The Raumhake shuddered fitfully as Sidra and Rhiner traversed the long blue-white hooped hall, toward the lone toiling autocus, its long stalk-limbs dilligently checking the temperature control system via a paneled wall outlet. The twosome sprinted past the intelligent machine toward the main console housed in the command hub opposite crew commons along the ring’s circumference. Complete control of the ship’s operations could be accessed by no other point, save the cabin, which lay a further distance. A dire thought beat both brains. If the drive maximization protocol running through the altered capsule wasn’t stopped, the thrusters would eventually overheat. Neither knew the extent of the damage that had or might be done, but both recognized the process’ continuance would, at the least, destroy their motive power and leave them adrift as a mastless galleon. At the worst, the ship would be their tomb.
Before the runners could reach the mark, their movements slowed. Breath came hard and sinew stung.
“The ring,” Sidra shouted from her position far ahead of her confederate. “Its accelerating.”
Rhiner was already aware of as much. “Can you reach it?”
Her left leg buckled. “I can’t. Its too much.”
“We must try.”
Straining against mounting centrifugal force, Sidra collapsed twenty feet from the console enclosure. Moments later, Rhiner fell to a knee, his body having nearly doubled in weight, and thereafter lost all strength and was pinned to the floor like an entomologist’s butterfly. At that moment his mind was lanced with terror, for he knew they would soon be rendered unconscious by the structure’s quickening. And if it continued to quicken…
For Rhiner, dying on an exotic world in the course of duty was unfortunate, but being slain by one’s own ship was abominable. He wouldn’t allow it. It was matter of pride, but more than that. The Raumhake‘s halo was designed, not merely to sustain, but to nourish occupants for indefinate offworld forays. To afford all the advantages of their planet’s field, and more besides. To invert the purpose of a device against its operators, the apotheosis of lives beyond tabulation, was, to Rhiner, unspeakably profane. An outrage against the legacy of his trade and all others upon which it relied. A cruel theft of unborn potentialities.
“The autocus,” was all he could manage against the pressure.
Sidra roused to hope and struggled to raise right arm to left, and, with the last of her might, issued a series of commands to the automaton through the affin module prompt embedded in her gauntlet. Seconds later, she slumped and lay still.
“Did you get it? Sid!”
But no answer came.
And Rhiner too, buckled and fell into the black.