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Chapter 28: Clones in Toyland

Percy and Arkady arrived in the supply room where Amanda was still admiring her protein disrupter pistol. They emptied the contents of their containers into the recycler. "Hello Percy," Amanda said. "Did you find enough debris for the recycler?"

"There should be plenty and then some," Percy said happily, still feeling the high of having breathed real and not recycled atmosphere for the first time in his clone-self's life.

Chelydra entered the room. "Hey, Amanda. Percy, Arkady," he nodded.

"Howdy Chelydra!" Percy replied.

Chelydra swiped his card and opened the door labeled 'Munitions Locker'. Inside the antechamber beyond, he turned right and likewise opened the next door. The heavy security door opened and revealed a small room. There was a piece of machinery with levers, hoppers and funnels on a large desk. A medium assault rifle, a heavy assault rifle, two other medium sized assault rifles and three handguns were hung neatly from a mostly empty weapons rack. The inertial shelves were mostly empty as well, but there were still some items left: 7 belt holsters, 4 large belt pouches, 6 smaller belt pouches, 3 large power cells, dozens of red cylinders, several small and large ammo clips, 4 orange cartridges, 5 large boxes of shotgun shells, a box of small metal pellets and empty shotgun shells, a box of green, red and blue orbs, dozens of boxes labeled 9mm and another couple of dozen labeled 9.1mm APHE.

Arkady was the first to enter the munitions locker. He picked up one of the handguns. It seemed to be a simple lead slug thrower. He managed to pull out the ammo clip. It seemed full. He tried to put the clip back in, but it started to make a clicking sound. Embarrassed, Arkady finally managed to get the clip in snuggly and the clicking ceased.

Arkady looked up as Bud entered the room. "Nice selection you got here," he said.

Percy watched as everyone streamed in like school students trying to be first in line to the water fountain at recess. He smiled, patted his laser pistol and took a peek himself after Chelydra and Amanda went into the weapons room.

Bud politely took the pistol from Arkady and showed him how to put the first round into the chamber by pulling back on the top half of the pistol then showed him how to turn the safety on and off. "Thanks," Arkady said. He took a belt holster and two full ammo clips for the pistol that Bud pointed out.

"Chel," Bud asked, "are you familiar with any of these firearms?"

"Vaguely, but nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Refresh my memory."

"This is a combat shotgun. Holds 12 18mm shotgun shells, single shot or burst."

"This is an assault rifle, an SK-19 Sturmkarabiner. It uses a binary propellant system: the ammo is harmless without the catalyst." Bud showed them how to remove an orange cartridge from the rifle. "This cartridge holds the gas that the rifle uses to fire. Each cartridge will fire 600 9.1mm armor-piercing, high-explosive bullets. Single shot or burst. It also fires 6 30mm grenades." Bud looked in the box of multi-colored orbs. "Red grenades are always fragmentary, green are always knockout gas, and blue is smoke."

"And this," Bud caressed the largest weapon, "is a plaser."

"Is that anything like pleather?" Arkady joked.

"Uh, no but it's a little Pfunky! It's a plasma rifle."

"Not a laser rifle?" Arkady said, trying to sound serious.

"It's both, actually. Plasma is a super heated gas. But the gas cools too quickly in atmosphere for it to be an effective weapon from more than a few dozen meters away, so the weapon first fires a laser to heat a path for the plasma. The laser does damage as well, but not as much as the plasma. This is a Japanese model, a Kurita Type-21F. 15 megawatts of portable tank-stopping punch!" Bud showed them how to unload and load the power cell. "One atomic cell will fire 40 plasma bolts. And this," he showed them how load a small red cylinder, "is the hydrogen charge. Each charge will fire 1 plasma bolt. Both the cell and the charge are required. When you fire the plaser, watch out! The charge'll be ejected from the chamber on your right and it'll be red hot! Finally, that device on the desk is a shotgun shell-loading machine. Any questions?" Bud proceeded to show each clone how to use each weapon. He showed Amanda how to load and unload the hydrogen cell in her protein pistol. He showed the clones how to read the contents of a cell: the one in Amanda's pistol was completely full and could fire 20 more shots before it would need a new cell.

Percy listened as Bud described the various weapons. The plaser sounded like science fiction! But, they were living science fiction and it was par for the course. He wondered what new inventions might have been dreamed up and fashioned into reality back on Earth in the intervening years since the Warden's departure from the pale blue dot.

Amanda was also very, very interested in the handling of the weapons. She paid close attention. After the lecture, she holstered the protein pistol and picked up a Sturmkarabiner. "I don't know why, but I like this one," she said with a serious look. She admired its color and shape and tested its weight, then loaded the launcher with red frags. Finally, almost as an afterthought, she slung the fancy rifle/carbine over her shoulder.

Arkady holstered his pistol and said, "thanks, Bud Sensei." He bowed slightly.

Bud scrutinized him for a moment. Was he mocking him? The look in Arkady's eyes indicated his honest gratitude. Bud smiled. "You're welcome, Padawan."

Arkady turned to Percy. "Shall we go see a computer about a reactor part?" Percy and Arkady went through the door behind them and opened the matter compiler shed. The compiler was still on. The terminal indicated large quantities of carbon, silicon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur had been decompiled. There was already more than enough carbon to build the reactor part and there was another couple dozen kilograms of material in the recycler that had yet to be decompiled. They reauthorized the reactor part and construction began immediately.

Arkady browsed through the common items in the Emergency Equipment directory. He spotted 'Unformatted ID Passcard' and 'Comm Headset'. "Amanda needs a passcard, and Chel needs a headset," he said and clicked on the compile button. The compiler asked Arkady to select a priority for the new construction. He chose to have them built after the reactor part was complete.

"Now to get some sleep," he said to Percy. "I'll meet you back here when the replacement part is finished."

"You bet. Don't put your blaster under the pillow unless you put the safety on, right?" Percy joked. He watched as Arkady left the garage, then grinned almost mischievously to himself. He sized up the car and hovercraft, and noted to himself what they might need to be functional again. Tires, he thought, and power. They might also need to be retrofitted to work in sand, he continued, making a mental list.

Percy tried to gain entry into the vehicles. Each was unlocked and the keys were still in the ignition. He turned the key in the sporty ground car. The hydrogen powered engine silently started. The dashboard seemed familiar to Percy. It indicated the power cells were fully charged. He turned the engine off and tried the hovercraft. It too was fully charged, but not so silent. Since the skirts were missing, the craft's blowers noisily blew air into the garage. A light on the less familiar dashboard understatedly said 'Skirt Integrity Compromised'. He shut the engine off and the noise stopped. As he got out of the hovercraft, he noticed there were several cans beneath the seat. He removed them and discovered six empty cans of Obb Beer.

Percy considered the vehicles. He may not have been a space pilot, but he remembered his original self knew how to drive. He was almost certain he'd be able to drive the sports car, however it was definitely not made for driving in sand, even with decent tires. The hovercraft was a different matter. It seemed similar to a regular car, but Percy had no memory of them at all. It might handle better on sand than a wheeled vehicle, but judging by the amount of wind blown by the engine it might make riding in it uncomfortable without protection since the passenger compartment was open to the elements.

Percy considered taking one of the vehicles for a spin to explore the surrounding area, but they'd have to move the ship first. There was no way the garage lift would work with so much sand directly beneath it.

Soon, exhaustion started winning over excitement at the newness and intrigue of matter compilation and vehicle repair. In the matter compiler's Emergency Equipment directory, he found a decent set of tires with good traction for the car, and a replacement skirt and protective shell for the hovercraft. He put them on standby, so as not to forget. He'd discuss with the rest of the crew later if it were a worthy use of their spare carbon. For now, he felt like a bit of a rest himself, but there was one stop he wanted to make first.

Percy made his way back to engineering. He walked within view of the rusting robot through the window to the reactor room and cheerfully gave it an update. "Uh, Terminus?" He waited for the robot's response to his presence.

"Ter minus... Here," the robot's voice said tinnily over the room's loud speakers. The arrhythmic tap-tapping sound remained after the robot spoke.

"Good news! We found enough carbon to compile a replacement containment chamber cooling system! Isn't that great?"

"Containment chamber... cooling system... cool... Replacement ready."

"Uh, I hope you haven't been waiting five hundred and five years to hear that news. I'm really sorry, if you have." He awaited the robot's response eagerly.

Terminus simply stood in front of the reactor room's airlock patiently waiting. The airlock door reflected vacantly in its stereo camera lenses. Its wrist twitched against its leg making a metallic tapping noise. "Cool," it said.

Arkady passed through the supply room on his way to the cabins. He noticed the weapons they had brought on board and decided they'd be safer in the munitions locker since the supply room doors didn't require passcards to open. After he finished stowing the weapons in the locker, the jackets hanging in the cabinet caught his eye. He took one off a hanger and tried it on. It was light, sporty and fit him well. Confident with his new look, he left the supply room.

He turned down the corridor toward the medbay and stopped at the first cabin on his right. He suddenly recalled a memory of his former life: unassigned cabins were usually not keyed to passcards. Arkady tested his memory by holding his thumb to the passcard panel. The panel illuminated and the door opened. Pleased with himself, he entered the room. There was a three-person bunk bed, a desk, a chair, inertial shelves, cabinets and an end table beside the bed. The door closed behind him and Arkady sat at the desk where there was a computer terminal. He swiped his passcard over the computer's card reader to login. He typed the query, 'how do I lock my cabin?' The terminal displayed a series of diagrams showing the procedure. Arkady read them and went to the card reader inside the room beside the door. He put his thumb against the card reader as before. A moment later a message displayed above it, 'Thumbprint unknown. Please swipe passcard.' Arkady did so and soon the device displayed another message, 'Dmitrivich, Arkady. Thumbprint saved. Door locked. You may now use your passcard or thumbprint to lock or unlock this door.'

Arkady went back to the computer and typed another query. The computer responded by saying an alarm would ring in his room to awaken him when the matter compiler had completed construction on the reactor replacement part. "At last," Arkady thought. "Something that works!" He patted the computer affectionately, took off his holster and jacket and placed them beside the bed. He was ready for a nap, but he had one last thing on his mind. He left his room and found the restrooms through a small exercise area down the hall. He took a brief, hot shower and dried himself with a towel from the cabinet. He put on his jumpsuit, returned to his room and climbed into the middle bunk. Beside his jacket and pistol, he placed his pocketknife and attached his magnetic icon to the duralloy hull beside his bed. He thought about his parents, now long dead for many centuries. He wondered if he still had family on Mars, or anywhere else in the galaxy. Still wearing his jumpsuit, he lay on the covers. He fell fast asleep and dreamed dreams of wild marines and insane machines.

An hour and a half later Shlitzee completed the operation on Horatio's student. Horatio and Shlitzee helped David, still groggy from the sedatives, back to the Captain's dining room.

Arkady awoke to the not-so-gentle alarm beside his bed. He strapped on his holster, put on his jacket and headed for the garage. There he met Percy. The replacement part for the reactor was finally complete! Percy opened the door. He tugged on the big metallic object inside, but it was too heavy.

The blue light above one of the robot storage chambers suddenly turned green. The chamber opened and an engineering robot stepped out of it. The words 'HEPHAESTUS II 00056' were printed on its chest. Two heavy grappling arms projected from the robot. "Do you require assistance?" it asked.

"Why, yes we do," Arkady replied happily. "Would you please carry this containment chamber cooling part into engineering? Terminus needs to install it."

Hephaestus obligingly took the part and carried it out of the garage. The robot was strong and walked steadily but hesitated on every other step, like a limp. When it reached the engineering room, it called for the airlock door to be opened. The mechanism beside the door flashed to indicate that a precautionary decontamination was taking place inside. White foam floated down from the ceiling. While they waited, the speakers carried the sound of Terminus' tapping to them.

Arkady twitched involuntarily. "Doesn't that sound annoy you? It does me. The sounds of ships and robots from my former life were regular, rhythmic patterns. This noise has no pattern. It's creepy. Or maybe it is a regular pattern, but it's too long for the human ear to recognize? I don't know, but it makes me uncomfortable. Do you mind if I wait out the repair in another room?"

Arkady left. A few minutes later, the airlock door opened and Hephaestus placed the part inside. The door closed and a moment later the inner door opened. The tapping stopped and Terminus carried the replacement part into the maze of the reactor. "Warmth," it said drearily.

Arkady walked past the munitions locker on his way back to the matter compiler. He was surprised to see Amanda still there admiring her new Sturmkarabiner. He waited for the compiler to finish manufacturing two items.

He took the first item to Amanda. She did not hide the obvious fact that she was spending too much time admiring her new assault rifle. She was impressed by the personal weapon's sleek looks and massive firepower. She was eyeing it affectionately when Arkady flashed the new passcard at her. "I got a little something for you."

"Thank you," she said quietly.

"Shall we set you up with a room and configure your passcard?"

Amanda looked at Arkady and said quietly, "Um, All right. I want to lay down and see if I can get some sleep. That is, unless there is something special you need me to do before hand."

Arkady reddened visibly. Thoughts of Nike mingled with thoughts of Amanda. "What I need? I just need to know you're ok. I've been worried since I heard you were knocked unconscious by the crash. There's a little time to nap before the repairs are complete and this bird flies again, hopefully."

Arkady and Amanda walked to the crew quarters. Amanda picked a room and they went inside. Arkady sat at the desk and logged into the computer. 'How do I configure a new passcard,' he queried. A series of diagrams stepped them through the process. Amanda scanned her thumbprint on the passcard scanner and typed in her personal information. When the process was complete, Arkady showed her how to lock the door.

He wished Amanda a good nap and walked down the hallway toward the galley. Thoughts of Nike and Amanda clouded his vision. Did Nike share his feelings? Had Amanda been flirting with him? Arkady slowed as his thoughts bubbled up. Suddenly he imagined a distant bell ringing. He stopped and pondered it. Had he really heard it? Was it a memory from his past? No matter. He vowed not to dwell on the matter. Currently, the galley was before him. He strode in that direction more purposefully.

"Hey Chel, I brought you a headset," he said as he handed him the second item from the compiler. "Now you can join the party line."

Chel, Bailey, Horatio and the students were all seated at the Captain's table. They were dining. Chel explained that the students' bags had been mostly filled with food. They had loaves of bread, dried fruits and meats! Arkady sat down and joined them for a meal. He hadn't eaten since they'd left the cafeteria on the Warden, nearly 16 hours ago. While he ate, the students talked about the Sigai and their families. They also spoke of Eden. None had yet been there but they all hoped to one day make the pilgrimage.

After he'd eaten his fill, Arkady thanked them for the food and excused himself. He felt guilty for leaving Percy by himself for so long. He'd been gone for over an hour! He took a portion of food for Percy and headed for engineering.

Percy sat at a computer terminal, silently writing Post-It notes and sticking them around the monitor. "You're gonna run out of those. They're probably antiques now," he said as he gave Percy the food.

"All right: chow, baby!" the droopy-eyed, technically oriented Warden crewman cheered.

"Ciao, baby? I just got here, don't say goodbye already!" The pilot's humor was dry; it matched the air of the planet they'd landed on.

"Ha ha!" Percy scarfed down the food. "Everything on Warden is an antique," he said, barely intelligible with a mouth full. "We'll just go back and get some more if I run out." He stopped chewing, thought about what he'd just said for a moment and started chewing again, this time more slowly. "Do you think we'll ever go back to Warden? Or was this a one-way trip?" It was more rhetorical than anything. But he wasn't ready to give up on Warden.

"I sure hope so," Arkady replied.

"I know, I know. First things first. Save this ship then save the mothership. Right."

After several minutes the sound of Terminus' tap-ta-tap-tap-tapping began again. It gradually got louder. Soon the robot emerged from the depths of the reactor. "Reactor repairs... Complete," it intoned. "Please test, warm engines..."

Arkady looked at the clock on Percy's computer screen. Five hours had passed since Nike had told them she was taking a nap. "Radio on. Nike, this is your wake up call. Are you awake? It's me, Arkady. The reactor repairs are complete and we're ready to test the engines."

"Roger that," Nike said, her mind swiftly coming to an alert state.

"Ah, hi folks," Amanda said over the comm. "I just woke up a few minutes ago. Any word on our plans for the daycycle?"

"Let's all meet in the mess in five minutes to discuss ship operations," Nike replied.

Percy nodded his head approvingly. He smiled at the surround sound broadcast he was receiving. "I wonder if we can send just a one-way transmission. You know I love hearing you talk in my head, but what if you wanted to whisper sweet nothings or something?" Percy was oblivious to Arkady's feelings. It was just an example, so he didn't expect any kind of reaction from him. Arkady just smiled. He naturally assumed Percy's comment was directed over the comm device to Nike or Amanda.

Percy swallowed another bite. "I'll meet you in the chow room in a bit, Arkady. I'm going to query something on the computer first." Arkady departed for the mess hall while Percy asked the computer for schematics and instructions on how to use their built-in radios.

Nike still felt fatigued but it was a drastic improvement over her previous condition. Just being that relaxed--being naked and feeling the softness of the bed and being able to close her eyes--was invigorating. Rising, she went into the loo to splash some water on her face and put her jumpsuit and equipment back on.

A thought occurred to her... "Pandora, are you with us?" she said, fastening her belt. The room was silent. She hadn't heard the ship's computer speak to her since before the crash.

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