After a stop by my quarters for my mag-boots, I headed down to maintenance. Slowly. Walking in mag-boots required a different set of muscles contractions than walking with gravity. With gravity, you pushed off of the ground. With mag-boots, you pulled yourself towards the ground.
And having a busted-up thigh made it excruciating, even with the boots set to their lightest walking level.
Mag-boots were named for the electromagnets embedded in the soles. In walking mode, the magnets activated when your foot was flat and deactivated when you started to pick up your heel to take a step. Once you got the hang of it, it made walking easier because you didn’t have the fight the magnet each time you needed to pick up your foot.
But it was fun to watch newbies forget to keep one foot down and float off of the floor.
I manually opened the door to the engine room and met a wall of heat. It was at least ten degrees warmer than the rest of the ship. My face burned like I had a fever. Well, this would be unpleasant.
By the time I made it to the main maintenance terminal, sweat clung to me in a thin sheet. If I moved too quickly, droplets drifted away like my own personal raincloud. Ugh. I needed gravity, pronto.
I swiped my arms against my shirt to remove most of the sweat then powered up the terminal and checked the diagnostics. The stardrive was still in the red zone, but only just. The system estimated it would be ten minutes before the drive dropped out of danger, then at least five hours before it would be cool enough to jump again.
The drive diagnostics showed some minor damage. It wasn’t enough to prevent us from jumping, but it would need to be repaired soon, which was an expense that would have to wait until Kos paid me for their Emperor.
Assuming the Kos Empire would pay me for Valentin. I had the sinking feeling that some larger game was afoot and I’d just made myself a pawn.
I pushed that disturbing thought aside. I had to deal with one problem at a time or I’d go crazy. And right now, getting Invictia back online was my main concern.
I redirected some of the power from cooling back to the ship’s most basic systems. The time to exit the red zone doubled, but the drive temperature didn’t go up. The lights flickered on as Invictia sensed my presence in the room.
So far, so good.
With the lights on, the drive inspection would be far easier. I grabbed the checklist and lifted my heels, disengaging the electromagnets in my boots. I pushed off and floated up to the second-level walkway.
I used the walkway railing to spin around, then planted my feet on the ceiling. My boots engaged and I walked out over the stardrive enclosure. This might be the only use case where zero gravity was helpful. Visual inspections very rarely turned up something the diagnostics had missed, but they were included on the checklist for a reason.
And you ignored the safety checklist at your own peril.
I completed the checklist and didn’t find any additional issues. While I’d been busy, the stardrive had edged out of the red zone, though the room was still way too warm. My clothes were soaked through with sweat.
With the drive stabilizing, I could continue to re-enable the ship’s systems, but first I had to manually disable the communications array. I didn’t know which system had Jax’s tracker attached, but if I had to guess, it would be something vital like stealth or life support.
The system control box was plastered in dire warnings, all of which I ignored. This wasn’t the first time I’d disabled this particular system. Inside, manual switches were neatly labeled with the functions they controlled.
I flipped the master communication array switch to the off position. In an abundance of caution, I also turned off the four secondary switches that controlled the individual antennas. I would have to turn them on again to send my ransom demand, but I’d wait until just before our next jump.
I returned to the maintenance terminal and opened the intercom. “Life support will be returning in thirty seconds,” I announced. “Prepare for gravity.”
“Did you find the tracker?” Valentin asked.
“Not yet,” I said.
“I’m good with software,” Valentin said. “If you let me out, I will find it for you.”
I rolled my eyes. Like I was letting the Emperor within three meters of my ship’s systems. I’d be neck deep in Kos warships before I knew what happened. But the guy was persistent, I’d give him that.
I enabled the ship’s stealth capability then life support. Gravity returned and I hissed out a curse as weight settled on my bad leg.
“What’s wrong?” Valentin asked.
Shit, I’d left the intercom on. “Just my leg letting me know I’m still alive,” I said. I changed the subject before he could respond. “We have about five hours until we can jump again. I’ll let you know a few minutes before the jump. Until then, I’m shutting down the intercom.”
I muted my side but left the intercom open to keep an ear on him.
“Wait,” he said. “Samara? Samara!” When I didn’t respond, he huffed out a breath and cursed quietly. Soft footsteps echoed across the intercom as he paced, but he didn’t say anything else.
I ran a quick system scan while I was still in the maintenance terminal. The ship’s shielding was beat to hell, as were a few places in the hull where we’d had near misses. Invictia had kept us alive, but only just. She’d be in dry dock for weeks after this.
I deactivated my mag-boots and turned off the intercom. There wasn’t anything else I could do down here. I needed to get back to the bridge and find the tracker. Plus, it would take time to craft my ransom message because I needed to hit the right balance between carrot and stick.
My only leverage was the Emperor himself. Even though they were losing the war, the Kos Empire still had more than enough firepower to take out my fragile sector. I needed to make it so the path of least resistance was to pay me and move along.
I just hoped he still had some advisors who wanted him back.