Kyler typed in the command to the shuttle’s console and slumped back in the chair, expecting to hear the engines roar and reverberate around the colony ship’s hangar bay as they span up to 100% thrust capacity. He’d lost track of how many times he’d entered it in the last month in an endless series of diagnostics on the colony ship’s fleet of shuttles. Enginestart_test, enginestart_test, enginestart_test.
It was important of course. When the shuttles did get called up to descend through the atmosphere of the vibrant blue and green planet below with thousands of passengers, tonnes of equipment, and hundreds of prefabricated structures, it was vital to know that each one was flight worthy.
Kyler frowned. There was silence. Lazily, he reached a hand forward and tapped the screen to re-enter the command he was now too familiar with: enginestart_test. Again there was silence, and he leaned forward to see the screen blinking the words, ‘Error 871_b.’
“Again?” He stared in disbelief and looked at the time, cursing to himself. Half hoping it was a different code, he opened his datapad on the technical manual to confirm. As he suspected the error was a fault in one of the backup heating systems that, if he had to guess, was caused by radiation damage during the trip to this side of the galaxy.
As Earth’s first colony ship, the Neo Kosmo had no shortage of experimental technology and shielding, but even sitting idle and protected, 500 years was a long time for electronics to stay functional.
“40 more minutes,” he mumbled to no-one, and with a huff, called the Maintenance Chief on his datapad. The repair would take at least an hour. “Angharad, you copy?”
The chief replied quickly. “Copy, you finished early? Got more for you.”
“No, another heating back-up has gone.”
“Type-c male connector, right? Cheap crap those.” she said, tutting, “they’ve been blowing out all over the ship. Hang tight and I’ll send a new one over.”
Kyler sat back and tabbed over to a draft of his letter to formally request a transfer away from maintenance. He was bored of being nothing more than a diagnostic computer.
A few moments later the comms buzzed back to life. “Angharad here. Small problem. All out of those connectors.
Kyler frowned. How could they be all out? They’d only arrived at the planet Lamperi Gi a month ago. “Come again?”
The machine chief replied tersely, “That connector is used in at least a hundred pieces of equipment on the ship – we’re all out of spares.”
Kyler acknowledged and ended the call, staring at the blinking words on the console, then shrugged and opened the manual. “Another exciting day of interstellar colonisation,” he mumbled to himself.
His eyes lingered for a moment on the joystick and throttle lever, remembering the training and test flights they had run before the Neo Kosmo had departed Earth. He shook his head and read the manual aloud. “Replace part. If unable, bypass.” Simple enough, and he typed into the console again.
Enable Bypass – Subsystem 871. He double checked the command before submitting it, and the flight computer seemed to accept it. He followed it up with Enginestart_test. Nothing happened. He frowned, the small screen blinking the same error. He cursed to himself and tried again, to the same result.
Kyler looked back at the datapad and his mouth dropped open. There were no further instructions or bypass options. He swiped a page forward, then a page back. There had to be a way. No idiot would build an orbital shuttle that couldn’t start up because of a fault on the backup wiring of a non-vital system.
Eventually he sat back, groaned and hit the back of his head against the seat. “Dear Compagnie de navette orbitale,” he mumbled, “I’d like to put in a customer complaint. Your entire engineering team should be sacked for such a crippling oversight on your Mark Vs. And find a new writer, this manual is awful.”
He was about to say more when he heard footsteps on the shuttle’s metal floor, and he looked up to see Angharad climbing into the cockpit, a cup of coffee in her free hand and heavy bags under her eyes.
“Any luck?” she asked.
“Nothing.” He quickly explained the situation and she nodded and rubbed her eyes.
“Ok, mark it out of order. We’ll come back to it tomorrow. Your shift finished 15 minutes ago anyway.”
He grunted and stood. “My shop would have been bankrupted for such a bad job back on Earth.”
She headed down the ladder and he followed, the smell of combusted aviation fuel hanging in the air from the long line of shuttles he had run diagnostics on today. He put an out-of-order sticker on the door of the last one.
“Your shop probably had stronger coffee too,” she mumbled as she took a sip and turned to leave.
He laughed, “Definitely. Although, we also didn’t have quite as high-tech equipment as the Neo Kosmo does. Those experimental fabricators alone are…” He stopped suddenly and she turned to look at him quizzically. “The fabricators!” he said with a start. “I’ll just print a new part using the 3D fabricators.”
“Sounds like a plan. Skip tomorrow’s brief, go straight there in the morning.”
Kyler nodded and headed towards the nearest tram, ready to end the day and kill time until he was tired enough to sleep. He stepped onto the tram and paused when choosing a destination. Eventually he chose the fabrication deck.
He typed out a quick text message to the Maintenance Chief. “I might just get it set up now. K.”
She replied back a moment later. “I won’t complain. A.”
The fabricators were located several decks below, past the luscious hydroponics bay and well away from the cryo-rooms and passenger accommodation. Kyler found the area quickly, four giant rooms that completely sealed themselves as lasers, manipulator arms and servos converted raw materials into usable transistors, wiring kits, struts and circuit boards. Despite the sealed rooms the noise was immense, and the whole deck seemed to shake.
Kyler grinned as he took it in. Such equipment was extremely expensive, and he would never have dreamed of getting the opportunity back on Earth, but here…
He had to practically shout to the supervisor on deck to be heard.
Mohammed, the supervisor, led him to a console, “You’ll have to wait for this run to be finished. The comms team put a major job through but after that she’s all yours. What do you need?”
“Two type-c male connectors – European Federation Standard.”
“Nice and small.” Mohammed quickly found the part in the ship databanks and tapped on the screen. He frowned as it gave a sharp squeal.
Kyler leaned in asked, “Something wrong?”
“Looks like we’re short on copper.” He smacked his lips. “It’s those satellites we deployed on arrival – half of the materials we brought with us got used up fixing those things up to spec again.”
“So until we get more copper, either from mining Lamperi Gi or after we’ve finished recycling some of the older parts in a few months, I can’t make you that connector.”
Kyler considered it for a moment, then thanked the officer. They couldn’t afford to wait for parts to be recycled or colonisation to start to print those connectors. They were failing all over the ship and before long it wouldn’t just be a back-up or non-vital system that failed, it would be something important. The sooner they could get started the better, and he smiled as an idea came to mind.
He called Angharad on the way to the crew mess hall and explained the situation. “Did any of the orbital scans pick up traces of copper on the surface of the planet? Maybe I could take a small team and a couple of rovers down in a shuttle.”
She yawned loud enough to be heard on the call, “I think that’s a good idea. Let me get it confirmed with the captain.”
She cut the line as he sat down in the crew mess hall. He reached for a beer, but stopped. There was no way it would be turned down, and since the whole thing was his idea he was sure that the Maintenance Chief would give him the job. When that happened he would want to prep a shuttle immediately, and so he found himself with a cup of dark coffee instead.
While he waited, he idly opened up the schematics of the shuttle and of the connector on his datapad, mentally calculating what purity copper they would need to ensure correct voltages and length, and if they would need any other materials at the same time.
A buzz on his comms, and Angharad was back on the line. “Hey Kyler, you’re not gonna like the response.” She took a deep breath, “Captain wants all working shuttles held back for landing people and equipment, he doesn’t want to risk any other damage, so until we have houses on the ground, no additional resources.”
“That could be months! Half the people are still in cryo!” he protested.
“It won’t be that long. Captain ordered the first equipment drops to start immediately. He wants to get self-sustainable quickly. And his word is final.” There was a pause for a moment while neither of them said anything. “I am sorry Kyler. For the record, I would have put you in charge of it if we got the go-ahead.”
He thanked her and hung up. For a second he drummed his fingers on the table and then opened up the datapad and switched back to the transfer letter, debating whether he would prefer to join hydroponics or comms, or even if he had the skills for those teams.
“This is ridiculous,” he said to himself, staring at the black coffee. They would definitely need the extra shuttle if they were landing people soon, and losing a vehicle to a coding oversight was unacceptable. If a bypass couldn’t be coded, and new parts weren’t available, there was always a way to do it mechanically. Earth’s first colonisation efforts were never going to go perfectly smoothly, and equipment was always going to break. They were just lucky that so far nothing had been vital.
Fixing things on Earth had been far too easy. Fixing things on the other side of the galaxy with limited supplies – that was a challenge.
He picked up the coffee and jumped on a tram back to the shuttle bay, staring at the schematics the entire time. He nodded to himself as he ran the numbers in his head. He could fix it.
Standing underneath the shuttle, he clipped his tool belt around his waist and called the chief, who answered with a touch of annoyance. “Look, Captain made the call. Just let it go, you’ve already pulled extra on your shift. You deserve the rest.”
“I’m going to do a custom job on it. Hook it up using a different connector with custom power regulators so the back-up circuit is working again and the shuttle fires up. Worst case scenario, we have an extra shuttle. Best case scenario this fix can be used in other equipment where the same couplings failed. And they will fail.”
She sighed and he could practically see her massaging her neck. “And if you make it worse? No shuttle for three months is better than no shuttle forever.”
He grinned, staring up at the sleek piece of machinery. “I won’t. This is what I’m good at. This is why I joined the Neo Kosmo.”
There was a moment’s hesitation before she relented. “Ok. Do it.”
Carefully, he peeled off a section of panelling and removed some cargo attachments. Working methodically, he removed the heating unit, a cluster of instruments, and insulating foam, and peered into the gap.
The hangar soon emptied of people and switched to dimmer lighting, but Kyler kept working with a portable work light. He took a sip of coffee, now cold, and attacked the offending wiring, a melted pile of copper and plastic that stung his nostrils as the acrid smell filled the shuttle. Kyler pried it out, muttering obscenities about the workmanship, and began fitting a new connector, welding in higher capacity wiring with delicate touches of the torch.
When everything was connected he stood back and admired his work, beaming from ear to ear. He sat down in the pilot seat and typed out the sequence, enginestart_test, and with a deep breath, he closed his eyes and submitted the command.
The shuttle turbines began to spin, a low growl at first and then faster until they reached a deafening whine. He sat back, laughing to himself as he began the diagnostics. He nodded with each light that turned green, and on the datapad he sent a quick text message to Angharad.
“Told you this was what I was good at.”