Why would one of the crew have sealed the bridge doors shut in such a way? Without cutting tools they would have turned the chamber into little more than a glorified coffin. Xander's mind turned, mulling over the implications of their discovery at the Gehanon's bridge. The procedure itself wouldn't have been particularly difficult to perform. All someone would have needed was the proper chemical, properly applied to the area of the door in question. But why do it at all? Frowning in thought, he took a sharp left turn towards the nearest flight of stairs.
His boots clumped dully against the smooth metallic surface of the stairway. Reaching the bottom he turned right, running through the memorised plans of the ship as he went. Pausing, he took a moment to get his bearings in the newest arrangement of identical white corridors. The ship was an architectural mind game of halls and passageways, interconnected like a gigantic ants' nest. Stopping in the middle of the corridor, Xander glanced back down the hall in question. He looked forward, then back again, until, satisfied he hadn't turned back on himself, he continued on towards the living quarters.
"Xander, come in," Redge's voice crackled over the com piece.
"Got you loud and clear," he replied, pausing in the middle of the empty corridor. "Are you at the furnaces?"
"Yep, and it's just like the scans showed. There's nothing happening here. The damn engines aren't even online right now."
"So no sign of any malfunction?"
"Not a single, solitary spark, Xander," Redge answered. "This mission's a twist. If the crew aren't here and there's no malfunction, who the hell sent the distress call, and where'd Nordstrom's voice come from?"
"You're guess is as good as mine," Xander grunted. "I'm on my way to check the living quarters. Cassie's cutting through the bridge door as we speak. When she's done then we might be able to get some answers."
"You left her on her own?" His voice sounded incredulous.
"She's fine, Redge, just a little creeped out. Frankly, I think we're all feeling that way."
"Well, looks like we brought all our gear for no reason. There's nothing for us to do down here. Shall we head up to the bridge?"
"Go ahead." Xander started walking again. "Radio me when you get there. Cassie should be done cutting by the time you do."
"Okay, Isla and I are on our way. Brodie's gonna stay behind. Mr. Pedantic wants to check out the drive up close and personal, just in case."
"Alright, I'll be in touch." He closed the channel and took a dog-leg to the left, entering the main living area of the ship. Through a large glass window on the right hand side of the corridor he could see the mess hall. Stepping close in, he scrutinized the cavernous room through narrow eyes.
Every table and chair sat meticulously arranged like chess pieces, a gridiron photograph that could've made a fairly convincing furniture advert. Xander frowned, noting the total absence of cups, plates or dishes of any kind. The lack of anything amiss in itself made him uneasy. Just like the rest of the ship everything seemed normal. He could almost see the crew in his minds eye, the memories transporting him back to that first fateful tour on the factory ship.
"That's just grand," he muttered, ruffling a hand through his hair. "Where the hell is everybody?" He shook his head, turning away from the eerie scene and starting off down the corridor.
His gaze flitted between the dozens of doors that filled both walls of the current passageway, each one labelled with a different three digit number. After standing motionless for a moment Xander stepped towards the nearest door and pressed the release button. As he suspected the door failed to open. Blowing out his cheeks with a resigned sigh he began moving door to door, working his way down the hallway. The other doors, however, were no more willing to open than their predecessor. After trying the twentieth one with the same result, Xander let out a snort of disgust and tapped his earpiece.
"Okay everybody, the living quarters are a non-event," he grunted. "Every single door is locked, there's nothing to do here. Cassie, how close are you to getting into the bridge?"
"A couple more minutes," she replied. "You coming back then?"
"For now. We'll come back down with a cutting torch once we've checked the bridge."
"Xander, we're just about at the bridge." It was Redge's voice. "Just so you know, our little tour of the ship was just as uneventful. Not a soul in sight."
"Copy that. Brodie, how goes things in the furnace chamber?"
"Same," the other man droned. "I'll need some more time to run a full diagnostic but nothing's turned up yet. I should be done in about ten-fifteen minutes."
"Alright, keep me posted." He turned around and started walking back towards the bridge. "Jonas, you still there?" Xander waited for a moment but only static filled the earpiece. "Jonas!"
"Wah-shit!" the pilot yelped over the com, followed by a dull thump. Xander's eyebrows creased in surprise. "Hmm…sorry, what?"
"Damn it, Jonas," he exclaimed. "You can sleep on your own time you moron!"
"Sorry, Cap," Jonas replied glibly. "Err…nothing doing here. All sensors show green. No life signs, just you guys."
"Okay." Xander shook his head as he walked. "Now go get yourself some coffee or something."
"Ever thought about what it'd be like to have a toolkit rammed up your ass?"
"I catch you sleeping on the job again and you'll be picking screwdrivers out of your teeth for the next month. Get it?"
"Good." Xander closed the channel and started walking again, allowing himself a fleeting smile of satisfaction.
When Xander made it back to the bridge he found Cassie, Redge and Isla waiting for him beside the door. Spotting the clear black scorch marks that ran all the way down the centre of the door, he knew that the metal had been cut. Striding up to the group he flashed a quick smile.
"We in there?" He indicated the hulking bridge doors.
"Kind of," Cassie answered, gesturing sheepishly to the mangled control panel. "I've cut through the metal but the release button still isn't working."
"Small wonder," Isla muttered with a thin smile, taking a precautionary step out of Cassie's reach. "You sure like to break things."
"It's not my fault!"
"Give it a rest you two," Xander laughed. He placed his bag on the floor. "Okay, Redge, let's do it." The other man smirked before pulling a thick metal crowbar from his backpack. Flexing his sinewy arms, Redge placed the flat edge of the tool into the tiny gap between the double doors. Pulling his own crowbar free Xander followed suit, wedging his tightly into place.
"You ready?" he asked. Redge gave a quick nod. "Right, push!" Grunting and swearing the two men threw their weight against the crowbars for a few seconds, but the door still refused to open. They tried twice more to no avail.
"You sure you cut this thing properly?" Redge panted, glancing at Cassie. She glared back.
"I know what I'm doing, lunkhead. The metal is completely severed."
"Well then how bout you two give us a hand opening the bloody thing?!"
Isla let out a quiet chuckle before moving over and wrapping her hands around Redge's crowbar. Cassie raised an unimpressed eyebrow then followed suite on Xander's side.
"Okay," Xander began. "On my count. One, two, three!" The four engineers hurled themselves against the bars, cursing and letting out bouts of colourful language as they strained. For a moment the door stubbornly resisted, before a rending screech of metal signified its submission. Under the leverage of the crowbars the double doors retracted in a laborious movement, opening a gap just wide enough for a person to fit through. With a unanimous gasp the group let go of the crowbars, leaving them to clatter to the deck.
"Fantastic," Isla sighed, leaning forward with her hands on her knees. "Who's going in first?"
"I'll go," Xander replied, rolling his shoulder experimentally. He paused to open the com channel again. "Jonas, Brodie, we've opened the bridge, we're about to go inside."
"I'm almost done here," Brodie responded immediately. "You can tell Cassie that she didn't miss much. Nothing doing with the furnaces."
After Jonas acknowledged, Xander picked up his backpack and stepped into the gap. "Here goes nothing." Almost instinctively holding his breath, he stepped through into the bridge.