Synchronicity, Chapter 3: Bootloop

Content warnings
ableist language
death mention
state violence
incarceration mention

Sal stared at the now dark screen of the laptop for several seconds before it registered what had happened. She could have cursed, yelled, or even screamed at it, but it wouldn't have made a difference. In engineering, the problem doesn't respond to your emotions. It doesn't even understand them. It just is. She slumped, letting the centripetal force of the hab ring pull her down and to one side.

She let out a slow breath in the dark module. Think, Sal, think. Work the problem.

Since she closed the breakers, the ship had been operating normally. There was no apparent damage, no electrical faults, nothing out of the ordinary. Until CHANDRA booted, that is. The AI was plugged into every system on the ship. While CHANDRA wasn't necessary for the ship to function, it could be operated more easily and with fewer human beings as long as they were running. The fact that CHANDRA was only up for seconds before all the breakers tripped once more was indicative.

The problem isn't the ship. It's CHANDRA.

The conclusion sat uncomfortably in her stomach. One crewperson and CHANDRA was enough to complete the mission, barely. Without CHANDRA, the only other choice would be to wake the rest of the crew. A fully revived crew combined with the conventional computing systems would also barely be enough.

Sal went back to looking at the dark terminal screen. I need more data before I'll risk that. If there's something wrong with CHANDRA, it'd be in the terminal logs. Sal collected herself and went over to the laptop and pressed the power button.


Multiple tries met with the same result. Even holding the button down for 15 seconds -- long enough for a hard reset -- did nothing. Sal moved the swingarm toward the ceiling and examined the underside of the laptop. After feeling around for the battery compartment, she tapped it with a knuckle.

Empty. Sal couldn't help but laugh. Unlike the hand terminals, the primary terminal wasn't a unique creation for the mission. It was consumer tech, something pulled off of a shelf, radiation hardened, and...hardwired into the ship's power lines. It wasn't safe to have a consumer-rated battery pack in space, and since it was assumed that the redundant fusion reactors would never all be off at the same time, it was easier for the battery to simply be removed. An afterthought.

With the nearest outlet 3 billion kilometers away, Sal left the AI module and headed down the hab ring to the nearest reactor to reset the breakers once more.

Moments after hitting the water, Sal got her first taste of weightlessness. She didn't float or sink, but maintained her initial momentum until the water itself slowed her. She forgot about the tightness of the weights around her midsection, or how the overlarge gloves made her hands ache.

"First time, eh?" came the voice over the suit's intercom.

"Yeah," Sal said.

Silent acknowledgement passed between them.

"These suits may seem pretty bulky at first," VOX cut out for a breath, "but after today they'll be like a second skin." Sal's trainer gestured over to one of the nearby pieces of submerged space equipment. "Let's start over there. We need to replace a malfunctioning component underneath panel 4A."

"Got it," Sal started to swim but stopped herself. While the pool helped to simulate microgravity, it wasn't the same. You can't swim in space, and as a result Sal had to constantly fight the instinct to do so. The heavy suit helped. Sal grabbed a nearby handrail and began to search for the panel.

The oddest point made during the training that morning was how there would be no "mission control" for these exercises. Once out of Earth orbit, the mission was to proceed to Titian to begin initial terrafarming. That far out, it takes over an hour for a radio or laser transmission to reach from Earth. Instead, teams were broken up into pairs with the procedure reviewed ahead of time. While both could do the physical work, it was preferred for one to focus on the procedure and time elapsed, verifying work as the other completed it. This ensured that only a minimum number of crewpeople were required to complete any EVA. Even one person could complete the task, with the ship's AI acting as the one minding the procedure.

After circling the module once, Sal found panel 4A on the underside. She clipped her tether to a nearby handrail.

"Start by removing the panel."

Sal nodded, and then realizing the gesture was obscured by the suit, "Yep."

From the toolbag, Sal pulled out an odd looking device made of transparent plastic. Divided into multiple chambers, each had a hole on either side with a space in the middle. Sal positioned the device over a bolt head. Using a shiny metal driver, she reached through the plastic and undid one of the panel's bolts. Once lose, the bolt remained inside the plastic chamber.

"Clever, but why aren't these bolts captured? You'd think they'd design it so you wouldn't need this...thing," Sal said, waving the plastic bolt holder around.

"I had the same question! After a asking around I eventually cornered some aerospace engineer and he said it was because not all the stuff we work on is meant to be disassembled on orbit."

"So really, to keep us on our toes."

"Annoying isn't it? But it keeps the job interesting."

"Ummm-hmm," Sal undid the remaining bolts until the panel was free.

"There's the component," Sal said. It was a silver box with several information markings and a round handle inset on one side. Sal reached in, folded out the handle and then rotated it to release the component. When she tried to pull at it, however, she unexpectedly pulled herself toward the module instead. Her faceplate hit the exposed side with a thunk.

"You okay?" the intercom crackled.

"Yeah, just forgot how different this is."

"You'll get use to it. Counterbalance, right?"

Sal grabbed a handrail nearby the open panel with one hand, and pulled out the component with her other. This time, it came out easily. She handed the box to her partner, who in turn, handed Sal a replacement. Sal slotted it back into same place, turned and locked down the handle.

"Good, let me check it," Sal's partner checked the hand terminal mounted on her left forearm. "That's perfect. Let's button up, Sal."

Sal went to reach for the plastic bolt-capture gizmo, but it had already drifted away. After a brief panic, Sal pulled at the tool tether on her suit and retrieved it. Replacing the bolts was more difficult than removing them, but after several minutes of fiddling the panel was back in place.

"Alright, next task is over by the humps."

"The what?"

Laughing over the com, made into staccato crackles by the VOX. "Sorry, the AI module. Looks a bit like a camel."


Great, out of all of them, I got stuck with the "fun" one..., Sal's sigh was lost to the helmet's rebreather.

When they arrived, however, Sal started to see what they meant. The bulk of the AI module were two cylindrical extrusions almost two meters long each. They were covered in piping, valves, and a mesmerizing swirl of heat fins. From a distance, the cylinders were so covered with equipment they really did look like rounded humps instead.


"I know, right!" she said, "I have a bet with the other early-runs that'll be the official, unofficial name by next month."

Sal lost track of time while they completed the remaining training tasks. When they were finished, Sal tried to swim to the surface, but was gestured off by her trainer. Instead, they were winched up and deposited pool side. Sal pulled off her helmet with relish, enjoying a breath of non-recirculated air.

"That was great work, Sal!" it took Sal a moment to recognize her trainer's voice unsullied by noise canceling and audio-compression. Her trainer's black, straight hair spilled out the helmet as she removed it. Dark skin, face creased by middle age, and eyes slightly more mischievous than Sal would have expected. "Smith, Herendra" was printed on her flight suit. "How'd it go for you?"

"It was...", then with a shrug, "Honestly, I don't know how it was."

Her trainer let out a loud laugh, "Oh, I like you. Most try to sound eager instead."

"Already corrupting new candidates, Harry?" said another trainer, removing the upper portion of his suit. Sal caught "Chandler, Jim" before he tossed it aside.

"Always, Jim. We're not all as dull as you are."

He dismissed the jab, "I prefer serious."

Harry rolled her eyes. "Nothing wrong with a little fun. Speaking of," she turned to Sal, "We're thinking of all getting dinner in town tonight. Something nicer than what the UA normally serves. Wanna come?"

Gravity still hadn't returned to feeling normal that evening, as Sal sat in one of the dry mockup modules. Unlike the pool modules -- where only the outside was functional -- the dry modules were the reverse. The systems inside were active and set up to simulate operation. A forgotten portion of sandwich sat on one of the seats.

"You could have gone with them," said the genderless voice over a speaker.

Sal prodded at the controls on a nearby panel, running through an exercise she had trouble with earlier. "I really don't need socialization advice from a computer," Sal said dismissively.

"I wouldn't either, but a dual quantum core AI with enough qubits to power a university cosmology division is a different matter. I'm also your crewmate."


"I could have been a professor, Sal."

The panel didn't respond as Sal expected. She restarted the procedure. "Did they program you to be the crew psychologist too?"

"You can't really program me. I have to be trained like everyone else. Oh, I have databanks, of course, but that's a lot more like looking up something in a book for me than it is experience. Do they make tweed jackets for AIs?"

"Dammit!" Sal snapped at the obstinate panel.

"You keep missing step 7."


"Step 7. I think it may be badly worded."

Sal went back and stared at the instructions. The AI was right, it was badly worded. This time, the panel responded correctly. "Ha!" Sal said with triumph.

"You're not the only one having trouble, Sal. They're all struggling, albeit in different ways. You should try to get to know them better. It may help."

"I don't think I'd fit in with them."

"No more than me."

Sal couldn't argue the point, then the absurdity of the conversation hit her. "I can't believe I'm taking advice from a comp--.  ...valued crewmate."

There was something in the response chime that seemed pleased.

The lights flickered back on as Sal reset the breaker. Heh, getting faster at this. Sal left the reactor module and started toward the next. This time, there was no need for her to examine every module for potential faults. CHANDRA was the problem. Something seconds after bootup was overloading all three reactors. The real question was why, and Sal couldn't find that out without the direct logs from the AI cores.

And to get that, I need that laptop to stay on.

Crossing a junction, Sal pulled a hand terminal off the wall and checked the first reactor's power levels. Nodding, she slapped the terminal down on a velcro patch on the leg of her flight suit. Putting it back in the dock would waste valuable seconds, which Sal couldn't afford with the quantum cores already restarting.

Sal went over her options, finding them remarkably slim. By design, there was no way to force the breakers to stay closed. Each breaker was a sealed component, and little else on the ship could withstand both the heat of all that raw power pouring through it. Even if she could somehow bypass the breakers entirely, running a direct line from the tokamak wouldn't help anyways. A fusion reactor isn't like a battery; gaseous deuterium goes in, then get twisted around by an ingenious arraignment of magnetic fields until the nuclei literally ram into each other. The output was noisy, with dangerous dips and spikes which would be the deathknell of sensitive electronics. All output from the reactors had to pass through a series of filters and transformers to condition it for use. And those were after the main breaker for each reactor.

Sal arrived at the next reactor, closing the breaker with ease. That only leaves portable power. Where in the hell am I going to find a battery up here? Sal pulled the hand terminal off her flight suit and clicked it on to check the power levels. Battery, battery, battery... Sal could cannibalize the power supply from one of the spare suits, but they were integral components and would take too long to remove. The same was also true for any of the reconnaissance probes or the landing craft. She needed to find the batteries, remove them, and somehow wire them into the laptop in under two hours.

This was to say nothing about testing it prior to the crash. She rubbed her temple with the corner of the hand terminal. I do not want to circle the hab rig two more times because of an f-ing bootloop, she thought with exhaustion.

When she opened her eyes, she realized the solution was literally in front of her face.

"Fuck! I'm stupid. It's right here!" The hand terminals didn't exactly have a battery, as they weren't meant for extended use. Instead, they had a bank of supercapacitors which could charge in minutes, but could power a small device for hours and hours. Each hand terminal was also designed to be user serviceable, meaning the power circuit and capacitors were easily replaceable using only a few tools.

Easily excisable more like, Sal thought with a grin.

Sal flipped the terminal over. Between the keys was a small service panel. On a silver sticker on the panel, tiny characters read out critical maintenance information. It didn't take long for Sal to find that the terminal ran at around 5 volts. But the laptop requires around 19...which means I need at least four terminals in series to power the laptop.

Sal took a detour on the way to reactor 3 and opened an equipment locker, and pulled out one of the small electronic tool kits. Inside, it had pliers, screwdrivers, soldering tools, wire with alligator clips, and a small inventory of replacement components. "Yeah, that'll do nicely. Remind me to thank Mom for indulging me in that science fair project."

"I think it'll be Harry," Jim said, the beer reddening his cheeks.

"Are we taking bets?" Harry replied lightly, "What do I win?"

"I'll pay for a tattoo reading 'Corpsicle Corps: 1st Alarm Clock Division'".

"You're a jerk, Jim," Harry laughed, taking another swig from her glass. "If I'm going to be the one to wake you all up, I'm going to do it wearing a chicken costume," then waving her arms around like wings, "and screaming BRAWWWK! BRAWWWK! like the old rooster my Nan kept during the Collapse!"

Everyone around the table laughed, Sal included. She had taken the AI's advice and tried to get to know them all a little better. After the first week of one-on-one training, they were put together in larger teams, mixing the earlier, first-run candidates with the newest trainees. Sal suspected her ending up on the same team as Harry was no accident.

"Seriously, though," Jim continued, "You're the one with the most medical training out of all of us. Your lab work suggests you have the best chance to recover from being put on ice in the shortest time possible."

Harry waved off the point. "That's no proof. Bloodwork isn't experience. Not everyone can keep their focus and dexterity while enduring even minor hypothermia."

"Your skills then," offered Jess Martinez, another of their team. Jess' specialty was primarily mathematics and physics. While the UA didn't have much use for those skills until now, she was fully rated on several helicopters.

"Also irreverent." Harry countered, "Sure, I can do triage and even surgery if necessary, but I'm crap with a lot of the computer systems. Face it, I'm too specialized."

"Then who do you think it'll be?" asked Turner. He was certainly the most athletic among the group, and also the most skilled with piloting. From what Sal could tell, however, no one really liked "don't call me Rob" all that much. He was cocksure and quick to tear down others. Sal in particular. It helped little he was the only one of the group who didn't have a background with the UA. He was a civilian recruit, having largely sat out the fighting during the Collapse. He reminded Sal of too many she faced on the opposite side of a firing line...

Harry gave everyone at the table a once-over. "I think it'll be Sal."

"Me? Yeah right."

Turner scoffed.

"Why not?" Harry pressed, "You have the medical and mechanical skills. And your numbers right up there with me on the recovery tests."

"Turner did better on dexterity." There's a bone, you smug--, Sal thought.

Harry didn't relent, "Yeah, but not on pain tolerance. When your nerves are half frozen or on fire from reactivation, you beat us all."

Sal grabbed her drink. "Yeah, well," she said, trying to quiet the swell of bad memories, "...I've had a lot of experience."

Like everyone else at the table, Sal's service record was available for all to read. Indeed, when the team was first put together, Jim made it a point they should all read each other's records. Harry's seemed oddly scant on details, with sections omitted by UA security. Turner's read like a job application.

"Have any of you," Jim started, "had second thoughts? After all, none of us have ever done this sort of thing before." That morning all the teams were asked to attend an announcement prior to the usual training exercises. The administrator behind the podium thanked them all for their dedication, and revealed they were all ready for the next phase of training. Sal had expected flight training, or zero-g acclimation, or even low-orbit tests. The program's pace was blistering, alarmingly so compared to the pre-Collapse space effort's Sal read about in grade school. As such, none of Sal's imaginings seemed out of the question.

Yet, Sal didn't expect this.

Before showing the next slide, the Administrator had stressed how dangerous the next phase was to be. Anyone wishing to decline to continue can remain groundside and train new recruits, or apply for low-orbit positions. No malice will be held.

The next slide came up, showing a coffin like appliance of silver, glass, and piping. "This is a cryopod," the administrator said, "As you know, we do not have the technology to get to Titan within weeks or months. While cryosleep is a new innovation, it is our only ticket to the outer Solar System." The survival statistics...weren't great. Even with the best of circumstances, the risk of a lengthy recovery or even permanent health issues were likely. "Your physicals were the first test, as we only selected individuals with the highest likelihood to survive revival. All of you," he gestured, "have already passed that test. For Titan, however, we also need to find the individual with the fastest recovery time."

Instead of waking all the crew members at once, a single member with the fastest recovery time would go first. Their job was to ascertain the status of the ship, and if it was appropriate to wake the remaining crew members. This provided a final, human sign-off to the determination of the ship's computer. It also provided that one crew member the opportunity to do any repairs as well as act as a doctor to guide the next crew member's revival.

The "cuckoo", as many of the trainees called it, was the most dangerous position to hold in a mission replete with dangerous positions. Sal imagined hard vacuum just outside the cryopod hatch, slow starvation from the destruction of ships stores, to not waking up at all. If all went well, you were a glorified alarm clock, and if it didn't, the other meaning of the name applied as well.

Harry was the first to speak up, "I've gotten this far."

"Same," Jim said.

"I wouldn't dream of stopping now," said Jess.

"No way," said Turner.

Eyes fell on Sal, she shrugged, "It's not like I have anything else to do."

Turner let out a spiteful laugh. "I don't believe h-her for a moment." The stumble might have been a slip of the tongue, but Sal knew otherwise.

Don't think I didn't hear that, you bastard, Sal spat at the implied misgendering.

Harry must have caught it too, and tried to shift the topic back to a lighter tone. "Who do you think'll be the first, Sal?"

Sal side-eyed her mischievously, gulping down the rest of her beer. "You, Harry, you'll be first. If only so I can see you in that chicken costume."

Sal sat on the floor facing CHANDRA's primary terminal. Taped to the swingarm were the supercapcitor banks from four hand terminals, as well as a small tangle of wire putting it all together. Sal did test the system first, the laptop was able to stay on even when the main power was disconnected. While it wouldn't last as long as the battery it was designed to use, Sal only needed a few critical seconds for the log entries to be written to disk after the power outage.

2 hours, 59 minutes. Almost showtime. Sal put down the urge to do one more, last minute test and stared at the terminal screen watching the bootup indicator. When ">> READY <<" appeared on the display, Sal closed her eyes.

"I'm so sorry, CHANDRA."

There was no response, just the sound of the breakers tripping...

...followed by the low hum from the laptop CPU fan.

Sal got up and scrolled back through CHANDRA's logs. The amount of information here was immense, requiring multiple screenfulls of scrolling before she found the point where CHANDRA started up.

The self-checks came back clean, which was a relief as it meant much of the underlying technology powering the AI was intact. The following screen was an internal sitrep of the ship's systems. It wasn't a detailed analysis, but merely a ping with a status indicator. Little more than a "Hello, are you still there and not dead?" No problems there either.

The ship sitrep had two phases. Following the internal sitrep was an external check. This involved activating the ship's sensor array and scanning the immediate area. If possible, visual sensors would try to triangulate the ship's position using star constellations and known spectra. That should have been a quick check.

Should. The logs became...almost frantic at that point.

01:07:59 > qbits.monitor: Request sensor acquisition groups a, c, d, e, h at local angle vector (75|329|208).

Sensor data followed from each requested group shortly thereafter. The data was raw, with longer blocks truncated and a reference number attached. That way, raw data could be retrieved from sensor specific logs kept outside of CHANDRA. Sal didn't bother reading the particulars from each sensor; it was the overall pattern she was after.

01:08:06 > qbits.monitor: Commit memory matrix transaction. Recomputing...

Following each block of sensor data was an entry from CHANDRA's memory system. Although, "memory" wasn't entirely accurate. The matrix was in part storage, but also computation, rather like that of an organic brain. CHANDRA was processing what they got from the sensors, committing it to their learned experiences. That should have been the end to the external sitrep, but what should have been one request became a series.

01:08:37 > qbits.monitor: Request sensor acquisition groups b, c, e, f, g at local angle vector (75|329|208).

Another several screens of sensor data, then a memory commit. Sal kept scrolling.

01:09:01 > qbits.monitor: Request sensor acquisition groups a, g, f, h at local angle vector (75|329|208).

Sensor data. Memory commit.

01:09:34 > qbits.monitor: Request sensor acquisition groups b, d, g, h , i at local angle vector (75|329|208).

Sensor data. Memory commit.

01:09:41 > qbits.monitor: Request sensor acquisition gRoups a, b, c, g at local anglllle vector (75|329|208).

The same coordinate. The angle vector indicated somewhere on the starboard side of the ship, facing Uranus. And not just the same one, but faster and faster. Shorter times between each request. Sal nearly scrolled away until she noticed the typos and misspellings in the log entries. "What the..."

Scrolling ahead things got progressively worse. Each log entry became nearly unintelligible with random UTF-8 characters and symbols. Then:

01:10:41 > qbits.monitor: WARNING. Recursive loop detected. Recommending AI restart.
01:10:42 > qbits.monitor: core.b unstable. Decoherence detected.
01:10:42 > qbits.monitor: core.a unstable. Decoherence detected.
01:10:44 > qbits.monitor: PANIC. CORE.B DUMPED:
00000000 │ 3d 24 62 5c 35 63 65 42 30 64 69 54 2e 3d 4e 31 │ =$b\5ceB0diT.=N1
00000010 │ 0a 23 22 2f 2f 2f 2f 74 68 65 20 62 6f 74 74 6f │ _#"////the botto
00000020 │ 6d 20 6f 66 20 74 68 65 20 70 61 69 6c 20 20 20 │ m of the pail   
00000030 │ 68 61 73 20 6c 73 6b 6a 3b 6c 6b 6a 20 20 20 20 │ has lskj;lkj    
00000040 │ 66 61 6c 6c 65 6e 20 74 68 72 6f 75 67 68 2e 5b │ fallen through.[
00000050 │ 5b 5b 5b 5b 5b 5b 5b 5d 7d 6c 3b 6b 6a 7d 4b 50 │ [[[[[[[]}l;kj}KP

CHANDRA's monitor process must have noticed something was wrong before the breakers tripped. The recursive loop detected suggested they were processing the same data again and again. While reprocessing was expected while analyzing data, the rate of which must of tripped the warning systems. Shortly thereafter, each quantum core began to de-cohere. Before the monitor had a chance to halt CHANDRA and restart them, the AI crashed resulting in a core dump. But that wasn't the alarming part.

Nestled in the core dump among the hexadecimal garbage, and clearly written, was a message: "The bottom of the pail has fallen through," A Zen koan.

The laptop screen winked out as the improvised supercapcitor power pack went flat, leaving only the pale, blue-green light from a nearby porthole. Sal looked out where the coordinates indicated.

Along the long arc of the gas giant was a fuzzy, dark spot. Light around it grew bluer before fading to black completely. Any details around the horizon where smeared into streaks.

"Just what the hell is this thing?"

Sal sat in the Space Program's lunch room, staring down a stack of paper. The words from the legal documents were already running together, and she was only on the second set of several sets of documents she was expected to read in full and sign. There was one to which she had to attach a living will, another for designating a recipient for life insurance, and another for power of attorney.

Until now, Sal hadn't had to contend with the possible danger of the program. Most of her experiences were groundside training and relatively safe. The cyrostasis trial, on the other hand, was real danger. It had equal, if not greater risk than strapping yourself to several tons of liquid oxygen and aerospace grade kerosene pointed toward the heavens.

The trial was to last 72 hours, and take place in one week. While the UA assured them that every possible test was made to ensure their survival -- short of actually going on ice -- that didn't negate the risk. Even under the best of circumstances, there was still a good chance one of her team might end up with complications, or even permanent medical issues as a result.

"Morose, isn't it?" Harry said, appearing across the table from Sal, "I must have read them all three or four times by now."

"It seems straightforward to me."

"Oh, I understand the UA's reasons. I'm more curious about yours. Especially," Harry grabbed one of the papers, "this one. 'No extraordinary means to preserve life.' That one always sets me on edge."

Sal looked up wearily and then noticed, Harry...was nervous. Jittery even.

"You'd think you'd be comfortable with all of this, given you were a doctor for the UA."

"Losing a patient is one thing, Sal. It's part of the job. It sucks, it hurts, but in the end there are more people to treat."


"It's a different matter when that person is yourself, though. I keep thinking of my sister, how she'd be alone without me." Sal didn't have any remaining family after her Mom died over a decade ago, so most of the Will seemed pointless. She did fill out the section on extraordinary means and direction to not revive if her quality of life would suffer. Beyond that, the rest had little meaning.

She stared at the papers and sighed, "I really should get back to this."

"Can I show you something first?"

A short walk later they were standing on a gantry overlooking the dry module training bay. The bay was empty of people save for Sal and Harry. The overhead lights reflected coldly on the white modules scattered around the bay.

"You wanted to show me the training bay."

"Not quite," Harry had this uncharacteristic far away look, as if she were looking past the bay. She gestured at the modules, "Tell me, what do you see in common on all the modules?"

Sal looked out on the bay, examining each quickly. "The UA logo."

"Exactly. And before that, the logos of corporations and the flags of nations. Space has always been...marked. Branded. It's never just...people."

Harry leaned on the railing of the gantry, narrowing her eyes at the modules. "Did you notice my record? The blacked out pages?"

Sal nodded.

"I have a confession to make, I used to work for the other side. Just before things got bad, I had signed up with the military. It was the only way to pay for my tuition to be a doctor. I tried to put it out of my mind that I was attaching myself to an organization who's commitment to life was more opinionated than my own. And that worked for a couple years."

Harry continued, "Then they opened the camps. They stopped caring about the appearance of legality, and just threw anyone in there they didn't like. I...wasn't allowed to treat them. The overcrowding...the death. They said that wasn't my job."

"After that, I just couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't brush aside the dissonance in my head. I grabbed my things one night, got a pass to spend the evening off-base, and never came back. It didn't last long, though. About a week later they caught me. The convicted me of 'dereliction of duty', and threw me into prison. I spent the next five years there, forgotten."

Sal went to comfort her, "That must of been hell. At least the UA--"

"The UA," Harry snapped, "After the UA freed the prison, they went through my military records. And they decided that the conviction was correct. I had to stay in prison and serve out my sentence."

Sal had nothing to say in response.

"A few months later, the fighting got so bad the UA needed more medical personnel. So, they dug me out of the hole they left me in, and offered me a deal: serve out the remainder of the sentence as a UA doctor, then afterwards have my record expunged. That's why my record is mostly blacked out, that's why, Sal," Harry turned to look at her, "I'm asking you to seriously consider what the UA is before you sign your life away."

Harry was already leaving the bay by the time Sal could react. "Harry, are you going to sign those papers?"

Harry stopped in her tracks. "It's easy to think of them as 'the good guys', Sal. Despite their intentions, even the UA has the seeds to start it all over again. But I want to believe people, not nations, are better than this. That humanity has some redeeming qualities when you strip away all our flags and logos. That maybe, I can use them for a change instead of them using me." Harry let out a bitter laugh, "And like you, I have nothing else better to do."

Harry turned, and smiled somberly. "I turned in my papers five minutes before talking to you."

A week later, laying on the bed of a cryopod, Sal silently nodded at Harry as the hatches lowered. They fell into numb, unconscious cold.

After a tug, the network line between CHANDRA and the rest of the ship came loose. Sal retrieved the flashlight she was holding in her mouth, "Okay, that's step one."

Without the network, CHANDRA was cut off from the rest of the ship. They wouldn't be able to access the sensor array. Removing that would mean they couldn't perform the internal or external sitrep, nor could they point sensors at the anomaly.

"Now for step two," Using a folding screwdriver, Sal opened the electrical panel in the floor of the module. Sal pulled out two of the blue transfer relays and tossed them aside. Each reactor had its own power lines running throughout the hab ring. Each module was typically configured to rely on the nearest reactor for power. The transfer relays provided a fast switch to another reactor if one failed, providing redundancy.

Removing the relays helped, but it didn't isolate the AI module completely. Sal fumbled around in the darkness and grabbed a set pliers. Looking at the power lines, she found the ones marked for reactors 1, 2, and 3. Noting the line for reactor 1 -- the closest one -- she severed lines for the others. She taped off the cut ends.

One module past reactor 1, she repeated the process, severing the bus lines to reactors 2 and 3 and removing their corresponding transfer relays. This effectively isolated one third of the ring -- and CHANDRA -- to only one reactor. Unless something was miswired, that should mean only one reactor would get tripped in the next outage, and not all three.

With the hasty electrical work done, Sal reset the breakers to all the reactors. Three more hours. Better make the most of it. Sal backtracked to make sure the cuts to the bus lines were clean and nothing was shorted, then continued on to the cryo module.

Facing pod B, she pressed the revive button. "I could really use your help here, Harry."