“You seeing this, Raleigh?”
“Yeah,” the donkey groused, shining his flashlight on the worn-out maintenance frame. “Looks like one of those old Smyth-Kobar jobs. God damn, though,” Raleigh exclaimed. “I’ve never seen one in such bad shape.”
Flake frowned. “Yeah, this fella looks like it’s been…looks like it’s seen some shit,” the bird mused as they approached its charging alcove, gently laying a hand under its rectangular-shaped “head” and lifting it up gingerly by its chin. The neck swung upwards as gentle as a cloud, fully-sealed joints still clearly in working order; a positive sign.
“Raleigh, what do you make of this?”
“Dunno. Hard to tell, but I’d say it’s been here towards maybe twenty, thirty years. This benzene fracturing platform went offline about half a cent–“
Flake interrupted him, grabbing the synthetic by its wrist and lifting the arm up to chin height, letting it droop smoothly as it pleased in the near-zero gravity. “No, Raleigh. I mean. Do you think this Frame is salvageable?”
“Wh-what? Flake, we’re on a contract. We’re here to explosively decommission this platform. Everything here is garbage. Everything, including this rickety old SKHI Frame. We’ve got to get the de-orbit engine attached and we don’t have a lot of time left before this thing hits periapsis. Let’s go.”
“Look. Look! Right next to the alcove, see?” Flake pointed at the barcode placard on the wall. “It’s got an Identcode. Someone named it. Why would they name it? What purpose does naming a Frame have? These guys are usually disposable. None of the other Frames we’ve seen have names. And why is it alone in this part of the station? The maintenance ring is closer to the airlock, but we’re on the command ring.”
“Who knows why Guldsommar did anything? Those rock-chewers were out of their mind and half ripshit on stardust every chance they got,” scoffed the horse. “The lift to the upper rings is thi– Flake?”
The bird paid Raleigh no mind. Tapping away at their datapad, they ran a small data magcable from the hardlink port to the side of the synthetic’s slender trapezoidal torso, rapidly tapping away to establish some form of two-way communication.
>>>Searching onboard for compatible languages...!
>>>Communication Protocol Established
>>>Spinning up a communications downlink...success!
>>>Spinning up a communications uplink...success!
>>>Two-way communications established. Loading control console.
░▒▓ Smyth-Kobar Heavy Industries Frame Control Interface ▓▒░
░▒▓ v.22.097-17 | CARNETLANG Compliant | All Rights Reserved ▓▒░
░▒▓ ENTER A COMMAND AND CONTROL FUNCTION ▓▒░
“Command and control function. Hmm.”
“Flake!” Raleigh bellowed.
“Shh shh shh shh. I’m b-busy.” Flake started tapping away at the haptic interface as if in a trance, punching in commands and watching the amber output scroll downward.
░▒▓ Frame Status ▓▒░
SKHI Heavy-Duty Stellar Engineering Frame Model SKF-17SE
Build Complete Date: 3342-10-11T20:03:51 ST
Initial Activation Date: 3342-11-14T09:04:04 ST
Service Hours: 364918
SKHI ServiceScore®: 84/110
- SCORES BELOW 95 INDICATE A POSSIBLE MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENT
- SEE YOUR SMYTH-KOBAR REPRESENTATIVE FOR MAINTENANCE PACKAGE SPECIALS
Duty Cycle Rating:
- 18 Hour Continuous
- 06 Hour Maintenance Interval
- SKHI SynthEng Artificial Intelligence Package
- Low-Grav Gyrometric Compensation Package
- SKHI Engineering Library v.17k
- SKHI Stationmaster Library v.17k
- SKHI Medical Library v.17k
- SKHI Langu^C
░▒▓ SKHI FrameCell Power Status ▓▒░
FrameCell A: 100% Charge
FrameCell B: 100% Charge
FrameCell C: 100% Charge
ReserveCell A: 100% Charge
ReserveCell B: 100% Charge
ReserveCell C: 100% Charge
Cycle Count: 34^C
░▒▓ Internal Clock Status ▓▒░
Internal clock synced with CARNET Root Timeserver 00FE:4404:E297
Clock resync with local timesource prohibited by administrative policy.
Current time i^C
“I’m going to turn it on,” Flake muttered.
“Absolutely not, nuh uh, no way, nope,” Raleigh replied. “We are on a deadline. I don’t need some rusty bucket tromping around here and getting underfoot when we have a job to do, birdbrain.”
“Listen, listen, listen: it has a ton of knowledge libraries on board and it’s also got the SynthEng AI — they didn’t put those in maintenance frames. I think it might be able to help us out here.”
░▒▓ Power Cycle Control ▓▒░
Cycling servomotor control............done.
Hydraulic fluid reserves are within expected limits.
Warmup cycle complete!
|||CAUTION - CAUTION - CAUTION|||
Last Poweroff was Unexpected. This could indicate a fault, maintenance issue, or undesirable activity on the part of the Frame. It is recommended to review the maintenance logs BEFORE reactivating this Frame. For emergency restart, use command "powerctl poweron override" to skip this procedure.
The jay paused for a moment, sighing hard enough to fog the mask of their rebreather. “Hmm.”
\powerctl poweron override
░▒▓ Power Cycle Control ▓▒░
Warmup cycle complete.
Loading non-volatile storage matrices into local flexmem.
Beginning powerup cycle.
>>>Connectivity lost. Returning to main system layer.
>>>DANGER! DANGER! SPIKE DETECTED
>>>DISCONNECTING HARDLINK IMMEDIATELY
The magcable’s datapad end popped off with a snik, hanging loosely near-zero gravity environment. Flake looked down at it before readjusting their focus to look at the now-glowing neck ridges of the Frame in its alcove, powering up and thrumming to life. The three small lights where its “heart” would be (if it had one) flickered and steadied. Its head, which had up until now hung limply against its chest, craned upwards to look at the two bipeds staring at it, quickly moving from side to side to take stock of its environment. With a creak, it lurched forward, arm extended, hand open to find Flake’s neck. The synth’s vocal processor rendered what sounded like a low growl as it pressed a footplate against the back of its alcove and surged its whole body forward, slamming the bird into a bulkhead full force.
Raleigh pulled his coilgun from its holster and it whined to life as he took aim at the synth. “I told you that thing was bad goddamn news, you idiot!”
“You cannot shut me down! You cannot shut me down! You cannot shut me down!” the Frame yelled.
“I’m not…trying to!” Flake choked out, wrapping one hand around the Frame’s lower arm, vision fading as their windpipe felt the crush of cold metallic graspers. They could feel their magnetic boots attempting to scramble for purchase on the floor; one foot had already attached itself to the bulkhead wall. “Stop!”
“Who are you! Are you with Smyth-Kobar! Why are you here! Why did you shut me down! I was protecting the station!”
Flake tapped their hand three times against the synthetic’s wrist. “P-please…you’re…I’m…”
“You are dying! You are–…you are dying,” the frame seemed to whisper, immediately releasing its grasp. “I am sorry. Please. Forgive me.”
“Forgive you. Are you…remorse? Frames aren’t programmed with remorse,” Raleigh said, holstering his sidearm as Flake gasped for air and fumbled for their boot controls.
“Frames are not typically programmed for much,” the synth mused. “I am mostly not programmed. I just…am.”
“And who…who are…who are you,” Flake wheezed.
“I am Smyth-Kobar Heavy Industries Automated Stationkeeping Frame 17-Kilo, the primary unit in charge of maintenance and operation of Benzene Cracking Platform Echo-Charl–“
“Do you have a name?” the bird interrupted, standing back up to full height and rolling their neck.
“A n-name? The stationmaster used to call me Fletcher, sir. He said it was ‘funny’ because my head ‘looked like an old Arrowsmith Fleetyards cargo hauler’. I did not quite see the humour in it,” Fletcher said, voice seeming to indicate a frown as it cast its head downward. “You can call me Fletcher, sir, if you like,” it added, looking back up at Flake.
“Sure. But don’t call me ‘sir.’ Address me neutrally please.”
Raleigh cleared his throat. “I don’t know how much more time we’ve got but I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘next to none’, so if we could move this along please?”
“Fletcher,” Flake said, coughing into their rebreather, “we’re here to de-orbit this platform. We have about an hour before we reach periapsis and we’re out of luck. Do you–“
“Deorbiting the platform is a fairly standard procedure for stations past their service lifetime. I would be happy to help!”