After only a short time in transit, the Bitching Betty on the peoplemover begins displaying a track failure warning for the conduit ahead. It goes on to hypothesize a number of different possible explanations for the warning, but it’s clear that we don’t need any of them, because the one clear explanation for our predicament here is “Hamilton Warhawke.”
Hell, we could have done without the Bitching Betty altogether. Hamilton’s presence is profoundly obvious to the naked eye. As the peoplemover coasts us toward the disruption at a cautious speed, we catch a glimpse of him, silhouetted against the glare of a magnesium lamp, an Aryan shadow wielding a five-foot motorized chainblade. With disturbing gusto, he brings it down and down again upon the track before us, a gesture more suited to your average flamboyant axe-murderer than to a proper naval officer. Harsh, bone-jarring clangs meld with the squeal of tearing metal in a sort of infernal chorus that boils and echoes out of the conduit ahead and washes over us as we creep forward. LOLcat covers her ears. A purely theatrical gesture, of course, since she doesn’t technically have ears, but I feel a pang of sympathy for her nonetheless.
The pod drifts to a halt about thirty feet from Hamilton’s position. He looks up, kills the chainblade, and adjusts his clean, shiny safety goggles to a resting position at his forehead. He proceeds to approach us, picking his way lightly along the emergency maintenance path running alongside the peoplemover rail.
“Hamilton,” I say, in as bland a series of tones as I can manage, “what the feg are you doing to Conduit A?”
Hamilton Warhawke smiles a tight little smile, displaying a thin white line of perfectly-arranged teeth. “Improving the versatility of the ship’s self-destruct function,” he says, nonchalantly. “To that end, we’re severing these tracks, but it’s leaving a bunch of very rough edges, so we’re dissolving the broken ends with harsh, metal-eating corrosives to smooth them off.”
A little background. Hamilton hates machines. Hates them. The only time he’s comfortable using a machine at all is when he’s using one to inflict some sort of harm upon a second, different machine. The fact that he is, in fact, inside a giant machine right now, and furthermore depends on the proper functioning of same for his continued insulation against the impossibly cold, airless void surrounding us, has created enough cognitive dissonance in his head to addle his brain to a light poach. Hamilton holds spacefaring vessels in general, and the October in particular, with a contempt so deep that it defies easy description.
Naturally, he’s our chief engineer. That’s how things work around here. To be fair, it’s not just the typical crazy bloody-mindedness aboard the October; he does in fact have all the necessary skills, and is furthermore damn good at his job. He knows the ins and outs of this ship’s systems like a serial killer who’s trained extensively in gross anatomy. And he gets things fixed when we need them fixed.
I mean, it’s just, he could do it less violently. Watching Hamilton at work is enough to make you want to sneak up to the job site afterwards and comfort whatever system has been receiving his attention, pat it a little and tell it that everything will be all right, even though you know in your heart that it’ll never be all right again.
The other unnerving thing about Hamilton is that, no matter what kind of fegging mess he’s been forced to work in, his uniform is always perfectly spotless. Up until a few seconds ago, he was viciously sawing through an alloy rail with a spinning trackblade, but when he approaches us, there is nary an iron filing present to mar his uniform’s fabric. Hamilton could probably throw himself bodily into the primary carbon recycler with an active plasma torch and come out clean. It is baffling and unsettling.
LOLcat’s face is frozen in a light wince at Hamilton’s description of his recent handiwork. My mind is on more practical matters. “You’re doing what with the self-destruct?” I say.
“Improving it,” says Hamilton, primly. “I don’t know who designed this ship, but it’d be an absolute deathtrap if someone were to trigger the self-destruct.”
“For the sake of argument,” says Alan, “would that or would that not be sort of the point of engaging the self-destruct in the first place?”
“Ha ha!” says Hamilton. Hamilton Warhawke never laughs; he merely says the actual words “Ha ha!” in appropriate places. “You’re thinking narrow, Tengrew. Sure, if you want to blow up the whole ship, yes, that’d be fine. But what if you only wanted to blow up part of the ship?”
“Why would we want to blow up the ship at all?” I ask.
Hamilton strides toward my side of the pod and proceeds to violate my social space cushion. Even with the height disadvantage that comes from being outside the pod, he’s still able to look down at me condescendingly. “Jacob,” he says, “you have no imagination whatsoever.”
My fegging lord, we are so lucky that Hamilton is quite a ways down the chain of command.
“At any rate, my concerns are not purely of a tactical nature,” says Hamilton, striding back down the maintenance path. “Gentlemen, the transit system is shockingly vulnerable to hull breach, both intentional and unintentional. Save for a few safety doors, the entire conduit network is one giant air bubble. You’d lose a quarter of the transit system to hard vacuum with a single breach. We need more airtight doors.”
“Well,” I say. “That seems… sensible.”
“Yes, doesn’t it?” says Hamilton, pleasantly. Then his face darkens a bit. “It baffles me that the original engineers didn’t think of it,” he continues. “The design on this vessel beggars all sense and logic. I hate it. Hate it hate it hate it.” He crouches down, then, his face twisting into a purple mask of wrath. “HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT, YOU GIGANTIC BITCH?” screams Hamilton, directly at the peoplemover track. “ARE YOU OFFENDED BY MY WORDS? YOU OUGHTN’T BE! THEY’RE TRUE! I HATE YOU!” His voice drops to a dangerous snarl. “And god damn it,” he seethes, “I will make you yield.”
“Oookay then!” I say. “So, any idea how long the track will be out?”
Hamilton shakes off his snarl and looks up at me. “Several hours,” he says. “I’ve got to haul a spare airtight bulkhead up from hardware and then I’ve got to patch the controls in to the computer network. Naturally, I’ll need your help with that, Jacob. To do a test run, at least. I’ll drop a message in your communicator. I know you’re overbooked on work orders already, but it shouldn’t take long.”
“I can has ability to assist yu,” offers LOLcat, meekly, wringing her hands. I am instantly sorry I ever yelled at her for breaking my toilet. If she’s offering to help out Hamilton fegging Warhawke just to take a little off my plate, she’s got more concern for me than most of the fleshlings I share this tin with.
It’s a nice gesture, but a pointless one. I’m not going to be able to avail myself of her assistance, now or ever. Not with him. Hamilton continues staring at me, smiling thinly, waiting for my response, despite the fact that he’s essentially just been spoken to by the computer system itself. Hamilton has the LOLcat on absolute permanent silent treatment; he refuses to acknowledge her presence or existence. Every computer request Hamilton makes comes straight to me.
I know it’s hopeless, but I do glance sideways at the LOLcat, as if to inform him that no, he does not in fact have to bother me with this. Hamilton’s gaze remains iron-fixed on me.
I sigh. “All right, fine,” I say. “Give me a blip when you’re ready. I’ve gotta find an alternate route to the Bridge, ’cause I can’t wait a couple hours.” I neglect to mention the precise reason I can’t wait, the one perched uncomfortably in my lower abdomen.
“You could walk,” says Hamilton. “It’s what I do. Keeps one in shape. Less reliance on this titanic Babylonian whore to shuttle you around.”
“Thanks for the note,” I say. “It’s a little far.”
He shrugs. “Suit yourself.” He wanders back over to the track interruption, lowers his goggles, and picks up his great rectangular saw. “Be waiting on my signal,” he says.
“Will do!” I say, waving cheerily back at him as I gun the pod over to the aftward track and back down the conduit away from Hamilton’s job site. From behind us comes the noise of the October screaming in pain, a noise that blessedly fades the further we leave him behind.
“Still think it’s a good idea to help Hamilton out with his repair?” asks Alan, casually. LOLcat sits quietly on the pilot’s couch, holding her arms close as though she’s trying to give herself a hug.
“No, goddamn it,” I say, shaking my head. “I’d rather face the Labyrinth. Better the devil you don’t know.”