Siris didn’t hear Cato’s impressive bark because David Bowie was singing about Major Tom, and that, combined with the giant sliding doors that led out into the forest where Cato was being abducted, drowned out the sound the poor dog made. Siris went on tightening the nut directly above his horizontal face and hummed along to the tune. The internal lubricant reservoirs in the colonial vehicles were filled with a type of silicone that wasn’t supposed to break down, but Siris had decided to open up the tank under the hab unit just to make sure that the extra thousand years hadn’t found a way to solidify its contents. He hadn’t been surprised when the silicone inside looked as shiny and liquidy as the day it had been pumped into the vehicle.
The engineers and scientists had known what they were doing when they’d put this plan together. Except when it came to the whole getting them all there safe and with adult supervision. Really they probably deserved a failing grade overall since those things were kind of important, but as Siris worked on the vehicles in the motor pool, he had been impressed by the equipment’s condition and it raised his opinion of those long-dead engineers. He was sure that it had helped that the doors to the motor pool had been sealed, keeping out the destructive moisture that was so prevalent on this part of the planet.
He decided that he had checked about everything that was essential on the vehicles and had delayed leaving the relative safety of the motor pool for as long as he could justify. He didn’t want to admit how scared he was to leave. Every time he thought of the Rossians and their extended jaws and slick mottled skin, he cringed, but he knew that he had to leave. He worried for Peter, Iris, and even the other shareholder kids that shared nothing with him but a common humanity.
Despite the music, the motor pool felt empty, and he felt its emptiness in his bones. He had been torn on which vehicle to take, so he’d found a trailer with giant wheels meant to be towed by the massive hab unit. The trailer had had a tank on it, meant to carry water, but it had a big hole in it and Siris cut the metal cylinder free of the bed. The buggy fit on the trailer like it had been made for it.
He stood looking at the giant hab and its buggy. He was proud of his work. It looked imposing, and he hoped that it was threatening enough to scare the Rossians away when he came through the equally giant doors.
The last thing he did before climbing into the hab’s driver’s seat was download the ship's database into its computer. He made sure that it held a healthy amount of classic rock and Jim Carrey movies.
He sat for a while, holding the steering wheel in his hands, trying to get comfortable with the idea of being in the driver’s seat. He sighed and looked over at the red LED on the control panel in front of him, indicating that the hab’s computer was online.
“Hab 1. Can you ask the Samsara to open the left-most garage door to the motor pool?” The LED blinked and words scrolled across the display in front of him.
“Error. Utility door #3 is not responding. Please consult your on-duty maintenance crew for help.”
Siris shook his head.
“I am the on-duty maintenance crew.” He put his head in his hands for a minute and contemplated his options.
“Screw it.” He pushed the green button that, helpfully, said ‘start’ below it.
The hydrogen fuel cells kicked in and the engines groaned. He gulped when the entire hab unit rumbled to life. He had a vision of the hab exploding in an inferno of red and blue fire, but the rumbling calmed into a much less ominous vibration that put a smile on his face.
He shifted into first gear and the massive vehicle crept forward. Siris lined up with the leftmost garage door and let the engine idle while he searched for the buttons he needed.
One of the coolest things that he had read about the hab unit was its ‘roadmaker’, a detachable rover outfitted with explosives of every kind that could scout ahead and plant devices that would clear a path for the giant vehicle.
It took a few minutes to figure out the clearances to get the thing to work. It seemed that the Samsara was still trying to hold on to its previous hierarchical data security even though he was all there was left as far as qualified colonials. The ship’s computer finally recognized his authority and a set of metallic noises indicated the rover’s detachment was underway.
He smiled when the display on the control panel changed to a video feed showing the roadmaker’s view.
Lines of informative script flashed across the video feed as the rover ran a self diagnostic. Siris chuckled to himself when the final assessment was ‘schedule maintenance session as soon as possible’.
The ‘ready’ status changed to green and Siris grabbed the joystick in front of him. The roadmaker sped forward from under the hab unit where it had been lowered and Siris winced when he rammed a giant tire and had to back up and turn sharper to the left. He knew that the explosives were extremely stable, evidenced by the fact that they hadn’t blown the motor pool to smithereens when the ship crashed, but he still was all-too-aware of what the roadmaker carried.
He parked the rover in front of the massive roller door and pushed the clear obstruction button. A warning popped up. ‘Obstruction part of CS Samsara: motor pool door assembly’
Siris overrode the warning.
The roadmaker did all of the targeting and placement of the explosives automatically. The rover shot wads of explosive at the door. He could hear the impact of the plastique as it struck the metal and winced again. The roadmaker flashed a ‘explosives planted’ and a ‘permission to reattach?’ prompt at Siris. He hit the ‘Y’ key and the roadmaker sped back to its spot under the hab where it was pulled back up to its nook under the vehicle.
‘Clear Obstruction.’ flashed on the screen and Siris swallowed as he pressed the button.
The sound of the explosion was intense and if he hadn’t been inside the cab he was sure he would have been permanently deafened, but when the dust cleared Siris gave a cheer that his ringing ears barely registered.
He rotated the seat back over to the steering wheel and pushed on the gas pedal. The hab jerked forward. Siris shielded his eyes as he came through the gaping hole that the roadmaker created. The sun, though always low in the sky, was far brighter than he had grown accustomed to and it took thirty seconds for his eyes to adjust.
He was out. He had made it. It had taken longer than the three days he’d told Iris to wait, but he would be returning with a whole hab unit, something he hadn’t dared to hope for before.
The bumper on the front of the hab pushed over a tree in Siris’ way and he gave another cheer as he bounced along in his seat. Several more trees fell victim to the hab’s fury and then he was in a clearing. No, not a clearing, a village. It was the Rossian village and groups of the creatures scurried for safety, their immense size made small by the hab’s height.
Siris tried to miss the buildings. He really did, but the hab didn’t have the most responsive steering and he knew that even when he’d successfully threaded the front end between two, the back end would most likely side-swipe or even topple the structures.
In the center of the village, a fire burned, and next to the fire was a cage. They must like their meat fresh, Siris thought. He wondered what kind of animal the Rossians favored. His own stomach grumbled at the thought of food, and he was almost tempted to climb down from the hab and retrieve whatever food he could find in the village, as all of the Rossians were rightfully terrified of the hab and were probably long gone.
The hab trundled past the fire and Siris glanced out of the window down at the cage as he went by, then slammed on the brakes. Despite its slow speed the hab took an excruciatingly long time to stop and he was down the ladder almost before it had.
Cato barked happily and wagged his stubby tail at him from inside the wooden cage. Siris yelled his own excitement and ran to the dog. He pulled the wooden cotter pin from the primitive locking device and jerked the door open. Cato favored his front left paw but jumped at Siris anyway and licked his face.
Siris laughed and hugged Cato, but the dog’s excitement couldn’t be contained and he danced and played in the dust around him. Finally, Siris looked around them nervously, remembering where they were.
Red pinpoints shone out at them from the ever-present shadows.
“We need to get out of here.”
As if Cato understood his words, the dog stopped his dancing and stood tall and ready.
Siris had to help Cato into the cab and when he put his arms around the dog to try to lift him, he whimpered in pain. More than just his paw then was injured. Instead, Siris pushed on the big dog’s hindquarters until they had both made it into the relative safety of the hab.
A weight that he didn’t know was there, eased as he shifted gears and pushed the gas pedal.
They had made it. They were going back to Peter and Iris.
He reached over and scratched behind Cato’s left ear, then smashed a Rossian hovel to dust. He just smiled and hit the airhorn.