This is a continuation of an earlier #FridayFlash, Ghosts in a Can.
The spirit guides paused in their chanting to confer. “Fifteen,” one said on the general band. In other words, fifteen ghosts on board. “Please proceed with repowering.”
Construction Engineer Paul Temberson checked both ends of his tether, then kicked off the hull of Deimos Salvage VI (aka “Sweet Six”). In a few seconds, he touched the space-weathered outer hull of the can once known as Paradigm Industries Number Four (“Para-4”). This was his third salvage run, and he found he liked the work. Tearing down is always more fun than building up, an old friend once said, but he was describing his ex’s approach to relationships.
Paul found the diagnostics hatch and pried it open. Looking at his wristpad, he punched into the maintenance band. “Looks like a standard D-7 diagnostics port,” he said. “Telemetry receive ready?”
“Let ‘er rip,” Narayan said. Narayan was a Diagnostics Tech, and a damn good one. He and Paul had hit it off right away on his first run. Narayan hadn’t kept Paul hanging in vac at all—third time was the charm. This guy was a keeper.
Paul checked the fuel cell one more time, then sorted through the pigtails on the ancient Atlanta Instrumentation box. His first run, he’d been surprised when they handed him this fossil, but it matched up well with the cans they were recycling. He found the D-7 plug and connected it to the panel. “Applying power,” he said. Several amber lights on the panel started blinking, then turned green, one by one.
“Self-tests passed,” said Narayan. “Ah. Looks like the last one out turned off the lights behind him. Good form.”
“No surprise there,” said Paul. “The solar panels are folded in. I’ll bet the pivots are vac-welded.”
“A bet you’d likely win.” Narayan laughed. “Batteries are depleted, as usual. Try applying evac-level power.”
“That’s all this fuel cell can do,” said Paul. He punched a button on the diag box, and more amber lights went green on the panel. Several others lit up, flashing amber. “Evac power applied. Fuel cell has thirty minutes.”
“Confirming emergency lighting. Thank you, Paul. Narayan.” That was Steven Crescent Moon, one of the few spirit guides who tried to acquaint himself with the rest of the crew. “Primary activity is in Sections Two, Five, and the bridge. The salvage crews can begin their work in the other sections at any time.”
“They’re isolated, then?” Paul asked. Ghosts rarely used a power connection to invade a salvage ship, but it had happened. Such events brought little danger, but much disruption. Spirit guides worked to prevent the possibility.
“They should be, by the time you’re ready to plug this can in.” Paul could hear the grin in Steven’s voice through the general band.
“Roger that. Whup, got a visitor here.” Paul felt the adrenaline surge that accompanied a visitation. Lights flashed at random on the diagnostics panel. Clattering noises came over the general band.
“Poltergeists, poltergeists,” one of the spirit guides said. “Paul, cut power.”
“Cutting power.” Paul flipped the main breaker on the diagnostics box, then disconnected the cable. The indicator lights flickered for a few seconds, but died out. He listened to the noise on the general band. “Everyone all right?”
“So far,” said Steven Crescent Moon. “Everything’s tied down, they’re just throwing dust around right now.” A chunking, snapping noise came over the radio. “What’s that?” one of the other spirit guides asked.
Motion above Paul caught his eye. “Holy… it’s the solar panels! They’re trying to get them open!”
Captain Li’s lilting voice joined the chatter. “Clear the can. Clear the can. Evac Protocol Three.” That was one level above a drill: orderly exit, leave nothing behind.
Paul buttoned up the diag box and kicked off the can, back to Sweet Six. The airlock door was closed. “Knock knock!” he called.
“Sorry, Paul,” Dikembe’s voice chuckled in his ears. We were in the airlock when the captain called the evac. It’s clear to cycle now.”
“Roger.” The light went green, and the door swung inward. He secured the diag box inside, then stood in the open door, waiting for the spirit guides. He watched the vac-welded arms on the solar panels twitch, as the poltergeists tried to pull them open.
“Whoa. Incoming,” a spirit guide said. “We’re leaving!” another barked, her professional serenity under severe stress. “Watch behind,” Steven said, “they might try throwing whatever that was again.”
“Are you in danger?” the captain asked.
“Not much,” said Steven. “As long as they don’t have power, they can’t activate anything.”
“Better hurry, then,” Paul told him. “There’s a little play in the arms.”
“Block ‘em at the diag panel, then!” the stressed spirit guide—Mary Alice something—suggested.
“Negative, negative,” several voices chorused with Paul’s. “Evac protocol. I need to be here to catch your tether.”
“We’re at the lock,” said Steven. “You ready?”
“Do it!” Paul soon saw a blinking light—the tether end—approaching. About halfway across, it suddenly deflected. “Damn!” Again, he checked his own tether, then dived after it.
“What happened?” the captain called.
“Poltergeist knocked the tether end off course,” said Paul. “Got it.” He snapped it onto his belt, then attached it to Sweet Six as he returned. “Secure. Come on home. Better move it, they’ve about got the juice back on!”
“Four fish on the hook,” Steven called. “Reel us in.”
“Roger.” Paul started pulling.
“Look out!” Steven yelled. The others shouted. “Keep pulling!”
“They knocked Steven off!” Mary Alice yelled.
“Hang on!” Paul snapped, and hauled hard. In seconds, three shaken spirit guides stood in the airlock. Paul took the loose end, and dived out. “Steven!”
“Here.” Lights on Steven’s suit raced back and forth, marking his location. Paul kicked twice to deflect himself, and reached Steven with a meter of loose tether to spare.
“Gotcha,” said Paul. “You okay?”
“Just shaken up.” Steven clipped himself on. “Let’s get home.”