give the DJ a chance to censor vituperative callers! Anyways, if this system is served by Warden, we might be able to communicate with someone up there, help us figure out what happened to Warden. Whereas the standard communications are offline, this might give us some link back to the big bird if we can find anyone back there who's also plugged in." His eyes grew wide and he uttered his trademarked phrase: "Waaaaiiiitaminute! Zhaxier! Remember that clone mutant who was with us on Warden but who ran off and presumably got left behind," he said to Bud and Bailey. "If he's got this stuff," he tapped his ear, "we might be able to raise him on the radio. He might even be listening to us right now!"

Percy looked up, as if that were the direction of the Warden (which he presumed to be the case.) "Uh, radio activate! Uh, Zhaxier, Zhaxier Cole, come in, do you read me? It's me, Percy? Over?" He suddenly grimaced. "FRAK!" He clamped his hand over his mouth. He whispered through his fingers, "Maybfe fthat wasn'tf a gfood idea." He slowly moved his fingers away and added, "hopefully The Watcher isn't also The Listener!"

"Radio off," Nike said softly. She saw Arkady still rubbing his temples. "I have a helluva headache," she whispered. Then in a louder voice she said, "anyone hear that over your receivers?"

"Not I," Chelydra grunted. Everyone else shook their head or answered negatively.

"Radio on," she said softly. "Each person who hears this nod your head when I say your name. Chelydra."

Chelydra shook his head and muttered, "oh great! Something else I lost in the mail."

"Percy." He nodded, his eyes still intent on the computer screen.


Bud spoke into his headset's transmitter, "so that's 2 burrito con carnes, one porkalope wrap and an iced coffee... Your total is 32 domars."

"Bailey." He looked at Bud then shook his head. Negative.

"Shlitzee." She nodded her head.


Arkady nodded his head with a bit of discomfort. "I heard you, Nike, but my headache has gotten a lot worse. I hope it's not caused by this comm."

"Interesting. I couldn't hear you, Arkady. Try saying 'radio on' and then say something."

"So, you can't hear me until I say radio on," Arkady asked. "You can hear this. Radio off, but you can't hear this?"

Nike nodded. "Yep."

"I feel like we're filming a Karate Kid movie. Radio on, radio off, wax on, wax off!" Percy enjoyed a brief laugh. "Alright, so some of us have built in radios and we have two additional headsets. What say you away team folks check in every few minutes so we don't lose anybody?" He paused briefly. "Waaaaaitaminute. What if I don't want to talk on the radio or listen, either? In other words, can a guy get some sleep around here or will I be subjected to all of Officer Asuda's antics whether I want to or not?"

Nike frowned. "Short of the activate, on and off commands, I don't remember anything about these devices. We'll just have to wait and see." Nike still held Bailey's headset in her hand. "I'm also hearing the transmissions without the headset. Looks like I won't be needing this." She handed the headset back to Bailey. He thanked her and put it back on.

Percy scratched his chin and stuck out his lower lip as if it had an effect on the clarity of his thinking. "Maybe it's always on for reception, but only on for transmitting if you say the magic words. I wonder what the range is on these things. And how we got them?" He rubbed his neck, thinking he might feel a protrusion or some indication of where the radio had been implanted. He found nothing and shrugged. "The computer's giving me no useful information. Shlitzee, you've been on or around this ship for a while. Do you have an explanation for this?"

Shlitzee scratched the middle of her back by hyper extending an arm (as only a robot could) and sighed. "Define 'this'. Our location? Negative. Minimum safe distance from the approaching meteorological conditions? Negative. Communication device? Sounds like an implant, but there's no way of knowing without a medical examination. Damage reports? Repair drones have been dispatched to fill three hull breaches. That should reduce the envirosystem strain and reinstate the comfort controls."

"Great," Arkady said. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it." Shlitzee attached a small canister of Dynaloob to her nose and activated several quick pulses. Donning an expression that humans would associate with elation, the bot said, "to hell with this! I wanna find something to smash!"

"Radio on," Bud said. "Less bussout some woopass, Cap!" He incorporated a forehead sweat wipe into a waving lemur form. He felt loosened up by his dancing and happy to be active.

"Whoopass it is," Nike replied. "Let's stay together while we check the sleepers. We'll split up when we get to the cafeteria. Chelydra and I can secure the cafeteria. He should know his way around there a little, since that's where he was when we crashed this tin can. We secure the engines and other areas after that." She paused to wipe a trickle of sweat from her brow. "And I know I don't need to tell you to make it double time. Arkady, Percy, Shlitzee - as soon as the ship is secured, we'll contact you to come and evaluate the damage. In the meantime, keep at it from here."

"Amanda should be awake soon," Arkady replied. "Good luck. Radio off."

Bud headed for the exit. Over his shoulder he said, "Shlitzee, while you're sexin' up this crate, maybe you should try the old Kamikaze backup."

"The ship's computer systems and my memory have both been recently archived," Shlitzee replied. She tapped her forehead.

Bud gave Shlitzee the thumbs up and quietly asked Chelydra as they passed through the medbay door, "so Chel, you weren't in the Screamin' 21st by any chance, were you?" The door slid shut before Arkady or Percy could hear Chelydra's response.

Percy turned his attention from the computer and asked Arkady, "did Bud just say something about a Kamikaze? Oh boy."

"Sounds like he's a man that takes precautions," Arkady replied. "That's good. I just hope he doesn't expect to need it!" Arkady had found a keyless access panel and removed it. Inside was a maze of cables and conduits. He felt overwhelmed and frustrated by his inability to make any sense of it. He closed the panel and wandered into the next room to check on Amanda. Her perfectly proportioned limbs stirred; a lock of hair fell across her face. Arkady scrutinized the bedside monitor. The functioning medbot had left its storage unit and was removing the tubes and mask from Amanda. He was satisfied with what he saw and left the room. Rubbing his temples, he approached Percy. "I wonder if there's any painkiller in that medkit."

"Uh, no, I didn't see any PainAway™ in there, but I'm not sure I'd recognize it anyway, seeing as I barely recognize myself these days. Maybe it would be a good idea to take an inventory of the stuff in there."

Arkady browsed the medkit's contents. He found a hypodermic that resembled PainAway. He waved it in Shlitzee's direction and said, "is this pain reliever, Shlitzee?"

"Hmmm," she said, her eyes turning bright red. "Sort of. A dose of that artificial opiate and you'd be feeling no pain! It might be overkill if you want to just get rid of a headache, though. Come on, I'll get something for you." Arkady offered the medkit to her and she led him into the biomed storage room. She stowed the medkit in an inertial dampening shelf then took down a bottle and took a capsule from it. She handed it to Arkady and put the bottle back. "There ya go."

"Thanks, Shlitzee," Arkady replied as he put the pill in his mouth. He swallowed it with some water from the sink in the operating room.

"Alright," Percy said, "let's see here." He cracked his cloned knuckles. He glanced at them and noticed for the first time that the little scar at the base of his right middle finger was not there. Of course the cloning banks wouldn't have copied that non-genetic flaw, but he still had the memory of punching that bully, Matthew, in the teeth back in the 6th grade anyway. He took a deep breath and, inspired by the recalled memory, delved back into the computer system. Shlitzee and Arkady reentered the medbay. "What can you tell me about those repair robots, Shiltzee?" Percy smacked his lips and savored the fading taste of candy bar. Shlitzee jacked in and produced reports and diagrams detailing the repair systems.

After a thorough sweep of the ship, Nike, Chelydra, Bud and Bailey found nothing in the ship but the expected material damage. Nike and Chelydra found the largest breach in engineering. Outside they could see the landscape around them: it wasn't very inviting, at least not in the near vicinity. There were mountains in the distance. Various critters scurried about in the dunes close to the ship. The sky was menacing and dark; flashes of green rippled across it as sonic booms shook the ship slightly. Nike dropped back down to the floor and let the small maintenance drone return to sealing the breach with an expanding foam that slowly hardened. "Radio on. Hey Perce, relay this for me: Shlitzee, is the computer too damaged to do an outside sensor sweep for life forms?"

In the medbay, Percy shouted, "radio on!", wasting the audial projection on the circuitry that would have picked up a sotto voce. "Oh, uh, never mind, Radio, you're already on," the technically oriented Warden escapee said to his embedded radio technology.

"Percy, I heard all that," Nike said. "Please relay the message!"

"Uh, sorry!" Percy wondered if Shlitzee was about to recommend a psychiatrist. Her eyes turned opaque and rolled upwards. Percy surrendered to the wacky fact that he was on a conference call using a telecomm device inside his head! "Nike wanted me to tell you," he began, but the computer suddenly started beeping. Numbers and characters streamed across the screen. "Holy cow," he sputtered.

"Captain Thomason asked you to tell me 'Holy cow'? I find your human lack of focus and ill-timed humor to be quite disconcerting... and messy!" Shlitzee wiped the fresh saliva from the computer monitor.

"Uh, Nike, this is Percy. The computer is already running outside sensor sweeps, but I don't think we initiated it!" He gave Shlitzee a puzzled look.

In the next room, Amanda sat straight up in her bed. "Oh my," she said, clearly confused.

Arkady entered the room as Amanda was looking over the side of the operating table. "Better not climb out that side, Amanda. The floor's uneven because we've made an emergency landing. You'll have to be careful." He helped Amanda climb down. "Everyone's fine. There were two other humans on board when we left the Warden: Bud and Bailey. They're evaluating the damage with Nike and Chelydra right now." Amanda followed Arkady into the main medbay where Percy and Shlitzee stood in front of the computer terminal.

"Hey Amanda! You're awake!" Percy grinned a big smile. "That's wonderful! How do you feel?"

She stretched her arms. "I'm so sore. I feel like I just survived a crash landing or something!"

Percy and Arkady looked at each other with wide eyes.

"What'd I say?"

Suddenly Amanda, Arkady and Percy heard Nike's voice in their ears. "Bud, Bailey, report." Amanda looked around the room for Nike, but she was nowhere to be seen. "All clear," she heard Bud say. "We found the other two hull breaches in the garage. We're watching them seal up now." Amanda only looked more confused. Arkady briefly explained to her what little they knew about the comm device.

"Alright," Nike said. "When those holes are patched up, rendezvous in the cockpit."

A few minutes later, the alarms stopped flashing and beeping throughout the ship. In the medbay, Percy was shocked to read the message that popped up on the computer. "Did you see this," he asked Shlitzee.

"Yes I did," she replied, completely nonplussed. "Will you please inform Captain Thomason and the others that all hull breaches have been repaired?"

"How were they...," Percy began.

Shlitzee, seeing the potential for another stammering and sputtering incident, interrupted. "They have been sealed with a polymer foam by repair bots."

Percy, mouth still open in mid-sputter, closed it and smiled. "Alllll-right," he whooped! "Radio on. Nike, Shlitzee says the breaches are all sealed. The ship is secure."

"Roger, Percy," Nike replied. "We're meeting in the cockpit. Come join us. Is Amanda awake yet?"

"Radio on. I can hear you just fine," Amanda replied. "Somehow..."

Chelydra and Nike entered the cockpit. Bailey and Bud were already seated. They overheard Bailey say to Bud, "yeah, at least the ship is secure. Now we can focus on other matters."

"I don't know how the holy hell we're going to get this beat up bucket out of the sand," Bud replied. "But at least I have time to think about it now without worrying about some great beast sneakin' up on me and having me for breakfast."

"Do you think we can trust them, Captain," Chelydra asked under his particularly weird-smelling turtle breath.

"I think so," Nike replied softly. "But only time will tell."

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