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Chapter 26: The Afrimus Storm

Without warning, the ship lurched sternward. Percy and Arkady were in the corridor on their way to the storage room. They managed to grab hold of the railing when the floor moved beneath them. In the cockpit, Amanda fell back into her chair while Bailey, who had been leaning next to her, fell past her into another chair.

Things were more chaotic in the dining room. Most of the room's ten occupants were thrown off their feet. Only Shlitzee, Horatio and two of his students remained standing. One of Horatio's students struck the table with his head. The table rang like a gong; he fell into his fellows on the floor.

Chelydra stumbled. He caught hold of the table, but he dropped his shotgun and his helmet fell over his eyes. Nike fell into Bud and they both collapsed. Bud's head struck the floor and knocked him unconscious. Nike, stunned, fell on top of him. Everything seemed to move slowly back and forth, as if on a seesaw. Nike's head throbbed as the ship moved.

Then it was over, as suddenly as it had begun. The ship was stable again, but it was listing in the opposite direction. The tail end of the ship had become the lowest point.

"Radio on! What the hell is moving us? Status, people! Everyone report," Nike mumbled into the radio.

"I don't know, Cap!" Percy replied over the radio. "We're on our way to the garage. Next terminal I find I'll query for cause and damage report. You okay in there?"

"Don't know yet. We'll keep you posted."

"This shaking has removed the sand from the cockpit windows," Amanda's voice said over the radio. "Bailey and I can see the storm around us now. We think the movement was caused somehow by the lightning. It's giving us quite a light show! The computer registers no internal damage and all the ship's batteries are now fully charged!"

"Great! Thanks for the update, Amanda. Radio off."

Shlitzee immediately dispatched nurse bots to their location. She kept an eye on the three natives that remained standing. The two students were too stunned to move, but Horatio leapt into action! He ran to the side of his fallen companion, now moaning and clutching his head. Shlitzee approached the stunned students and pointed at Chel's shotgun with her laser. "Boomstick," she said huskily. Her eyes turned dark red. "So, how's the nightlife around here?" she asked out loud while she simultaneously spoke into her comm device: "Ah... Bailey? Looks like we'll need those avocados in the galley sooner than expected... We have 6 more for dinner tonight."

"We're on our way," Bailey replied over the radio.

Bud groaned and tried to stand up. Nike climbed off of him. She helped him to his feet. "I just had the strangest dream," he said, imagining he and Nike were still at the rec center by the lake. "We crash landed on a planet and there were wolfmen and turtlemen running around with weapons."

"That weren't no dream, Toto," Nike said quietly to her bruised companion.

Chelydra pushed his helmet out of his eyes with a grunt. He grabbed his shotgun from where it lay on the table and sized up the situation. Everyone was conscious. The student who had hit his head seemed to be the only one injured. Horatio was applying some kind of a root to his scalp.

Afraid of the ship tilting again, Percy paused before continuing cautiously down the hall. Arkady followed.

They turned toward the port side of the ship and walked toward the ship's entrance. They saw where Percy and Rufus had strapped themselves in. Rufus still lie slumped over in his harness. He looked serenely comfortable in death's embrace. Percy felt a pang of regret once again that Rufus had not survived, but focused on their mission. The reactor needed repairs! The door to the storage room slid open as he and Arkady continued toward the garage. Percy read from the sticky note again where to go and proceeded past the storage units to the port-side door. It slid open and revealed a small chamber with security doors on both fore and aft sides. Turning to the aft door, he examined the security system. It was a simple affair like all the other doors: a simple card reader. Percy swiped his passcard over the reader and the heavy door ponderously opened.

Inside the garage, Percy and Arkady marveled at the sporty ground car and hovercraft that sat in their protective berths. In front of the vehicles, a large lift was recessed into the floor. Percy spotted the only other door in the room and walked toward it. It was similar to the heavy security door they had just come through. To the left of the door were two robot chambers. Inside was what looked like heavy industrial robots. The light above one chamber glowed blue; the other glowed red. There were no computer terminals in sight.

Percy's blood pumped at the possibility of finding the matter compiler. "That Terminus bot better be right about this," he thought grimly. He swiped his card across the reader and the door opened. Inside was a large machine that nearly filled the entire space.

"Man, that's a big one," Arkady said as he eyed the size of the output door. It was at least a couple of meters wide.

Percy pressed the 'on' switch and they waited for it to boot up. When it finally came to life, two warning lights flashed on the top panel: one read 'Offline'; the other simply had the letter 'C' on it. Percy turned his attention to the compiler's interface. Below the top panel was a touch screen and a keyboard. The top of the screen showed the tabs of several directories. The selected directory was called 'Emergency Equipment'. Percy touched the search button on the screen and typed the part number written on his Post-It note. The part displayed on the screen with information about it, including an estimated compile time of three hours and twenty minutes.

Percy pressed the compile button. The compiler prompted him to scan his passcard in the compiler's card reader. Percy swiped his card and waited. His card was authorized, but a warning appeared on the screen: 'There is insufficient Carbon for this task. Please deposit refuse containing carbon in a recycling device and try again later.'

While Percy and Arkady reread the screen and pondered what to do, the ship suddenly shuddered again. The motion was much weaker than before and no one lost their footing.

"Radio on. Arkady here, the matter complier is out of carbon and we can't make the right part until we get some. Maybe there's some spare food in the galley we can throw in the recyclers?"

Nike briefly pondered using Rufus' body for his carbon. She hated the thought, but if it saved the group... "Yuck, I don't even want to think about it," she thought and tried to forget the idea.

"Sorry Arkady," Amanda said over the radio. "I haven't seen any carbon onboard at all. Not even diamondoid! Everything here seems to be made of duralloy or some synthetic plastic."

"Has anyone found any food?" Nike asked over the radio, her stomach rumbling.

"Radio on. I have a pack of gum, that's about it!" Percy replied. "Not sure how much carbon's in it, though! We'll report back if we find something."

"Any sign of other life forms near our perimeter outside?" Nike asked.

"I still haven't seen a computer terminal where we are yet. Next one I see I'll try to find out what's in the area. Maybe you could ask our guests for their knowledge of these dunes? Radio off!" Percy paused as he looked gravely at the pilot. "Uh, I don't think I wanna even go here, but I have to mention it anyway. There's about 50 hairy kilos of carbon strapped to a harness in the hallway back there. If we can't find anything else..." Percy grimaced and, for the second time since his clone awakening, had a flashback of an air conditioner burial location for a pet canine. "Rufus deserves a burial, not a recycling," he thought.

"Waaaaaaaitaminute! Hair! I could wolf out, cut off my hair, and shove it down a recycler! It might not be much, but it's something! Maybe we don't need much," Percy said unconvincingly. He turned to the compiler and queried the deficiency of carbon relative to constructing the new cooling system. He scanned through the template's contents and groaned when he read how many kilograms of carbon were required. "That's a LOT of hair. I'd be shaving for weeks! Months!"

"Maybe Amanda would help shave your back," Arkady teased him. "Seriously, we should raid the pantry instead. That cafeteria back on the Warden still had plenty of food. We might find plenty here, too! We probably don't need much food: a few hours to fabricate this piece, fix the reactor and fly outta here; then we can resupply elsewhere." Arkady snapped his fingers. "Hey, tires! A couple of tires from that car over there should do the trick!"

"Good idea!" Percy replied as they headed in that direction, but they were brought up short by what they saw. The car was resting on its rims, tireless.

"What the," Arkady exclaimed. He walked around the car. "Even the rubber seals around the windows are missing!" The hovercraft was in a similar state. The skirting that allowed it to hover was gone.

"So much for riding in style!" Percy shrugged.

"For now, anyways. Once we get enough carbon together, we can probably make new tires and a skirt for the hovercraft. Wanna go raid the pantry?"

"Pantry sounds good to me." Percy took one last glance at the matter compiler and sighed. He silently hoped they would find enough carbon based scrap to feed the machine, and that it would work properly after silently waiting for so many years.

Two nurse bots zipped into the dining room and began examining the occupants. Bailey and Amanda arrived soon behind them.

The natives were terrified by the nurse bots. As the bots examined his students, Horatio tried to comfort them. The words that gave Horatio strength were from the scriptures he had read in the Hithari seminary. He searched for words his less educated students would be more familiar with. "Why are you fearful?" he said to them softly. "Do you still have no faith? Remember, 'He will reward each according to what he has done. Have faith and do not doubt.'"

The nurse bots completed their triage and reported to Shlitzee. "Every one seems to be fine," Shlitzee said, "except for Horatio's student here who seems to have mistaken the table for a percussion instrument and tried to play it with his head! He may be fine, but there might be internal trauma that will have to be checked out in the medbay."

"Please follow me," The bots said to Horatio's student before leading him toward the medbay. The student looked at Horatio. "'Have faith and do not doubt'," Horatio repeated as he put his arm around the man and helped him toward the door in the direction the nurse bots had gone. Nike joined them.

Outside in the corridor, Nike asked Horatio, "I wonder if I can ask you a few questions?"

"Absolutely, Mam. What is it you'd like to know?" Horatio smiled affably.

Before Nike could ask another question, the student Horatio was supporting stumbled. He was having a hard time keeping his balance. "Easy, David. I'm here," Horatio said to him soothingly.

"I'm going to be sick", he replied.

"Do you think you could wait 'till we reach a sink?" Shlitzee asked.

As if in reply, David fell to his knees and loudly emptied the contents of his stomach onto the floor outside the sleeping berths.

"What a waste of perfectly good carbon," Shlitzee said. She ordered one of the medbots to clean the mess and take it to the recycler. While the medbot vacuumed the corridor floor, they entered the medbay.

Percy led Arkady through the starboard side door out of the storage room adjacent to the garage, turned fore, and deliberately turned a sharp corner starboard, not glancing back at Rufus again. It was bad enough the canine...oid was in his thoughts; he didn't want to gaze upon the poor beast again. He had a thought and acted on it impulsively. "Computer," Percy said stoically as he walked toward the galley. "Dispatch a care bot to retrieve the canine...ish corpse near the entrance. Put it in stasis, if you can." Only the sound of their footsteps replied. He shrugged and said to Arkady, "We'll bury him later, but I don't want him starting to stink."

They followed the sound of voices through the main dining room and into the Captain's dining quarters. "Hello there! Crewmen Arkady and Percy comin' on in for a food recon," he said as they entered the room. He gazed upon their sand dwelling guests and tried to smile a friendly smile. "Hi there! Welcome to... er, our ship!" He thought to himself, "We need to name this ship!" Percy turned to Chelydra and said, "I thought there were more..."

"Nike and Shlitzee took Horatio with one of his students to the medbay. His student may have been injured in the quake."

"Ah," Percy nodded. "Well, we've got a job to do. See you around!" He laughed as he and Arkady exited through the other door.

Next door, they found the kitchen: the galley proper. There were a great number of utilities in the room for food preparation: sinks, counters, cabinets, dishes, utensils, pots, and refrigerators. There was a chopping block, but it was made of an artificial polymer instead of wood. There was no food in the refrigerators or the cabinets.

They left the kitchen through another door. On the other side of the main dining area, they saw two more doors: one on either side of the hallway. They went to the nearest door first. Inside they found rows of inertial dampening shelves. There were many boxes. They searched inside each of them, but there was no food. The boxes were all empty. "What kind of emergency lifeboat doesn't have emergency rations on board," Arkady asked.

They left the room and went to the last door. Inside, they found several chairs facing an entertainment console in the center of the room. A flat screen sat on four sides of the console. A holographic projector was in the middle. Arkady approached the console. "Ooo," he cooed. "An Omega box. We can play some games and watch movies while we starve to death."

Bright light suddenly streamed in through the open doorway. The central dining room was brightly lit from above. Percy and Arkady walked toward the skylight. The crew and students next door also saw the light through a narrow window on the fore side of the Captain's dining room. The clouds had parted. The storm was gone.

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