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Thread: Too Hot for Holovision - Echo Base short story

  1. #1

    Too Hot for Holovision - Echo Base short story

    Too Hot For Holovision

    part one

    If General Riekkan ever stopped to think exactly how hard my job is, he’d promote me to Captain, at least. I’m Lieutenant Phinny Reslo, and I’m in charge of the heating systems for the Alliance’s Echo Base.

    Not that I have any delusions about what this latest “urgent call” to the command center will be about. As I enter the nerve-center for our entire outpost, Riekkan looks up at me and without even a greeting says, “There seems to be a problem in the south hangar. Captain Solo is complaining that the cold is impairing his ability to get the repairs done on his freighter. Is there a problem with your systems down there?”

    “No, sir,” I reply. I’ve seen Solo and his Wookiee working on that monstrosity they call a ship. “With all due respect, General, as I've told you before, and posted in memos to the entire staff almost daily, the heat emitters will only function within a narrow field of use. The top of his ship stands too high in the hangar—it’s outside the range I can heat safely.”

    Riekkan nods his silver-capped head, even as an officer motions for him to come to the long-range sensor station. “Well, see if you can get those heating coils working properly then. We're all counting on you, Reslo.”

    With that he walks off, and I guess I’m dismissed. He didn't even hear a word I said. I sigh to myself. I needed to leave three repair jobs to come down here and be told to achieve the impossible.

    While I’m in the command center, I might as well make sure the “coils” in here are working alright. I make my way across the cramped room, towards the maintenance panel next to the controllers’ stations. Right there, at her end terminal like always, sits Bree Lark, a beautiful young system’s operator and one of the first people I met here at the base. She smiles when she sees me. Belatedly I realize Captain Zeff Nebular—one of the security officers and a real heel—is standing right there, talking to Bree.

    “Hey, it's the Heatmeiser,” she teases, tucking a stray lock of her silky blonde hair back behind her headset. “Come to take the chill off?”

    “Hi, Bree,” I say, and with a quick salute I add, “Captain.”

    “Reslo,” he acknowledges, smirking at me from behind his black goatee.

    I flip open my work station and start checking the settings. Zeff exhales loudly, I guess annoyed that I'm going to be there for a minute. “So anyways, Bree, you'd better be extra careful on the way back to your quarters tonight—that west passage has been breached twice within the past two days by those ice creatures, and I'd hate for anything to happen to you.”

    “Thanks for your concern Zeff,” Bree responds, maybe a little coolly. “I suppose I'll have K-3PO escort me down, just in case…”

    Zeff snorts. “No protocol droid is gonna be able to protect you from one of these things. It took Div, Grodin and I to take down the one this morning, and not without taking a little damage ourselves.” He pulls open his thermal vest to show his uniform below, slightly shredded with a hint of blood-stain. He sneers when he catches me looking. “They're saying one of ‘em even put Commander Skywalker in bacta. I'll be around later on, Bree, maybe I'll escort you.” With that, Zeff pushes past me—deliberately bumping me, I'm sure—and leaves.

    Bree and I share another look and she rolls her eyes. I smile and return to my readings. Everything's running in the green—actually better than ever.

    “You know, with the temp just this little bit lower than the Imperial standard, we've got a nine-and-a-half percent boost in the efficiency of the computers in here. You guys are probably running the fastest network in the Alliance.” I say. For good measure, I shave another couple degree-seconds off the thermostat's baseline, and then I shut the panel back down.

    Bree shakes her head and smiles at me. “Tell that to my toes tonight,” she says.

    “Look at it this way,” I suggest. “If our systems are running that good, the beverage dispenser must make a mean cup of caf to compensate.”

    She laughs as I wave goodbye. “Be good, Phinny,” she says. I throw her the “okay” sign over my shoulder as I leave.

    ~ ~ ~

    The next call on my list—and it's always a long list—is one of the “elbow” halls near the tauntaun pens. Apparently someone was fiddling with the thermostat and put the whole corridor into a deep-freeze.

    It’s one thing to put a secret military outpost on a frozen planet. No big deal, really, it’s probably done all the time. Digging that base out of the ice itself, that’s a trickier feat of engineering, though not exactly the cutting edge of Galactic technology. Expecting humans and droids to then inhabit said base, well, that's where all the paradoxes start coming in. My Mon Cal pal Allgré back at Tierfon said the original plan was to have a huge fighting force of defecting Talz man this base, but that whole division got wiped out in convoy by the Imperial Fleet, right around the same time Yavin was compromised. So one thing led to another, and this base wound up full of humans, just slightly above freezing.

    Allgré and I got split up then, since there's no way to keep this place humid enough for the Mon Cals’ breathing requirements. I miss the squid, especially when it comes to dealing with people. The systems and machinery I can handle, but the people who tend to break them are a whole other problem for me.

    “WED, get over here,” I call down the blue-tinted hallway to my Treadwell helper droid. He beeps and buzzes acknowledgement and trundles towards me over the uneven floorplates. “See if you can't get these two units to cooperate, huh?” I scrape some of the ice crystals out of the thermo-regulator's SCOMP link, and move out of the way for WED to do his thing.

    The mechanics of heating the base are simple in theory. The walls, the floors, and the ceilings are ice, of course, so the trick is to keep the heat centered in the given volume while keeping the outer edges as cold as possible. We accomplish this through the use of some low-powered laser fields, which act as a "ray" of heat that can cut straight through a room. A bank of emitters on one wall, a bank of reflectors on the opposite, and the temperature of the room is completely mutable, while leaving the structure solid ice.

    In "L" shaped halls like this, of course, things are a little more tricky, since the emitters and reflectors don't line up quite right with each other and have to bounce through some odd angles. If a foreign object—like a person, for example—gets between them for too long, the heat can cycle down in a pretty steep curve. At which point, said obstruction will most often complain loudly and/or try to turn up the heat themselves. Turning up the “heat” on the laser emitters will get the job done, giving the beam enough juice to get some energy into the microwave band and right through a solid object, but once the obstacle is removed, the system is likely to overload and break down.

    I’ve been sending memos since the base first came online, explaining the need to stay in the center of a corridor, wear the recommended insulated footgear, and keep tight spaces clear, but to no avail. People would rather complain than do it right.

    “Ahh! This hall is freezing!”

    The voice echoes off the walls as if to illustrate my thought. I turn to look just as Zeff Nebular and two of his cronies, Lts. Mateo and Scot, turn the bend. Zeff’s eyes narrow as he registers me in his sight.

    “Reslo,” he says, his voice losing the friendly edge it had just had. “You know, I’ve got a bone to pick with you, pal.”

    I blink but make no verbal reply. Zeff walks right up within bare centimeters of my face, his security friends keeping just a step behind. Without meaning to, I take another step back, until my thermal vest is pressed up against the cold ice wall.

    “Seems like the officers’ quarters down on level sub-six are having the heat turned off tonight for ‘routine maintenance.’ I figure that was your doing.”

    “Hmmm..? Oh yeah,” I flip out my datatpad, bringing it up between the two of us, and sidestep to the right a little for some breathing room. “It looks like a couple of droids managed to melt a part of the structure down there, trying to boost the temperature in the Princess’ quarters. Major Monnon says we have a serious rebuild on our hands, and we have to get it done right away.”

    Zeff snorts and grabs the datapad out of my hand. “That’s a good story, Reslo, but I think you just wanted to make sure I couldn’t take Bree back to my quarters tonight. Let her go, man…I mean, who do you think she really wants, anyway?”

    If I were to answer that question honestly right now, I’d just wind up with a face full of ice. Instead, I say, “These orders came from Princess Leia herself.” I point to the right spot on the datapad’s screen.

    Zeff drops it on the ground and loses all subtlety, grabbing me by the collar and snarling, “If I catch you so much as looking at Bree again, I’ll grind you into tauntaun kibble myself. Understood?” Mateo and Scot are smirking at me over his shoulder.

    I nod, just to get him to let me go. He bares his teeth at me one more time and shoves me back into the wall again. The other two chuckle as they continue off down the hall. I grab my data pad out of the corner and mutter, “like Bree would have anything to do with you…”

    WED clicks and buzzes at them indignantly as they pass him, turns to look at me in what must be mutual disgust, then goes back to work at the access terminal. With a pronounced hum the emitters come back to life, sputter, and die again. “Keep trying,” I encourage the droid. “It probably needs to thaw out its logic circuits.”

    If only people were as easy to diagnose as thermo-regulators.

  2. #2

    Re: Too Hot for Holovision - Echo Base short story

    part two

    The rest of the day is more of the same, but I thankfully avoid seeing Nebular anymore. I never seem to make any progress…in the time it takes for me to tackle one maintenance request, three more are appended to the list. I actually wind up finishing all the requests I started the day with by the time they close the shield doors, marking the end of a working day at Echo Base.

    “Two more, WED, and we’ll call it a night,” I say as the little droid struggles to tag along with me in south hangar. “The General wants me to check out these systems, just to make sure…”

    WED buzzes out an affirmative, narrowly avoiding getting stomped by a tauntaun and its rider as they move off towards the pens. Above the ruckus, I can hear the bellowing of the Wookiee Chewbacca across the hangar, as he and Solo work on their ship. From what I can tell in here, everything is working in good order—sticking to the deck plates in a big open space like this is crucial—they’re not only top-warmed, but they were laid out to best follow the paths of the heat emitters’ laser-fields. I look around me at the personnel moving about and see all sorts of folks ignoring the paths and cutting through at right angles…making it as hard on themselves as they can, and complaining about the cold every chance they get.

    “Hey! Phinny!” The shout stops me dead in my tracks, and I scan the heads around for the speaker. Bree’s blonde hair and smooth white skin are hard to miss among the pilots and scouts. “Thank goodness I ran into to you!”

    “Wh—What’s wrong?” I stammer, unable to stifle the urge to look around and see if a certain security officer is anywhere nearby. I keep on walking, and she takes the hint and joins me.

    “It’s that Zeff,” she sighs. “I swear he was positively stalking the command center this last hour. I asked Toryn Farr to call a bogus security alert to the northern hangar, just to get away. I’m gonna owe her big for that one.”

    “Good thinking,” I chuckle. We pass up the relay I was going to look at, and take one of the side tunnels, back down into the main complex. “So what did you need me for?”

    “Just to run cover, walk me back to my quarters,” she says, turning away shyly. My cheeks burn a little and my heart speeds up a bit. Who do you think she really wants, anyway?

    “Well, I guess so…” I say, trying to sound a lot less excited than I really am. Just think about what Zeff would do to you if he caught you…and not what she’ll do to you if he doesn’t…

    A shrill buzz behind us brings my attention back to planet Hoth. I turn to see WED once again getting bogged down in the foot traffic. “WED, scrap the plans for those last two jobs and, uh, take the night off.” He blats a negative, and determinedly speeds up after us. For a simple Treadwell, he’s pretty darn loyal. Bree grabs my hand to stop me so I‘ll let him catch up. I shake my head and say, “Alright, alright. Tag along if it makes you feel safer too. Just don’t get pushy.”

    ~ ~ ~

    The three of us take one of the more out-of the-way tunnels, in a bigger circle than we really need to get to the main lifts down into the barracks. Less people, less chance of running into Zeff or his goons. WED chatters to himself as I struggle to think of something witty to say to Bree.

    “I pointed out the efficiency rating you showed me this morning to General Riekkan,” Bree says. “He was really impressed. I made sure you got the credit for it.”

    I grin. “Hey, thanks.”

    “But you were wrong on one thing—the caf is still lousy.”

    “Guess it depends where you get it,“ I reply. “Down in the maintenance room, we have a really nice cafmaker all tricked out with different settings…”

    At this point, about five different things happen at once. There’s this huge thunder crack as the wall in front of us suddenly splits. At the same time, a blast of freezing wind and jagged ice particles comes howling into the corridor, blasting Bree and forcing her to turn to the relative safety of my arms. WED fails to notice any of this and rams into the back of my shins, causing me to tumble forward, taking Bree down on top of me. Last but certainly not least, a wampa ice creature forces its way through the hole it has just opened.

    Bree screams at the sight of the monster. It’s enough to make my jaw drop as I look up at it from under Bree’s warm body. The shaggy monster is nearly three meters tall, rippling with sinew under it’s blood-smeared white fur. It howls menacingly as it enters the hall.

    I scramble to my feet, rolling Bree up with me and tucking her safely behind me. The creature howls again, catching sight of us at last and turning to face us. Bree screams again. I simply freeze.

    WED trundles ahead, hooting out a buzzing charge as he heads straight for the beast. With one swift move, the wampa rakes its enormous claw-tipped paw through WED’s sleder main stalk, snapping his head clean off. The little wheeled platform of WED’s body rolls on, past the wampa and runs into the wall behind it before toppling over.

    “Get out of here!” I shout to Bree, my mind finally catching up to what is going on. I grasp what WED had in mind instantly. She turns to run back the way we came, but stops in mid-stride as I charge the wampa myself…

    Or rather, past the wampa, to the thermo-regulator on the wall behind it. The creature takes a swipe at me, but even as I try to dodge it, I slip in a puddle of leaking lubricants spilling from the body of my decapitated droid. I wind up skidding across the ice, millimeters below the creature’s claws.

    “Phinny! Watch out!” Bree calls from somewhere behind me. The ice monster roars in frustration and lunges towards me, but it’s too late for him. I reach up and twist the thermostat up to its highest temperature, while simultaneously cutting the dispersion of the laser field down to its tightest setting.

    The resulting beam isn’t quite as powerful as a turbolaser, but it’s strong enough to burn a half-meter hole straight through the wampa’s abdomen. It’s not really fast though, giving the snow beast a few seconds to gurgle and lash out one last time, sending me spinning down the hall even as it crumples to its death.

    The last thing I see is the heat-ray bouncing off the thermo-reflector on the opposite side, back into the emitter and frying it. Then I black out.

    When I come to, it’s to the sweet smell of Bree’s perfume. “Phinny? Phinny! Wake up!”

    I moan softly, my ribs sending a nice lance of fire through my freezing cold limbs. “It’s g-getting c-cold in here…” I moan.

    She hugs my face tightly to her bosom, which wakes me up considerably. “Oh, thank the Force you’re awake!”

    Voices and loud footsteps mark the arrival of the security force. I reluctantly pull myself free from Bree’s embrace, and for the first time get a look at the carnage: the wampa’s dead body, the twisted wreckage of little WED, the outer wall collapsed in on itself with snow drifting in ever more rapidly. I look down to see the wound that’s hurting me so, a nice red scar running from my right shoulder down somewhere on my back, already crusted over with freezing blood.

    “Sithspawn!” One of the troops curses at the scene. They burst into the hallway, blasters already drawn.

    I struggle to sit up against my aching back, as Zeff Nebular pushes through the others to stare at us incredulously. Then with a snarl he leans over to hoist me up by the collar again. My back screams, but I don‘t have the will to fight him right now. “Reslo, I warned you to…”

    “Let him go, you oaf!” Bree jumps up and pushes Zeff back hard. “Phinny just saved my life.”

    “What?” Zeff looks stunned at the thought. “He did this?” He waves at the still-simmering blast hole through the wampa’s guts.

    “That’s right, and he’ll do the same to you if you don’t leave us alone!” Bree shouts. I just smile sheepishly.

    Zeff steps back, dazed and maybe a little heart-broken “Looks like…looks like everything’s under control down here,” he stammers. Mateo and Scot snicker to each other as they turn to leave.

    “Thanks,” I say, looking into Bree’s deep blue eyes and feeling suddenly very light-headed. A pair of medics rush up to catch me before I fall over.

    “He’s lost a bit of blood, and appears to have a slight concussion,” one of them says. The other nods in agreement. “We’ll have to get him to the medical bay right away.”

    “Thank you,” Bree says, leaning in to kiss me. I kiss her back passionately, wondering absently how it could suddenly be getting so hot in here.

    The End

  3. #3

    Re: Too Hot for Holovision - Echo Base short story

    Great job! Wonderful story, great writing!

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