The warning siren blared through the halls, running through its customary sequence of three shorts bursts, a five-second delay, then one longer burst, followed by ten heavenly seconds of silence before starting all over again. There could be no doubt that each crew member aboard Galahad was aware—painfully aware—that there was a problem.
Gap Lee found it annoying.
He stood, hands on hips and a scowl etched across his face, staring at the digital readout before him. One of his assistants, Ramasha, waited at his side, glancing back and forth between the control panel and Gap.
“Please shut that alarm off again, will you?” he said to her. “Thanks.”
Moments later a soft tone sounded from the intercom on the panel, followed by the voice of Lita Marques, calling from Galahad’s clinic.
“Oh, Gap darling.” He sensed the laughter bubbling behind her words, and chose to ignore her for as long as possible.
“Gap dear,” she said. “We’ve looked everywhere for gloves and parkas, but just can’t seem to turn any up. Know where we could find some?” This time he distinctly heard the pitter of laughter in the background.
“Are you ignoring me, Gap?” Lita said through the intercom. “Listen, it’s about sixty-two degrees here in Sick House. If you’re trying to give me the cold shoulder, it’s too late.” There was no hiding the laughs after this, and Gap was sure that it was Lita’s assistant, Alexa, carrying most of the load.
“Yes, you’re very funny,” Gap said, nodding his head. “Listen, if you’re finished with the jokes for now, I’ll get back to work.”
This time it was definitely Alexa who called out from the background. “Okay. If it gets any colder we’ll just open a window.” Lita snickered across the speaker before Alexa continued. “Outside it’s only a couple hundred degrees below zero. That might feel pretty good after this.”
Gap could tell that the girls weren’t finished with their teasing, so he reached over and clicked off the intercom. Then, turning to Ramasha, he found her suppressing her own laughter, the corners of her mouth twitching with the effort. Finally, she spread her hands and said, “Well, you have to admit, it is a little funny.”
He ignored this and looked back at the control panel. What was wrong with this thing? Even though his better judgment warned him not to, he decided to bring the ship’s computer into the discussion.
“Roc, what if we changed out the Balsom clips for the whole level? I know they show on the monitors as undamaged, but what have we got to lose?”
The very human-like voice replied, “Time, for one thing. Besides, wouldn’t you know it, the warranty on Balsom clips expires after only thirty days. Sorry, Gap, but I think you’re grasping now. My recommendation stands; shut down the system for the entire level and let it reset.”
Gap closed his eyes and sighed. Some days it just didn’t pay to be the Head of Engineering on history’s most incredible spacecraft. He opened his eyes again when he felt the presence of someone else standing beside him.
It was Triana Martell. At least Galahad’s Council Leader seemed relatively serious about the problem. “I don’t suppose I need to tell you,” she said calmly, “that it’s getting a little frosty on Level Six.”
“So I’ve heard,” Gap said. “About a hundred times today, at least.” He turned back to the panel. “Contrary to what some of your Council members think, I am working on it. Trying to, anyway.”
Triana smiled. “My Council members? I’m just the Council Leader, Gap, not Queen. Besides, you’re on the team, too, remember?”
Gap muttered something under his breath, which caused Triana’s smile to widen. She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’ll figure it out. Has Roc been any help?”
Her subtle touch was enough to jar him from his bleak mood. He felt the ghost of his old emotions flicker briefly, especially when their gazes met, his dark eyes connecting with her dazzling green. A year’s worth of emotional turbulence replayed in his mind, from his early infatuation with Triana, to the heartache of discovering she had feelings for someone else, to his unexpected relationship with Hannah Ross.
Even now, months later, he had to admit that contact with Triana still caused old feelings to stir, feelings that seemed reluctant to disappear completely. Maybe they never would.
“Well?” Triana said. He realized that he had responded to her question with a blank stare.
“Oh. Uh, no. Well, yes and no.”
Triana removed her hand from his shoulder and crossed her arms, a look Gap recognized as “please explain.” He internally shook off the cobwebs and turned back to the panel.
“I’m thinking it might be the Balsom clips for Level Six. That would explain the on-again, off-again heating problems.”
“But Roc disagrees. He says he has run tests on every clip on Level Six, and they check out fine. He wants to shut down the system and restart.”
Triana looked at the panel, then back to Gap. “And you don’t want to try that?”
Gap shrugged. “I’m just a little nervous about shutting down the heating system for the whole ship when a section has been giving us problems. What happens if the malfunction spreads to the entire system?”
“Well, we would freeze to death, for one thing,” Triana said.
“Yeah. So, maybe I’m being a little overly cautious, but I’d like to try everything else before we resort to that.”
The intercom tone sounded softly, and then the unmistakable voice of Channy Oakland, another Galahad Council member, broke through the speaker. “Hey, Gap, did you know it’s snowing up here on Level Six?”
Triana barely suppressed a laugh while Gap snapped off the intercom.
“I’ll quit bothering you,” she said, turning to leave. Over her shoulder she called out, “Check back in with me in about an hour. I’ll be ice skating in the Conference Room.”
“Very funny,” Gap said as she walked out the door. He looked over at Ramasha, who had remained silently standing a few feet away. A cautious grin was stitched across her face. “What are you laughing at?” he said with a scowl.
They were only chunks of ice and rock. But there were trillions of them, and they tumbled blindly through the outermost regions of the solar system, circling a sun that appeared only as one of the brighter stars, lost amongst the dazzling backdrop of the Milky Way. Named after the astronomer who had first predicted its existence, the Kuiper Belt was a virtual ring of debris, a minefield of rubble ranging from the size of sand grains up to moon-sized behemoths, orbiting at a mind-numbing distance beyond even the gas giants of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
Arguments had raged for decades over whether lonely Pluto should be considered a planet or a hefty member of the Kuiper Belt. And, once larger Kuiper objects were detected and catalogued, similar debates began all over again. One thing, however, remained certain.
The Kuiper Belt posed a challenge for the ship called Galahad. Maneuvering through a region barely understood and woefully mapped, the shopping mall-sized spacecraft would be playing a game of dodge ball in the stream of galactic junk. Mission organizers could only manage a guess at how long it would take for the ship to scamper through the maze. Taking into account the blazing speed that Galahad now possessed—including a slight nudge from an unexpected encounter around Saturn—Roc told Triana to be on high alert for about sixty days.
Now, as they rocketed toward the initial fragments of the Kuiper Belt, both Roc and the ship’s Council were consumed with solving the heating malfunction aboard the ship, unaware of the dark, mountainous boulders that were camouflaged against the jet black background of space.
Boulders that were on a collision course with Galahad.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Tor Teen Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
THE CASSINI CODE: A GALAHAD BOOK
Copyright © 2008 by Dom Testa
All rights reserved.
Previously published in 2008 by Profound Impact Group, under the title Galahad 3: The Cassini Code.