October 10

Fictober, Prompt 10 – “Listen, I can’t explain it, you’ll have to trust me.”

Warnings: none? Brief space-related danger.

My breath echoed hollowly inside my helmet, and I kept it as slow and even as I could. Panicking now would do nothing to help retain the dwindling oxygen supply strapped to my back.

“Any luck?” I called over the comm. The systems I was looking at gave me hope, but the ship had been floating dead in space for…well, a long time. The wiring was intact, which was a good start.

A grunt was all I got back, and I rolled my eyes. “Arun.”

“There’s an SFOG,” he said, “seems to be intact.”

I let out a breath of relief and felt the worst of the incipient panic lift from my chest. “Let’s stay on our tanks for now,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I’ve got at least three hours left, maybe more.”

“I think I’m about the same. That should be enough time to get us moving, and we can fire the SFOG at that point.”

“Which you’re going to do how, exactly? The reactor’s dead-cold. Suit’s not picking up any radiation from that direction, must have run out.” I could hear the frown in his voice; the ship had been drifting for a long time, but probably not long enough that all of the reactor’s fuel would have been consumed.

I pursed my lips, decided I wasn’t quite ready to explain yet, and certainly not over the comm. Arun was going to have a hard enough time accepting what I could do when he could see it for himself. “For now, we just need to get pointed in the right direction and get moving, so a burst should be enough. We can worry about steadier power and steering after that.”

“We’re only so far out of the debris field,” he warned, “but you’re right.”

“Check about the reactor?” I asked, buying a little more time. “I’ll come down to see the engines once I’m finished up here.”

“Yeah.” He clicked off, and I turned my attention back to the panel in front of me. I was going to have to give the engines a pretty good kick, but I did need a little bit of steering and diagnostic information first.

It was harder to do with gloves on, but I always made sure mine didn’t have the wrong kind of insulation in them, so the magic flowed out slowly but steadily into the discreet, five-finger port built into the control panel.

After ten, heart-stopping seconds of nothing, the screens around me winked into life.

I fed them a little more power, then began to shut off system alarm notifications as quickly as I could. It would be safest to assume that everything was dead or malfunctioning, and we could tackle most of it later.

Finding the reactor and engine diagnostics, I confirmed my suspicion that they had been deliberately shut down with magic. The good news was that meant both were probably intact.

The bad news was that if I couldn’t get the blocking magic off, then we were in serious trouble. I could give the engines a kick of pure power to get us moving, but that wouldn’t help us back into atmo when we got to the planet I was hoping was within range. We could resupply on a lot of things there, but only if we could land safely.

Checking a few other small things, I confirmed that the electrolysis water reserves were nonexistent and that there was probably another SFOG in a part of the ship we hadn’t gotten to yet. That would double our potential oxygen supply, and we had enough of our own food and water to see us through to that planet.

If we could get moving. If I could figure out how to steer us around any potential obstacles. If nothing else went wrong.

I muted the system interface and floated deeper into the ship, following Arun back to the reactor and engine rooms.

“It’s weird,” he told me when I joined him by the reactor, “it’s dead-cold, like a said, but it looks like the fuel cells are still there are pretty intact.”

“That’s because they are,” I agreed, steeling myself for this conversation. “The reaction has been stopped.”

“By what?” he demanded, giving me a weird look. “What could possibly do that?”

“Magic,” I said bluntly.

Arun blinked at me, then burst out laughing.

Raising an unimpressed eyebrow at him, I fit my hand into another conveniently placed five-finger slot and let my power flow again. The reactor interface flared into sudden life, flaring the bright green of my magic at first before settling into the soft white of the displays.

Arun wasn’t laughing anymore.

“This,” I showed him on the big screen that projected a diagnostic image of the reactor, “this weird film that seems to be covering the fuel cells? That’s the dampening spell.” With my free hand, I wrote a few sigils on what seemed to be a touch-pad, altering the color of the spell so that it was more visible.

Arun was still staring at me as if I’d grown a second head. I turned as far as I could away from the interface and glared at him. “Look, do you want to get out of here alive or not?”

“I— Ye— What—”

“Listen, I can’t explain it, you’ll have to trust me.” This wasn’t strictly true, but I definitely didn’t have time to explain it right now, and I couldn’t do this alone. “I need your help, because I’m going to have to get that dampening spell off the reactor if we’re going to have any hope. So, are you with me?”

Slowly, he nodded.

“Okay, then here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to give this interface enough juice to keep it running for an hour,” based on the current rate of magic it was pulling in, that should be feasible. “I need you to work the controls – letting me into the reactor chamber, opening the fuel cell compartment, all of that – and give me some feedback from the diagnostic here while I go in to try and break that spell.”

“Okay,” he said, gruff. He was frowning now, and I knew he didn’t like the idea of me that close to the reactor, but we didn’t have a choice.

Getting in went smoothly enough, and I got what turned out to be the first of several spell layers undone without any trouble.

“It’s flashing, that spell-thing,” Arun’s voice came over the comm. Then, more urgently, “It’s flashing red.”

“Star-gas,” I muttered, trying to figure out what trap I had just triggered. There hadn’t seemed to be anything strange in that first layer of spell.

Sigils unrolled before me suddenly, counting down to—

With another curse, I flung myself back, scrawling protection and holding sigils with one hand and slapping at the compartment door control with the other, hoping it would close in time…

It did, barely.

A vague whump came as a panel in the floor dropped open, venting the chamber into the vacuum of space outside. I wasn’t sure if this was entirely a cause of the spell, or if it was a last-ditch containment mechanism in case something went horribly wrong with the reactor. They had sometimes put strange solutions on these older ships, when the fear of such things had been higher.

Either way, I had managed my own spells just in time, holding myself and the fuel cell structure in place.

“Hold on!” Arun’s voice sounded distant in my ear, but after a few, agonizingly long seconds, the venting doors were closing, and at last sealed with a hydraulic hiss.

I dropped my spells and collapsed to the newly-intact floor with an exhausted gasp.

“Are you all right?” he shouted, and I managed to get a hand up to wave at him.

“Fine,” I said after a moment. “Fine. Give me a sec.”

His silence had a displeased quality to it, but he let me be. After a few minutes of just breathing (and that stunt had certainly depleted my oxygen tank more than I had hoped, I was able to get up and check things again.

“Okay, no more surprises,” I told him, “just one last layer of spell to take off. The nuclear reaction should kick on again as soon as I take this off, so I’ll get out quickly.”

Arun just grunted, but it sounded like an assent, so I didn’t push for more.

I had just enough brain-power left to manage a small countdown in my own sigils, such that the dampening spell was taken apart just after I got out of the fuel cell compartment and the double door had sealed itself again.

“It seems to be working again,” Arun admitted, still gruff, as I rejoined him by the interface. “Pow- Regular power seems to be coming back into the system.”

I snorted a little. He was definitely going to make me explain it all properly later, but that was all right. With the reactor going again, the engines would run, as would the rest of the ship’s systems. And, since it seemed to have been built and run originally by those like myself, I could use my power to supplement anywhere the electric systems might fail or be beyond repair.

We had time now, and a good shot at getting somewhere habitable.

“Thanks for trusting me,” I told him.

“Thanks for saving us,” he said bluntly.

I smiled. He’d be mad at me, but he’d get over it.

It wasn’t so bad, to have finally told him, I realized. There were so many neat things I could show him now.

I really wanted to write a cybermage today, so here’s some sci-fi/fantasy. Sci-fantasy? Let’s go with that.

SFOG = Solid fuel oxygen generator, in which a chemical reaction “burns” iron and sodium chlorate to create oxygen.

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