High Mobius Orbit
Sally rubbed her eyes as she walked down the small corridor towards her bunkroom. The metal corridors of the massive starship began to look the same after a long shift of general duty, the two worst words one could hear as a Marine on a ship. Despite being part of what could technically be considered a special forces unit, she was not exempt from the status of the garden variety leatherneck. Also, despite her reporting to her Captain - who was also in command of their unit - who also reported to the commanding officer of the Indomitable, she was under requirements to keep the UNSC running smoothly. That was the joy of military life. It was days like this she almost preferred running around in the muck, fighting guerilla style on the ground.
The beautiful thing about 'general duty' was its obvious vagueness. This meant that every chief petty officer and his toady could throw it around as if it actually meant something. This also meant that it could refer to just about anything imaginable under the sun. Whether it was standing guard outside of a deck armory or lifting boxes for the engine crews to mopping floors in some god-forsaken hallway on the beast of a vessel that was the Indomitable, it was all general; it was all something she could do.
So, that was what she did. Chris, her captain and friend, had already reported to a naval lieutenant some time ago and was probably stashed away in some storage room making himself useful and putting his law degree to work lifting a box or ten at a time. She could imagine him struggling to keep from rolling his eyes as he heard that maybe the box was better where it was originally, or if it could be moved a quarter of an inch further to make sure that it lined up with some regulation buried in the books somewhere. She had heard him speak on that before. It actually brought a smile to her face as she passed a bulkhead that lead to her section of the deck. The bullseye markings on the support beams were something she learned how to read quickly. You needed to on the supercarrier. It was simply too big to bumble around on.
She found she was in the right section; made two lefts, walked another hundred meters, took a right, and found herself in front of the door she instantly recognized as her own. She breathed a sigh of relief and scratched her scalp, keying in the passcode to open it. The doors hissed open, one set faster than the other to briefly show off the impromptu seal the doors could make if required. The room beyond called to her like a siren's song.
As far as naval accommodations went it was generous. The fact that it remained separate from the other berthing sections even more so. The room measured around fifteen by twenty feet, though every stretch of it was made useable to make up for the fact.
Four bunks were recessed into the walls, each slightly wider than those used by the E-7s and below. Lockers were beyond the foot of each. In the corners, pull out chairs would come from the walls, and a table could be unfolded from the armrest. One such chair was pulled out now, though like the room, it did not have an occupant in it. A small television screen was on wall opposite the door, and currently displayed information about the ship's position around Mobius, though at any time it can, and had been, set to more recreational purposes, such as bunkroom game tournaments, or archived movies that could be watched when off-duty. Lastly, to the right of the television, and in its own section of the back room, was a separate bathroom, which was something the lower rates would kill themselves trying to obtain. Sally never thought of this though, despite the fact that she was aware of how lucky she was to have these arrangements. They had been difficult to secure. True, they had worked for their slice of comfort, especially following the Battle of Robotropolis in June, but it had still taken negotiation, especially since she shared this cabin with her Human.
And what a thing it had been for them to say yes.
A smile flashed over her face, and her ears twitched at the pleasant thought. How many rules had they been willing to overlook? How many had they simply chosen not to enforce given who she was? She spent the briefest of thoughts on the matter before she pulled out her phone to check the duty schedule.
The first thing she noted was that it was one-thirty in the morning according to ship time. She blinked. She had been on duty for about seven hours, but it felt like it had been much longer. The fact that the corridor lights were dimmer to account for the change in time hadn't been noticed by her, and she was surprised it wasn't later than that. The second thing she checked was her schedule. She breathed a sigh of relief and saw she was not slated for duty until Thursday, two days from that point. She had two days off. Just her and her...
She frowned. Chris had general duty for the next five days straight, all the same location, guarding a high-traffic corridor that held a restricted location. She bit her lip. Eight hours standing in place with a rifle at your side and your eyes boring through the Titanium plating across from you. It was not a fun shift.
She considered appealing to the duty supervisor, but thought better of it. She had thrown her weight around a lot already and accomplished far more than an E-9 had any right to. She sighed and placed the phone back into her pocket and pulled her uniform off. Immediately she felt better in her undershirt and shorts, letting the heat radiate away from her. She had to sit down before anything else. She took the chair that had been pulled out and fell into it, feet bouncing as she hit the cushion. Her hand went to her forehead, wiping some sweat that matted her fur. She brushed her hair with the hand, absently noting that it was almost time for a haircut. She actually liked the short hair, though it had taken getting used to.
She checked her phone once more and saw the Captain was due to get off work in only a half hour. She decided that she could get cleaned up and wash away the funk of a full day's work. She had an image to uphold after all. So she rose once more on shaking legs and made her way into the bathroom, and not long after that, the shower.
The instant the hot water hit her she felt in a state of relief and ecstasy. He audibly sighed over the sound of impacting water and reflected on her day. She thought of the incompetent fool of a Master Chief Petty Officer who felt the need to criticize every single aspect of her work. She secretly suspected that it was the Navy mentality that proclaimed they were the chosen people over the Marines. Though it was not in her nature to pick on people, some of the squids were asking for it by that point. The officers however were nicer, if more aloof then their working-class counterparts.
She pulled back what short hair, letting the water filter through it to her scalp. The water felt glorious after a long day of work. Locating the shampoo and soap, she scrubbed and lathered every bit of fur that needed it. For a brief second, she felt strange, as if she had butterflies in her stomach, but as soon as the sensation had come, it vanished. She closed her eyes as she cleaned her hair, and her thoughts went to many things - work, Robotnik, her parents, Sonic, and her Human, the last of all. She opened her eyes. The fact that the last two were meshed so closely together made her frown. Worse, it was one face morphing into the other, fur replaced by skin, the small black nose replaced by a sloping Romanesque one; though the green eyes of one barely shifted to the other.
Sally leaned against the wall, letting the water drop off her face to the floor below. She stared at the water as it circled the drain and wondered just what she was going to do. A brief prickling sensation shuddered through her, and before she knew it, another feeling of the butterflies returned. This time though, the feeling was accompanied by something else: vertigo. Something that she was not prepared for nor was expecting. As soon as she felt water hitting her face from below, she knew something was wrong. She tried to move around, but the movement sent her into a spin.
She gasped. Sally knew immediately what had happened though she didn't know what to do at first. Blobs of water had begun to rise, and as she pushed herself up and away from it, she realized she was running out of room. The shower kept on working, spraying water in what was now a certain free-fall, the liquid congealing into large bubbles that flew in every which direction in what appeared to be pure weightlessness.
Some of the water had reached her, and as soon as she caught her head, she knew what she had to do. She pushed off from the back of the shower, straight through the wall of water floating between her and the nozzle. Brief fear grabbed a hold of her. It was possible the water would stick to her through tension. She had heard stories about people drowning in their showers after gravity generators had failed, the water coalescing around an occupant's head. She pushed the thought from her mind and using her legs, pushed off from the end of the shower towards the nozzle. She felt her face warm as she went through the growing bubble of suspended liquid, and her hand touched the controls to kill the flow. Instantly, the water stopped, though the water, unable to drain through gravity, hanging in the air with small drops flinging about and hitting the walls.
Sally took great care not to sigh in relief for fear of breathing in the water. The small shower was perfectly sized though for her to grab ledges and pull herself out into the lavatory. At first she just remained suspended there, looking at the fogged over mirror, breathing deeply. She could feel her heart rate slowing down. She grabbed a towel, still in the position it was in before the gravity failure. She made certain though to grab it with both hands to ensure it wouldn't whip around in the air current. She herself was already being pushed around by the vents in the room. She chuckled to herself as she dried herself off, that it was the first time she had ever taken a shower in microgravity, and the first time drying herself off in it as well. It was a challenge though drying off every part of her body in the air; something that would have been very little challenge in a 1G environment.
She found small recesses in the floor panels that she could use as a foothold, and after carefully maneuvering around, managed to put herself in front of the mirror. She began to think, now that mundane danger was behind her. This entire room had lost gravity. How much of the deck had? Had the whole ship lost it as well? The Indomitable was a massive vessel five kilometers in length and nearly a kilometer from keel to topdeck; a monstrous thing with backup generators on every deck. There was no way in hell that the entire ship could have lost a massive system and still keep the lights on.
Then the lights failed. They flickered at first, regained themselves, but then failed entirely. Sally gasped involuntarily at the loss of visibility. She was now floating in the dark, and in her shock, she had kicked off the ground. She bumped her head off a light fixture, and from there, lost her sense of direction, rotating in the air. She breathed quickly again, this time with arms running wild trying to grab onto something. Even her eyesight, better than a Human's in the dark, wasn't enough to pierce the void.
The deck must have lost power, but again, how much of it? She just couldn't tell in here.
Only absently she told herself she had better get dressed if she intended to investigate further.
It didn't take long to mentally map out the area. There was only so much square footage to explore in the bunk room. Even in the dark, she was still able to find out where the beds were, and as a result, even blinded, she knew exactly where she was. She had a brief thought about crew in the other areas of the ship; larger compartments where it wouldn't be so easy. She wondered if the hangar decks were affected, where millions of dollars worth of equipment would be floating around only to crash to the deck. But those guys had been trained for just such an occasion should it arise.
Then her thoughts shifted to her Human. Where was he? Was he alright? Was he hurt? She had no way to tell.
She had to find her phone. It would also be a source of light for her. She struggled to remember where she left her uniform top. She had simply discarded it in the room with little care for where it ended up. She had to comb for it.
A chime sounded in the room. It took her by surprise, and she tumbled again in the air, quickly catching her breath.
"Attention attention; Decks 24 through 30 personnel are to be advised that deck gravity generators and lighting are experiencing a malfunction. Please remain calm as systems are being rebooted. Do not leave your rooms until lighting and gravity systems are restored."
The message repeated once more before the silence returned. So that was what happened. Six decks lost lighting and gravity? That was not a minor inconvenience. Depending on where this was, there could be far more problems associated with it, such as waste disposal, fluid delivery, and weapons decks; all of which needed to be highly lit to function correctly. She believed that there were emergency lights in these decks that fed off the main reactor in the ass-end of the ship, though rooms like hers wouldn't be given priority. Oh hell, it was two in the morning; how were the squids dealing with this in their bunks?
She made a new effort to find her phone, though she couldn't find it. She considered opening the hatch to her room, but realized it would do no good as the entire deck was likely dark. Someone would come by eventually, but there were over fifteen thousand people on the ship. That could take time.
She heard a buzzing and her ear twitched towards the sound. She heard it again and realized that her phone was being called. Both her ears worked, trying to pinpoint here the sound was in the darkness. It was easier than she thought. With her toes, she found purchase on the bunks, and with a simple push, went to where she thought the noise was. Fingers outstretched, she grabbed, but only brushed part of the uniform. It skittered away in the air.
"Son of a bitch!" She cursed, hitting the far wall and bouncing off. She must have ended up in one of the top bunk alcoves and righted herself. The ringing was gone. Silence, with the exception of the air vents, returned.
Sally suddenly felt alone, deprived of sight, and direction, despite knowing more or less where she was. It awakened a primal apprehension in the fear centers of her brain that had stuck with her ancestors since before the Uplift of her people. Perhaps it was the Human side of her genetics; the primordial fear of the dark. Her mind instantly searched for predators and she scented the air instinctively, picking up her own body scent, the smell of the water in the shower, still floating in place, the natural recycled-air smell of a starship, but finally found comfort in the scent of her Human. She realized the bunk she had found herself in was his bunk. The top right. She ran her hand over the immaculately made bedspread which was tucked underneath the mattress, and found the pillow, kept in place by friction with the blankets. She eased over it, and found the smell of a Human being; the smell of hair and the natural aroma that she used to tell Humans apart. She could, of course, visually identify them, but there were some things a Mobian could tell that others could not.
She grabbed the pillow and placed it to her face, breathing in deeply, letting the comfortable smell of fresh linen mesh with the smell of her Human. She felt a smile cross her face. She was calm now, and was more or less happy with that slight twist of ecstasy when thinking of a loved one. The dark seemed less threatening and seemed more like a sensory deprivation chamber. She floated aimless, but in comfort. The world seemed to disappear, and oddly, she was at peace. She didn't even notice the phone ringing a second time; the buzzing further away. By the time her ear twitched again, the phone had gone silent, and she had been pulled from the bed alcove back into the center of the room by the air current. She noted that the grill of the vent was now against her back, the sucking of the air cooling her spine and fastening her to the wall, and then she snapped back to reality. She started, but only to settle. There was a sound in the dark.
Her mind formed possibilities and her heart quickened. Had they been boarded? Impossible; the bridge announcement said otherwise. But what if that announcement was a lie? What if the damage was more extensive? What if the whole ship was DIW? She would have assumed a defensive position if she was capable of touching the ground. Right now she was a target.
The banging came again, this time with more energy.
"Deck check!" a voice filtered from the outside. Male, mid twenties or thirties. "Deck check!"
She released a breath she didn't know she was holding. Deck check - the crew was making sure she was alright.
"I'm alright." she announced. "I'm OK."
"Are you experiencing the system failures?"
"Yes." she said calmly. "Gravity and lighting is out."
"Excellent. We're working on the failure. Stay indoors until we have everything running again."
"Understood." She said, nodding to nobody in particular.
Without any words of farewell, the voice went silent and said no more. She felt comforted by the voice; like there was someone else in the darkness with her. It made the whole experience less lonely. Once more the phone buzzed. It seemed far away now, as if the air was dragging it along.
She had an idea, her ears and eyes perking up with the simple brilliance of it.
She listened for the vents - the only reliable sound she could use in the room. Sally's ears twisted around, trying to pin down where the slight sound of sucking air came from. She believed she had it nailed down. Still using the bed alcove as a brace, she aimed as best she could, and pushed off, her still damp feet slipping somewhat on the material. Her aim was slightly off. She reached out, fingertips extended so that they would be the first to touch the opposite wall. She felt the surface reach out to her in the dark. Her arms compressed to slow her motion, and her head only gently bumped the wall with the force of small tap.
She glanced around, aiming her ears forward and trying to hear the phone desperately. She reached out, and her fingers brushed what she was sure was the uniform pants. She quickly frisked it. She found her wallet in the back pocket, well secured, but the phone wasn't there.
Sally felt confusion. She searched all the pockets again, making sure to check each thoroughly. She found money, bits of balled up tape, and a napkin from the galley that she knew had a bullseye address on it for her duty station today.
The phone wasn't in there. It was just floating around.
How couldn't she see it then? Wouldn't the screen be on when it rang?
Defeated, she realized that as long as she found the pants, she may as well put them on. She wriggled in the air, working in one leg, and then the other. She buttoned them together and was satisfied that she was somewhat presentable now, but then realized she had to find the undershirt. By accident, she ran into that a moment later, and slipped it over her torso.
It was the first time she dressed in microgravity. She didn't see what everyone was freaking out over. She cursed herself that she found her clothes and not the phone.
But the darkness was still around her. The feeling of loneliness had returned, and this time it was more gnawing. Now that she had heard a voice, she wanted to hear it again. Anything to make her think she wasn't just floating in a void. She had a brief thought of being out in the suffocating vacuum, floating where the stars didn't shine - her body slowly radiating heat until it was as cold as the emptiness around her.
She wrapped her arms around herself. The clothing she wore was already wet with shower water that had stubbornly clung to her fur. She had no idea how much time had passed. Without a watch or her phone, it could have been hours. She suddenly had a strong desire to be held, by someone; anyone.
The air vent shuddered, and then died. Total silence descended on the small room. Now she truly floated in a void.
Sally cried out, now terrified. She rationalized. The repair crews had accidentally shut off one of the other system and would power it on again soon. Now the fear of suffocation became far more plausible. She fought to control her breathing, but found it difficult.
"Please." she said under her breath. "Just turn the lights back on. Just the lights."
The silence felt like a tomb, and for an unknown time she floated once more, now no longer pulled along by air currents. She hung in the air, now unable to move; unable to reach out and grasp anything.
No sound. No touch. No sight. Not even the comfort of the pillow's smell. It was almost too much for her.
Sally choked back a cry. She was a big girl. She could take care of herself. She said that she had been in worse situations, but struggled to find an example. No. She had never been in a situation quite like this. She remembered being in a dropship where part of the hull had blown out. She remembered evacuating air, and a few seconds of confusion before waking up on the seat, evidently having lost consciousness.
But that was quick.
Her heart was beating in her chest, so much she thought it would send her into a tumble.
It was too much. Too much for her. Sally let out a cry; unable to take the blackness of the void one moment longer. The phone rang no more.
She begged it to. She begged for one little noise.
She heard it. There was a sound of metal grinding somewhere. She jerked around - her motion carrying her around suddenly.
Metal grinding against metal. What could that be, she wondered.
There was another noise the grinding overlapped. Something that sounded almost like a person.
The grinding became louder, until she could hear the second sound clearly. A person.
Sally vocalized at the sudden sound; it was like a thunderclap in comparison.
Within moments, there was another noise. A gasp in the dark. The flashlight turned on so quickly, she had to shield her eyes - the sudden spike painful to her.
"Oh my God..." the voice came, slow, almost sad. "Sal."
She recognized the voice immediately; that New York accent unmistakable. She saw the contours of the face, and then in the stillness of the room, his smell came to her.
She made a noise, but it wasn't made of words, but pure emotion.
"Sally." Chris said again, the light in his hands left in space. The Human pulled himself into the room, gently coasting towards her. His face, first furrowed in concern, now softened - his clean-shaven visage broken in a soft smile. She hadn't realized it, but she had her arms out, desperate, only half certain there was another person in the room. She worried if her senses betrayed her - tricking her mind into seeing a phantom, but when the Human wrapped his arms around her, she knew he was real at long last. She gently felt the wall hitting her back, but she didn't care. She pulled her legs in and held him so tightly she thought she would hurt him.
But he said nothing. He just held her as they floated together in the void, darkness embracing them just as they embraced each other, but she gasped in thanks. She was no longer alone.
"You're wet." he said, confused.
"Shower." she said; her throat surprisingly dry. The response was quick; almost a croak. "I was in the shower when it happened."
"Jesus. Were you in there when the lights went off?"
"No. Just after."
"Just after..." he began. "I called you three times. When you didn't pick up... Jesus was the shower still on?"
"Yeah; the water's still hanging in there."
Chris' face drained of color. He muttered something so quietly that even in the dead silence, Sally strained to hear it.
"Nothing. Just was worried."
The flashlight tumbled, caught in turbulence outside from the hallway. The beam played around the room. Chris looked beyond her head and once again, he paled. Sally followed his gaze, and gasped as she saw the gigantic blob of water hovering near the corner of the lavatory, evidently pulled earlier by the air currents. It now hovered silently in the corner.
How long had it been there? Now it was Sally's turn to pale beneath her fur. Her mouth worked. At any point she could have hit it, unable to see it in the darkness; even when it was far too late she wouldn't have known; sucking in a lung-full before being aware that it was over.
"Hey, look at me." the Human said, gently turning her jaw until her blue eyes met viridian. He gave a gentle laugh. "It's alright." he said, reassuring voice bringing her back.
Sally nodded, and he leaned in and kissed her cheek, a desperate motion to calm her.
She loosened, limbs suddenly floating free.
"I was in the Deck 25 cargo hold." he explained. "The, uh, we lost our systems just before I was scheduled to leave. Standard protocol is to lock down cargo decks until a crisis is done. There were forty of us in there."
The way he said it made it seem like that was hell. In a way it was. Forty men floating in the void, unable to do anything except scream to each other. But a cargo hold would have emergency lights.
"Some of us got hurt in there." he said. "We were moving crates around when the gravity failed. We had no doctor; had to wing it. It was fun."
That was his way. Mask his fear with sarcasm, but she knew this man too well to be fooled by that. He was masking something horrible.
"Tell me, love. Were you scared?"
"No." he lied said, but said truthfully next, "But I've been in a similar situation this before. The worst part is the silence." He said no more but coughed. "So I called you. I called you, and when I couldn't reach you, I came here. I pulled myself down nearly half a kilometer of hallway to get back here and check on you."
She looked at him as the light highlighted his face again. She reached up and touched his jaw. He leaned into it, eyes half-closing at the gesture.
"You didn't towel off, huh?"
"You're incredible." she said. "How long?"
"The power outage? Four hours."
Her eyes widened again. Four hours. Four hours in the dark alone. Time had been a stranger to her as well.
She didn't say anything. The moment of absolute helplessness burned into her mind. That, and the look of absolute fear on her Human's face. She knew he heard her moments before he entered.
"I'm so sorry."
"For what?" He asked.
"I... lost my cool." She finally said, voice finally cracking.
He pulled her in and held her, their bodies tumbling with the sudden motion.
"You must have been..." he struggled to find a word beyond 'scared', but failed.
"I was." She admitted. "But not anymore."
They hung suspended in each other's arms, refusing to let the other go. In the dark they whispered to each other, softly sending promises and wishes to each other. The tones of her voice against his ear sending a shiver down his spine.
The flashlight once more turned, illuminating their faces, mere inches from each other. Before the light faded, she grabbed him and pressed her lips to his. One of her senses was not touched by the void, and his scent filled her consciousness. Her mind was dominated by this one feeling as there was nothing else. She released, and her breath came ragged.
"Oh wow." she said. "First time I've ever done that."
"In ZG?" he breathed. "Yeah, that's something. I'm glad I'm here with you and not the squids. They wouldn't like this."
He leaned in, and returned her in kind, but there was strength in it. Hunger.
She wanted to give in. She wanted it badly, but with every ounce of her strength, she broke away. "No. Not safe." she spoke quickly.
He began to respond, but nodded. "Right. Better come out into the hall then."
The lights flickered on.
They both squeezed their eyes shut at the sudden brightness, Chris grunting in pain.
"Oh thank you God." Sally said out loud.
At the same time the air vents began to pulse. First softly, and then faster. The yawning void had been banished, and the silence fled after it. The door closed automatically now that the power had been restored, and the lights dimmed in accordance with the hour.
They stared at each other, as if for the first time, blinking, noses nearly pressed together in their embrace. Then at the same time they smiled, and laughed. They laughed and hugged, limbs bunched together nearly in a ball.
"All decks affected by the outages be advised: functionality is being restored. Gravity will be returned to 1G standard gradually."
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"I don't know." She replied, fighting to stifle her giggling. Some people just laughed danger off after it was over.
"Come on." the Human said. "May as well get comfy. Hold on."
"Won't let go."
He kissed her nose. "I know you won't."
His longer legs found the wall, and with a gentle push, he propelled them towards an open bunk, still tightly made. Slowly, they stopped, and with a few quick motions of his arms, settled them into the wall.
He stroked her shoulder slowly, his fingers brushing the tufts of fur on her. "Gravity should go out more often. With the lights on of course."
"Oh there's my phone!" She suddenly said, pointing to one of the vents, a small rectangle of plastic and metal on top of it, screen facing away from them. "I wondered where it was."
"Forget the phone." he said, a yawn escaping his mouth. "Let's just sleep, Sal."
"You have work in... a few hours!"
"Nope. Section commanders cancelled duty to make up for this. Work two days from now." He said, gently closing his eyes.
A smile slowly grew on Sally's face. Sleeping in. Together.
The fear was gone. The anxiety vanished. The good fortune was too good to be true. Even the blob of water had been drawn into one of the vents, so there was no puddle as the detritus of clothes and items slowly settled onto the floor. The pull of artificial gravity slowly made itself known on her. She sank onto the mattress and soon it held her weight. She felt strange to feel like this once more, but it was only temporary. The joy of living on a starship.
She glanced at her Human, already asleep. She draped an arm over the man she loved, gave him two kisses on the cheek, and slowly with the sound of his breathing and the feel of his beating heart, finally went to sleep. This time when the gentle void came over her, she was scared no longer, but filled with unending joy.
"See you soon." She whispered. "Sleep tight squids." she added, realizing that even sailors deserved a good night's sleep.
For a moment, she felt light. She wondered if the power had failed again but calmed. She was only slipping gently into a soft and warm dream.