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‘You all right?’ asked Fian.
‘Fine. You did well.’ He might be an exo, but it’s good manners to thank your tag support when they save you.
‘You’re sure you aren’t hurt?’
I laughed. ‘Not at all. Five minutes break to lie down and relax is blizz. It’s hard work out there in an impact suit.’
‘Things look clear on the sensors,’ said Playdon after a few minutes. ‘Jarra, take it cautiously, and see if you can spot the shell of that power unit. Remember there may still be some residual charge.’
I bounced back to my feet, and headed out again. I floated across the area slowly, looking out for the power unit casing. I finally spotted it, some distance away from the crater that marked the explosion. ‘Found it,’ I reported.
‘Don’t risk going in close to tag,’ warned Playdon.
‘Going for a distance shot, sir.’ I lined up the tag gun sight on the metal casing, and took a slow and careful shot. I got lucky and scored a direct hit.
‘Got it,’ I said, joyfully. There’s a lot of luck involved in distance shots with a tag gun, but it naturally looks good when you score a hit first time. Normally you go in close and tag things, because it’s far more accurate.
I backed well away, and Amalie carefully shifted the remains of the power unit to the far side of our rubbish heap. After that, I inspected how much havoc the explosion had caused on my nicely levelled dig site. It wasn’t too bad, and another fifteen minutes of work got us to the exciting moment when a large lump of concraz was lifted away from directly on top of what might be a stasis box. I floated over eagerly to take a look.
There it was, an oddly furry-looking blackness that was hard for the eyes to focus on. ‘I can see the side of it,’ I shouted. ‘We got a stasis box!’
It took several more minutes to finish clearing rubble from the box, and attach the special harness so it could be moved over to one of the transport sleds. You can’t tag a stasis box directly. I don’t really understand the physics, but a stasis field is made up of lots of nothing. You can’t attach a tag to a nothing, you have to attach it to a something.
When we had our precious stasis box safely on the transport sled, I retrieved our sensor spikes, and we were finished. Fian unlocked my lifeline, and we moved across to a transport sled.
‘I don’t have to drive the tag support sled back?’ he asked.
I shook my head. ‘Working team doesn’t drive back, we ride.’ I stretched out on one of the bench seats. ‘We got a stasis box! Totally zan!’
We opened the stasis box after lunch. Totally amaz! Normally they’re taken away to be opened by experts, and you have to wait for the report on what was inside. We got to open our box ourselves, because Playdon was a Stasis Q!
We were all sitting in the dining hall when Playdon told us he had his licence. I was utterly grazzed. He might be an exo, but if he was Stasis Q then, well … respect! Playdon said he’d go back outside for a while to run the pre-checks on the stasis box, and I got my hand up in record time.
‘Yes, Jarra?’ asked Playdon.
‘Sir, requesting permission to come outside and watch.’ I held my breath.
‘You’ll have to stay well clear while I’m working.’
‘Understood, sir.’ Zan! I thought to myself. A chance to watch a Stasis Q running the pre-checks!
I planned to get my Stasis Qualification licence myself one day, and any previous experience would help me get a course place. You have to grab these chances when they’re offered. It’s like the flying. I didn’t just stroll up to a survey pilot when I was 17 and get him to teach me to fly. I’d started begging rides in the passenger seat when I was 12, I’d talked pilots into letting me handle the controls when I was 15, so when I was 17 it was just a question of getting my mandatory flying hours and solo licence.
‘Anyone else wildly keen to get back in an impact suit and come and watch?’ asked Playdon.
Fian was sitting at the same table as me, and gave me a confused look before putting his hand up. Amalie put her hand up too, closely followed by Dalmora, and then a hesitant Krath. The rest of the class just groaned at the thought of getting back into their suits.
I whizzed off to get into my impact suit, got it on in a new personal record time, and waited happily at the dome door for the others. Ten minutes later we were all outside, and Playdon was taking the stasis box well away from the dome and hover sleds to a nice clear area.
‘You can all sit on the transport sled and watch,’ he said on the team circuit, ‘but under no circumstances come any closer to me.’
He opened up an equipment box, took out a micro sensor ring, and began setting it up around the stasis box. I could tell by the speed he was working, that he’d done this a lot of times.
‘Excuse me,’ Fian whispered, ‘but why is it so great to watch this?’
‘Yes,’ said Krath. ‘What’s going on? My dad says you should never volunteer for anything, but I wanted to come along with Jarra and …’
‘This is amaz!’ I told them. ‘Don’t you realize, the stasis boxes are opened by experts, and you don’t usually get the chance to watch. I’m aiming to be a Stasis Q myself, so I can open my own boxes.’
‘Is it that hard to open a box?’ asked Amalie.
‘No,’ I said, ‘it’s easy to open them, but you have to check what’s inside first. Bad ones are rare, but …’
I shut up, because Playdon was talking over the team circuit. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a sensor ring set up round the box. I’m now putting a limiter on top of the box. That lets me gradually reduce the strength of the stasis field so I can make tests on what’s inside. First, I’m taking the field down two tenths and checking for radiation.’
‘Radiation?’ Dalmora sounded nervous.
‘People used these boxes to leave memorials in their old homes,’ I whispered, ‘but they were also used to store things, usually things that were either valuable or dangerous. Valuable is fine, but dangerous isn’t.’
Playdon gradually took the stasis field strength down, making a series of hazard checks. I was making careful mental notes of it all.
‘Everything looks clear,’ he said, ‘I now take the field strength down to just under ten per cent and run a quick sensor scan.’
There was a pause.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘it looks like a standard memorial box, so I’ll pack up now and we can open it inside.’
I offered to help pack the equipment, and Playdon agreed since the box had been cleared as safe. We would find more stasis boxes in future. If I helped him pack up a few more times, he might allow me to help him with the setting up, and from that to helping run the tests was only a short step.
We went back into the dome. I took off my impact suit, did a bit of fast research on my lookup, and went into the dining hall with my head buzzing with plans. I might be able to cover part of the Stasis Q course from vids and working with Playdon, but I’d need to go on a formal course for several weeks, and then there were theory and practical exams. From what I’d hastily read, the tests were tough. Any error meant a complete failure, because opening a real stasis box with a hazard inside might kill you.
Playdon came into the dining hall, and put the stasis box on a table. We all gathered expectantly round, and he held up something to show us. ‘This is a stasis box key. It collapses the stasis field and releases the contents. They’re easy to use, but you never open a box yourselves. Boxes have to be checked and opened by qualified people, in case there’s something like a nuclear warhead inside.’
Krath gulped. ‘Have you ever found one of those?’
‘Not personally,’ said Playdon. ‘I have found radioactive materials in a stasis box, and the last aerial survey of New York Main dig site showed up two new radioactive hotspots that probably came from failed stasis boxes releasing their contents. They’re well clear of current working areas, but Dig Site Command may need to get them cleared up in the future.’
‘Fortunately,’ he continued, ‘my tests show this looks like a perfectly ordinary memorial box, so let’s see what we’ve got.’
Playdon used the key, and the black stasis field vanished. Inside was what looked like a flexiplas box covered in metallic webbing. Playdon lifted the lid, and took out something soft and white. He held it up.
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