CHAPTER TWO

Wiseman and Hightower's medical exams produced the results Doc had anticipated. Other than some anomalous symptoms, which he said were normal for people who experienced hyper sleep for the first time, there was nothing out of the ordinary. The check of the ship had produced nothing out of the ordinary. But then Captain Michaels hadn't expected any. If there had been anything unusual to report Alpha would have reported it immediately.

In the six hours since coming out of hyper sleep the crew had set about preparing for their recovery of the Orion. There would be a great many things to do once they reached the ship. The entire crew wanted to be ready the instant they docked with the Orion.

Walter had informed him that contacting Earth was problematic. There seemed to be some sort of interference that was preventing their radio signal from getting through. He wasn't sure what was causing it but he would continue to see if he could penetrate the interference. Trent was in his quarters going over the progress reports they had received from Tiberian during their nine month trip when Peter showed up at that hatch to his quarters.

"Hey, Pete, what's going on?" Trent asked, putting down the readouts. So far there had been no new updates to the Orion that they hadn't gotten before leaving Earth dock.

"I'm not sure. I've been tracking an anomalous energy reading but I can't seem to localize it."

"What kind of energy reading?"

"I'm not sure. All I can tell you is that the power spike for the reactor is slightly higher than it should be. I've run a full diagnostic but everything seems to be in perfect working order. All I can tell you is that something is drawing more energy from the reactors than it should be."

"Any idea where this energy drain is located?"

"I've been able to eliminate most of the major systems," said Peter. "I thought that maybe Mr. Wiseman or Mr. Hightower might have been using extra use of the food replicators but they assure me they haven't. As you know the first time someone goes through hyper sleep they can eat a great deal after they come out."

"How well I know. The first time I came out of hyper sleep I think I ate six pizzas by myself."

"I know the feeling," said Peter, smiling. "Anyway, I also checked with Doc to see if he was running any experiments or anything. But he tells me that he's not."

"Is the drain dangerous?"

"No, not really. It's minimal and shouldn't affect any of our systems. It's just I can't trace it down. And being this far from Earth I want to make sure it's not going to be a bigger problem later on. The nearest two ship is about two and a half billion miles away."

"Knowing you I'm sure you have an idea where to look," said Trent.

"I was thinking there might be a malfunctioning power conduit or relay in one of the lower cargo holds. But as you know we don't have the environmental controls or life support systems on in the lower holds. I was thinking we could send Alpha down to check it out. If he finds anything he should be able to repair it."

"Okay," said Trent. "He's cleaning the hyper drive intake manifolds right now. I'll send him to the cargo holds and have him check out this anomalous energy drain."

"Thanks, Trent," said Peter. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine. The dreams weren't as bad this time. I guess the long hyper sleep must have dulled them some. We've never been out this far before."

"No one has. Even the mining colony on Miranda doesn't go out any farther than Uranus. If you need to talk you know where to find me."

"Thanks, but I'll be okay. Just make sure the engines are in peak condition. When we're done here I want to head back to Earth as quickly as possible."

"Don't I always?" Peter smirked as he left Trents' quarters.

Trent contacted Alpha and instructed him to check the lower cargo bays for any sign of an energy drain. As an android Alpha had no need for life support or environmental controls. He was, essentially, a machine and the absence of either wouldn't affect him. Trent expected Alpha would find exactly what Peter suspected. Some misaligned sensor or a malfunctioning energy relay.

The trip to the Orion would be mostly monotonous. They always came out of hyper drive several hours from their target coordinates. This allowed the crew to get the ship ready for the salvage operation and to prevent any accidents that might occur if they came out too close. Just over an hour after Trent had sent Alpha to the cargo bays, Alpha contacted him over the ships' internal communications.

"Captain Trent, your presence is required in cargo bay four. Please also ask the doctor to be present. I believe I have located the source of the energy drain."

"On our way."

Trent contacted Doc and Peter and told them to meet him at the airlock for cargo bay four. He also called the bridge and instructed Jennifer to activate the life support and environmental controls for that section of the ship. Unlike Alpha, the three humans wouldn't last more than a few seconds in what would essentially be a vacuum inside the cargo bay. As they were heading to the cargo bay they encountered Wiseman who also decided to accompany them.

"Okay, Alpha, we're here," said Trent as the three walked into the cargo bay. "What's so important that you needed all of us down here for?"

"This," said Alpha pointing to a hyper sleep tube in the cargo bay. "It appears we have a stowaway."

Everyone looked inside the tube. They saw a young girl in her late teens or early twenties. A light mist filled the tube and the girl seemed to be sleeping. Unlike the crew and other passengers of the Solar Wind, this young girl was not wearing the traditional jumpsuit normally worn by those in hyper sleep.

"Doc?" Trent questioned.

"She seems to be fine," said Doc, checking the readout on a panel on the tube. "I can't explain it but the system seems to be operating perfectly."

"That would explain the energy drain," said Peter. "Since we don't normally use these I never thought to check the hyper sleep tubes down here."

"I don't understand," said Wiseman. "She's not a member of your crew, Captain Michaels?"

"No," said Trent. "We have these hyper sleep tubes here in case we have to go to hyper speed and anyone here can't get to the primary tubes in time. Normally the tubes are kept offline and there's no energy going to them. I don't understand how she could have activated this one without us knowing about it."

"I would suggest that she somehow was able to bypass the normal security protocols to the tube so that no security warnings were activated on the bridge," suggested Alpha.

"That would take one hell of a hacker," said Peter. "I wrote those security protocols myself. No one should have been able to override them."

"What are you going to do about her, Captain?" Wiseman asked.

"We can't leave her in there," said Doc. "No one has ever spent this long in a hyper sleep tube before. None of us seem to be suffering any ill affects from such an extended sleep but the longer she's in there the greater chances that something could go wrong. We need to get her out of there as soon as possible."

"Alpha, begin the cycle to shut down this tube," ordered Trent. "When she's been revived, Doc, I want you to check her over and make sure she's okay. Then we'll find out what she's doing here and how she got onboard."

"We should make sure she has plenty to eat, too," said Peter. "There's no way to tell if this is her first time in hyper sleep. No matter what she's dong here or how she got here we shouldn't risk her getting sick once she's out."

"Is a meal after hyper sleep so important?" Wiseman asked. "When I was briefed I was told that people are famished after hyper sleep but should we waste any of our rations on her until we find out why she's onboard?"

"When you go into hyper sleep you metabolism slows down incredibly," said Doc. "That's why you're hungry when you come out of it. Your body feeds off the energy stores at a slower rate but it still feeds. When you come out of hyper sleep and your metabolism speeds up our body begins to increase that energy drain. If we didn't eat when we come out of hyper sleep the energy drain could be very dangerous."

"I'll take your word for that doctor," said Wiseman.

"Alpha," said Trent, "once the girl has been removed from hyper sleep check the hyper sleep tubes in the rest of the cargo bays. Make sure we don't have any other unwanted guest onboard."

"Yes sir," said Alpha.

Forty-five minutes later the girl was out of the hyper sleep tube and sitting in the galley eating. Word of the stowaway had spread to everyone on the ship and everyone had gathered in the galley to find out who she was and what she was doing on the ship.

The girl had long black hair that was braided down her back. She was dressed in the typical clothes popular with most young people her age. She didn't seem to have any jewelry or any form of identification on her.

"My examination indicates she's no worse the wear for her unauthorized hyper sleep," said Doc. "There are a couple of anomalous readings but completely within the normal readings for hyper sleep."

"You always keep it so cold in here?" the girl asked.

"That's a side affect of the hyper sleep," said Trent. "It will wear off in a couple of hours. Now, care to explain who you are and what you're doing on my ship?"

"Oh, uh, well, I was looking around and accidentally got locked in that cargo bay," said the girl. "When you started to lift off I figured I'd better get into one of the hyper sleep tubes if I wanted to survive."

"Unlikely," said Peter. "The cargo bays were sealed a good three hours before we lifted off. There was plenty of time for you to contact one of us and get out. Besides, the launch bays aren't exactly the type that tourists visit. You have to have clearance to enter them."

"Care to try again?" Trent asked. "Why don't we start with your name?"

"Morehardt," said the girl. "Amber-Lynn Morehardt. I'm a student at the community college in Houston."

"That was our point of departure from Earth," said Trent.

"That name is familiar," said Peter. "Of course. There was an article on you in 'Cybernetic News' a couple of months before we left Earth. Amber-Lynn Morehardt, a.k.a 'Raven'. A computer hacker responsible for half a dozen infiltrations of some high level computer systems, including the Pentagon and the White House."

"In all fairness I wasn't alone in the Pentagon job," said Raven. "There were three of us involved in that one. That's one tough system, let me tell you."

"Raven?" questioned Hightower. "You hacked the Tiberian mainframe about three years ago."

"Yeah, that one was easy," said Raven. "I used a simple double recurring algorithm with a secondary redundancy backup containing a randomizing prime number encryption algorithm. You really should consider upgrading your computer security. The one you're using is strictly for amateurs."

"You admit it?" Wiseman asked. "You aren't even going to deny any of this?"

"Why should I?" Raven asked. "Even out here I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have any trouble confirming my identity. Besides, I'm good at what I do. Why shouldn't I get credit for it? And anyway, nothing I say here can be used in court. It's what's called hearsay. Hearsay isn't allowed in criminal proceedings."

"And you would know that because?" Wiseman asked.

"My mom's a lawyer," said Raven. "I picked up a few things from her."

"Your information is not entirely accurate," said Alpha.

"What do you mean?" said Raven. "Of course it is. I've heard her mention it a dozen times."

"Oh, you are correct about hearsay not being admissible in court," said Alpha. "However that applies only to humans. As an artificial life form I am a very sophisticated recording device. Everything I experience is recorded on my hard drive. And I can assure you that an artificial life forms' hard drive is admissible in a court of law. I could cite several examples including two Supreme Court decisions to that affect."

"That won't be necessary," said Raven. "Guess I opened my big mouth a little too soon."

"All that aside, it would explain how she bypassed security and got the hyper sleep tube activated," said Peter. "From what I've heard about her there isn't any computer system she can't hack into."

"Yeah, it's always been kind of easy for me," said Raven. "My dad is a computer programmer and he taught me everything I know. I just hack into systems to let people know how easy it can be. If I can do it then so can some criminal or terrorist."

"You ARE a criminal," insisted Hightower. "You've violated at least seven laws that I know of. And my guess is that you were hiding in the cargo bay evading capture when we took off."

"You're pretty smart for a pencil pusher," said Raven. "I was lucky to find your ships' cargo bay open. It was the only place to go before the cops caught me. Guess I should thank you for helping me get away."

"What do you suggest we do with her?" Wiseman asked.

"Patricia, set her up with some quarters," said Trent. "As long as she's onboard we might as well try to make her comfortable. But you listen to me, Raven. We're on an assignment and I won't have you interring with that assignment. Stay out of our way and do what you're told, understood?"

"Aye, aye, captain, sir," said Raven, giving him a mock salute.

"Well, if you're going to be out here with us you might as well call me Trent like the rest of the crew," said Trent. "We're pretty informal on the Solar Wind."

"Okay," said Raven. "I go by Raven."

"You're just going to let her run around loose?" Wiseman asked. "Aren't you afraid she might do something?"

"Like what?" Trent asked. "We're nearly three billion miles from Earth. Where is she going to go."

"She can share my quarters," TJ offered. "No sense messing up another set of quarters just for her."

"I'll set her up some quarters," said Patricia looking at TJ. "And you keep your distance. She's not going to end up another one of your conquests."

"Hey, what conquest?" TJ asked innocently. "I was just offering to be nice, that's all."

"Sure you were," said Peter. "Come on. Let's get down to engineering. I still have to prep the docking ring for when we reach the Orion."

"It's probably best if we all made one last check of our systems," said Trent.

"You think she's going to be a problem?" Jennifer asked as everyone left the galley.

"I don't think so," said Trent. "I think she's like most kids her age. Just keep her away from the computer systems. I don't want her messing with anything when we're this far out."

"I'll take care of it," said Jennifer, looking at her watch. "We'll be there in a few hours. Why don't you get some rest? I'll notify you when we get there."

"Okay," said Trent.

He headed off to his quarters thinking about the turn of events. He didn't like having Wiseman and Hightower on the ship with him. They weren't trained salvage workers. But it had been a condition of taking the job. And it was just paying too much to turn down.

Now he had a stowaway onboard and a kid at that. He certainly hoped the rest of this salvage mission would be less eventful than it had been so far.