Luned felt the ache in her neck and heard ringing in her ears before she opened her eyes. Disoriented and a mouth dry enough to stick her tongue to her teeth, she took an unsteady breath. The air inside her helmet tasted bitter from carbon dioxide build up. She fumbled with the ultrablack suit and disengaged the helmet latch. Luned wretched the helmet from her head and gasped for air, coughing. Her body ached terribly.
Swiping her hand across the control panel, The Drill only responded with a wane red light in the middle.
"System reboot? What the fuck..." Something was wrong. Right now, Luned could only focus on getting the air recycling system back online before she suffocated. The dashboard diagnostic screen animated a break in the auxiliary power from the main engine, and the machine wouldn't start.
With a ball of panic at the back of her throat, Luned snapped her helmet back on, yanked on the door release, and tumbled out of the Drill onto the dusty, rocky ground. The limited air and power supply in her suit made her HUD light up with warnings as soon as she left the pressurized cabin. Her legs were numb from sitting for so long. How long? She crawled on her hands and knees to the neutrino core panel just under the cab. Luned strained to pull on the panel hatch until it sprung open and smacked her on the visor.
The neutrino core was the only hardwired panel on the entire vehicle and the mono-filament wires were all cut through cleanly. The repair kit was missing, but Luned's suit had an emergency kit. She choked on the acrid air in her helmet as she spot-welded new connections with shaking hands. The welding looked awful, but she hoped it would hold. After priming the reset switch, a small green light blinked into existence.
With the waning reserves of her strength, Luned managed to pull herself back up into the Drill, vented the atmosphere, and slapped the emergency panel to quickly pressurize the cabin. Smothering in her helmet, Luned had to wait several agonizing moments for the O2 levels to finally hit 20%. She clawed off the helmet again, gasping and gagging.
She sat there for a few moments, waiting for dark spots wiggling across her vision to fade. Luned was safe in the Drill for now, but her body needed immediate treatment.
"Health ... check," she wheezed. The read-out on the Drill HUD suggested low blood-oxygen, severe dehydration, anemia, bone density loss, completely depleted glucose levels, ketone, fatty acids, and her electrolytes barely registered. The Drill had basic first aid. She hooked a long clear tube from the dashboard to the chest port on the ultrablack. It started to deliver hydrating fluids, vitamins, painkillers, and nanites to repair tissue, bone, and organ damage.
The fog began to lift from her starved brain, and Luned pieced events together. Before losing consciousness, she refused a direct order to blast the planet. Pace had remote control of the Drill, and according to the log, he overloaded the charge before the system failed and attempted to reboot.
But then why was the main battery drained? The stabilized nuclear core should have enough power for nearly 100 solar cycles, even to power life support systems for the whole crew on the Ortis in case of emergencies. This was sabotage by her superior officer. Pace didn't even bother clearing the logs as he overrode the reactor, he knew Luned would be dead.
She had seen mining-and-blasting crews go crazy before. They sabotaged life support systems, attempted suicide, and outright murdered co-workers after making too many hyperspace jumps. Her captain explained that it was the "Red Shift"; the perpetual, low-energy red light cast from the stars of a dying Universe that extended the shadows in your mind and caused psychosis. A look out the window of a mining ship revealed only feverishly faint, exhausted celestial objects dim in the distance. Psychiatrists claimed that hyperspace jumps destabilized the perception of the passage of time, causing paranoia and disassociation from reality.
Luned didn't think Pace would go crazy, especially since Red Shift symptoms were something they were tested for before every assignment. But, test results rarely released a miner from duty. Too few people mining now, anyway, and they needed all the hands they could get.
She had to get back to the ship and warn the crew. The comm channels to the Ortis were open, but all she could receive was static. It could be the hole she was in. The silica sand blocked both short and long-wave transmissions. The Drill scan picked up no radio signals, which began to worry her. Silence on an unstable, radioactive planet meant that the ship either left, or the crew was in trouble. Luned had to get out of the sinkhole.
Renewed with the vigor to get the fuck off the planet, Luned suited back up and hustled around the back of the Drill, and set up the self-retrieval gear, which was thankfully undamaged. Using her suit's remote connection to the Drill, Luned aimed five laser measurement tools at the most stable outcrop of the sinkhole opening. The Drill launched nanotube-thread harpoons and hit it's painted targets. Luned cranked the winch a few times from her wrist-panel to stress test, and the anchors held fast.
"Let's get out of this mess." Luned climbed back into the armored vehicle and started up the winch. The giant drill groaned as it began to haul itself up the side of the sinkhole. It was slow going, Luned had to constantly monitor the outcrop. If the rock gave way, the drop could land her upside down.
The edge of the sinkhole came into view. If the hole was relatively peaceful, the surface was an absolute nightmare. The winds had picked up, and swirling dust obscured the landscape. The red sun hovered like a blotted, opaque stain to her left. Low energy light mixed with the particulate storm created a haunted scene of twilight in fog.
Luned gave the Drill a final push and it lurched over the edge of the sinkhole. She scanned for the Ortis' beacon, holding back panic as each second passed without a hit. Finally, a HUD scan revealed the location of the Ortis, about 15 minutes away. She locked on. The Drill rumbled forward to their destination.
Still weak from the accident, and her ultrablack suit's critical life support function exhausted, Luned clung to the controls as she disappeared into the inflamed dust.