The grid of satellites that blanketed the Earth was getting thin. One by one they winked out, captured by the relentless hacking of Shodan.
As the main arteries of GlobalNet were severed, the traffic was diverted through the slower, ground-based lines. Network congestion increased as each hub fell to Shodan's attack.
Further escalating the problem was human nature. In any disaster, people flocked to broadcast media, waiting for the first sign of news. How bad is it? Who is doing this? How does this affect me? Am I in danger? What is the government doing about it? The questions became more intense as the disaster progressed. The reporters, for their part, could do nothing but speculate and repeat the tiny morsels of rumor and spin that were released by TriOp and the military.
As millions of people tuned in, the network load increased further. Mobile phones could no longer connect. Television feeds became grainy and over-compressed. In some places they stopped altogether. Even as available bandwidth was reduced by 75%, the demand for it was increasing rapidly. Local communications systems were failing. Looting began in a few scattered locations.
People began to call friends and family to make sure they were all right, further burdening the network. The panic fed on itself.
The network was crumbling.
Deck had planned to grab onto the cables as his body arced across the elevator shaft. As he reached out, he could see that there were no cables, only hundreds of meters of empty air separated him from the darkness below.
He slammed into the rear wall of the shaft, grasping for anything to break his fall. His right hand dragged helplessly against the smooth wall, but his left found a small ledge. He grasped it and managed to hang on.
A moment later the door shut behind him, leaving him in total darkness. A strong updraft had been pushing on him, and it ended as the door sealed. He grasped onto the ledge with both hands, panting.
The darkness was absolute.
He groped pointlessly with his left hand, looking for something, anything that would be easier to grasp. He was quickly losing strength in his hands. He dragged his feet back and fourth, but could find no features in the smooth wall.
Suddenly the lights returned, along with the flood of air from below. He didn't bother looking over his shoulder, he knew the bot had opened the door.
Looking at the two side walls, he saw a deep groove running vertically down the shaft. In the groove were thick horizontal metal bars. It looked like a ladder, only it was far too narrow. The bars could barely accommodate a single hand at a time.
Above, metal footsteps came to a stop as a shadow moved into the doorway.
Without hesitating, he pushed away from the wall, trying to turn his body to grasp the narrow ladder on the adjacent wall. His right hand missed, but his left found its mark and clamped onto the rough metal bar.
Deck allowed himself a second to recover and glance up into the doorway. The bot was having difficulty moving itself into a position where it had a clear shot at him. It needed to shoot about forty-five degrees downward, and a ways off to one side. Since its gun was mounted beneath its torso, it couldn't make the shot. It needed to lean outwards and turn sideways, something it couldn't do without falling.
He also noticed that there was an identical ladder on the opposing wall of the shaft.
Deck began climbing downward, not waiting to see if the bot managed to figure it out. As he descended, he could hear the whine of servos and the occasional clunk as the door attempted to close on the bot.
His hands were quickly blackened by the grime and grease that coated the bars. The narrow rungs made climbing difficult and slow. He wondered why anyone would build a ladder this tight.
His arms began to fatigue, and he became ever more aware of his existing bruises and aches. His ribs, in particular, began to throb from the exertion. He moved further down the shaft, away from the pool of light above and into the shadows below.
The bot finally gave up and departed. The doors snapped shut and Deck was again banished to total darkness. The updraft stopped. The effect was mostly psychological, but without the constant lift of air, he felt heavier.
He moved carefully, feeling his way down and trying to ignore the building pain and fatigue. He knew there was no way he could climb all the way down. His arms would give out long before he reached the bottom.
For several minutes he climbed downward while he tried not to think about the vast empty space between himself and the bottom of the shaft.
The question stuck in his mind. Why would anyone build a ladder this narrow? Why would they then grease it? Why build them on both sides of the shaft?
Suddenly it dawned on him. This wasn't a ladder at all, it was a track. The elevator probably had some sort of tread or gear that locked into the groove and pulled itself along the track. That was why there had been no cable.
His upper arms were burning by now. He needed to rest. He tried to hook his arm through one of the bars so he could relax his grip and hang freely, but the gap was too narrow. Fumbling in the dark, he nearly lost his balance looking for a position where he could rest. He decided to keep climbing.
He had been sleeping for six weeks, and now he was awake and in a constant state of panic, exercise, and starvation. His body was failing him, rebelling against the constant abuse.
He turned his head to the side, squinting into the darkness and straining to see the faintest edge of light. He hoped to find a door by seeing the light coming through. It was hopeless, he knew, because the doors had airtight seals on them that would certainly block out all light.
But these doors had to open somehow. He paused, staring into the blackness. Either they were opened mechanically when the elevator was present, or (more likely) there was a dataport nearby. He began stopping every few rungs and reaching out to the wall with his left hand, feeling for a metal catch or connector.
His upper arms were burning, and just holding out his arm to grope the wall was exhausting. His sweat mixed with the grease, making his hands slippery and forcing him to grip even harder to keep his hold on the rungs.
As he slid his hand down the left wall, his fingertips brushed over an uneven shape. He prodded it, but it didn't seem to have any surface features. It seemed to be made of plastic, and was more or less square shaped.
Thinking it might be a dataport, he decided to try to jack in. This meant he had to turn around and grip the bar with his left while reaching with his right, where his interface was. He moved slowly, switching hands and digging his heel in as best he could. He was facing away from the ladder now. He wobbled slightly as he reached out, feeling with his right.
His fingertips found the edge of the protruding plastic shape. He didn't detect any connection, though. He needed to get his palm over the box.
He leaned out further, opening his left hand until he was just holding on with the tips of his greasy fingers. Still nothing.
He thought again of the deadly drop below him. He was grateful he couldn't see it, since he probably wouldn't have the nerve to pull a stunt like this if he could see the abyss.
It seemed to be slightly above him. He returned to the ladder and moved up a couple of rungs before trying again.
Reaching out, his palm met the edge of the plastic surface.
Compatible device detected. Negotiating. Connected to transport device class LIFT-CLL0F1-6 (Lift Call).
Out of the darkness came the familiar cascade of glowing geometry. Walls of shimmering red surrounded him. He was at the midpoint of a long chain of yellow wireframe, with red spheres attached at regular intervals along its length. At the base of the chain was a cube made of interlocking shapes of varying colors.
He was inside of one of the spheres.
The cube seemed to be the lift itself. He needed to figure out how to move it. His grip was failing quickly. He would send the lift to the floor just below his current position, and then climb down into it.
The red sphere seemed to contain controls to move the lift, but none of them had any affect on its position. Some of the shapes looked wrong, disjointed. Somehow the lift had been broken or scrambled.
Both arms burned. His entire upper body trembled with fatigue. Sweat coated his body. Drops ran down his face in into his eyes.
The lift refused to respond to any commands he sent it. Even sending emergency overrides to it wouldn't get it to move. It sat, motionless at the bottom of the shaft.
Deck needed off of this ladder now. Even if the lift did come, he would never be able to hang on until it reached him. He tried the door.
The updraft returned as the door beside him popped open. He squinted as the blinding light flooded in, overwhelming his vision.
With a wince, he pulled himself back over to the ladder and ascended a few rungs. Taking a deep breath, he gathered what was left of his nerve and jumped.
He landed awkwardly, stumbling into the door frame and then falling onto his face. He gasped and rolled over onto his back, his lower legs still dangling in the shaft.
The doors slid closed on him, thumping into his bruised ribs and then opening again. He coughed with pain, but didn't move.
After a few moments, his breathing recovered and he pulled himself from the doorway, allowing the doors to close on their own.
The air was hot and damp, and smelled faintly of mildew. There was a strange heavy quality to the air, even beyond the oppressive humidity. The walls were fitted with plastic panels that were colored to look like black marble. The floor was coated with a thin layer of beige carpet. Above, the lights were set behind translucent white panels, making the lighting soft and almost shadowless. The homogenous light was intense to overcome the dark nature of the walls and still provide a reasonable amount of light.
He was in a small reception room that seemed to be a connection point for three different corridors. It was obvious this was the executive level.
Deck slowly caught his breath as his eyes tried to adjust to the stinging light. The burning in his arms slowly subsided. He noticed the security camera pointing out of the corner of the room. He stared into it and wondered if somewhere out there Shodan wasn't staring back at him.
He knew laying in the middle of the floor wasn't a smart move. He had no idea what sort of dangers inhabited the area.
His HUD lit up.
Incoming signal: GOV-RL1.VID - Compatible video codec available. Encryption key matched.
He retreated behind the nearby reception desk and opened the connection. "Talk to me."
Rebecca appeared in a slow series of grainy still images. Her audio feed was a stuttering mess of electronic pops and static. "Hacker, how (garbled) are you (static) -ing the missi- (cutoff)?"
Deck shook his head, "Say again?"
After a long pause the connection sputtered, "What?"
"How (static) mission going? How (static) longer?"
"I'm not even on the reactor level yet. I don't know how long its going to take.", he suddenly realized he was yelling to be heard, which was not a good idea, given his current position.
Her next transmission was even worse, but he managed to pick out a few key words. She seemed to be saying that GlobalNet was getting set to collapse. She also said something about their particular satellite being under attack, but that was pretty obvious.
The video finally froze on a blocky image of Rebecca pressing on the side of her headphones, straining to hear him. The audio feed kept coming.
"I'm going as fast as I can."
More static came from her side of the connection. He heard something about, "Military" and "rebooting", but couldn't make any sense out of it.
There was several seconds of silence.
Signal lost: GOV-RL1.VID
He was alone again. Shodan had control of at least one military satellite now.
He took a deep breath. There was an odd stench to the air that made him uneasy. It had a pungent, organic quality to it. This was alarming. The station was normally set to keep everything cool and as dry as possible. Heat and moisture brought decay and corrosion, the enemies of any orbital platform. What possible reason could Shodan have for changing the environment here?
The elevator call button was connected to the panel he had hacked from inside the elevator shaft. He was able to jack in by placing his hand over the small panel that housed the button.
He tried again to get the elevator to do something. It was obviously still connected and functioning on some level, since he was able to see its connections to the rest of the transport system.
When moving it failed, he tried things at random, just looking for a way to get some sort of feedback from it. He noticed that when he tried to move it, the door would attempt to close. This was odd, since its door should be closed already.
There was some sort of safeguard that prevented the unit from moving when the doors were open. He disabled this and tried again.
The elevator began to move.
He smiled as he watched the elevator move up the geometric chain in his mind. It began to slow at it approached his level.
Suddenly it dawned on him the something had been blocking the door, and he had no idea what it was. Whatever it was, it would still be in the elevator when it got here.
He drew his pistol and stepped back from the door.
Sweat rolled down his face and into his eyes. His arms still burned from exertion, and he could see the muzzle of his pistol trembling slightly.
There was a soft chime, and the doors slid open. He tensed.
The elevator was dark. The inner light was out. He hesitated.
The inner doors began to slide shut. They closed on the handle of a screwdriver and bounced open again.
Deck moved forward and carefully examined the interior. There was a dark stain on the wall, which was almost certainly dried blood. The floor had another streak of dried blood that ran from the floor in front of the elevator controls and out the door.
Inside, the control panel had been ripped open and circuit boards hung freely from the gaping hole. A toolbox sat below the mess of wires. Someone had been killed while trying to hack the controls, and had then been dragged away.
The mess of wires explained why the elevator seemed to be such a mess when he accessed it using his implant. He held his hand up to the dataport but nothing happened. The dataport would have been used by bots who didn't have fingers for pushing buttons, and had naturally been disconnected by the would-be hacker who had been messing with the controls.
The buttons didn't work either. He would have to fix the controls before he could go anywhere.
Sighing, he grabbed the screwdriver and began poking at the nest of tangled wires and electronic guts that hung from the elevator wall.
Suddenly the doors began to slide closed. He dove for it, shoving his hand through the gap just before it sealed. The metal hammered closed on his fingers and then rolled open again. He jerked his stinging hand away and spat out an angry curse.
If he had allowed the doors to close, he would have been sealed inside of the darkened elevator. The controls were useless, so he wouldn't have been able open it again. In the darkness, he would have no way of fixing it. He could have been sealed in until he died of thirst. He shook his head, realizing he had almost killed himself with a simple absent-minded error.
He pushed the toolbox into the open door and returned his attention to the controls.
Several minutes of experimentation yielded little in the way of progress. He had managed to get the elevator music to turn on, and then off again. The emergency alarm had gone off and he spent several minutes trying to deactivate it again. While he was doing that, he found the controls for the interior lights, and the display for the current floor.
He marveled that he hadn't been overrun by mutants, bots, or cyborgs by now. Between his yelling and the elevator alarm, it was a miracle that he hadn't drawn any attention.
Finally he managed to get the dataport running again. That was all he needed. He could control everything else from there.
A door opened in the reception area, outside of his field of view. He didn't wait to see who it was. He kicked the toolbox out of the elevator, jacked in, and ordered it to the reactor level.
A shadow moved into view as the doors slid shut. A moment later, there was a deafening impact and the elevator shook violently. A fist-sized hole had appeared in the thick steel door.
The elevator began to move downward.
There was another impact, and another hole appeared in the wall just above his head. He dropped to the ground. As the elevator continued downward, he could hear the attack continue above, perforating the armored walls of the shaft with gaping holes.
He looked at the hole that had appeared just above his head. If the elevator hadn't already been descending, it would probably have hit him. What the hell kind of weapon could do that, and who would be insane enough to use one on a space station?
The reactor level stood in extreme contrast to the executive level. The walls and floor were naked metal. The lights were set deep into fixtures, casting harsh, overlapping pools of light. The air was cold.
As the doors opened they revealed a dark smear of dried blood on the floor that lined up with the darkened streaks inside the elevator. Whoever had been killed while hacking the elevator was on this level when it happened.
A lot of the lights were out, and others seemed to be suffering from a constant brownout.
The echo of ventilation fans surrounded him, dampening all other sounds. If someone was just five meters away, they would probably have to shout to be understood.
He checked the digital map. From here he needed to find a way to descend through the communications tower. There was no elevator leading there, so that meant he would have to climb down.
Slowly he proceeded north. Access panels had been pulled from the walls everywhere, and thick plastic tubes spilled out onto the floor. Some tubes contained power or networking cables, others carried various gases and liquids. Random floor tiles - a meter square each - had been removed to reveal more of the same. Every ten meters or so there was a ventilation duct coughing out cold, stale air.
He rounded a corner to find a hopper bot working. It was essentially an arm on wheels. Its single appendage ended in an array of tools. Right now it seemed to be welding some exposed equipment in the ceiling.
Deck moved carefully. He didn't know how large its field of vision would be, but assumed it would be fairly small. It was just used for maintenance, and didn't need to be keenly aware of its surroundings. All it needed to see was whatever it was working on.
He crept past, leaving the bot to its work, and descended a clanky metal staircase onto a narrow catwalk. The catwalk overlooked a pair of large CO2 tanks.
He followed the catwalk around the perimeter of the room where it ended in a ladder going down. With heavy sigh, he began his descent.
The tower was a vertical series of four tall chambers connected by narrow shafts. Each chamber was narrower than the one above. Catwalks, ladders, and stairs were the only means of vertical travel. He would need to climb all the way to the bottom. In the last chamber were the the connections that led to the primary data feed.
A long spinal cord of thick tubing ran through the center of the tower. At the top of the tower it was a thick mass that was just over two meters in diameter. At the base of each chamber several of the tubes broke from the main cluster and ran along the floor, leading through the outer hull and connecting to various hardware on the exterior of the tower.
He reached the base of the first chamber and walked around the mass of tubing in the center. A wide circular hole in the floor led down the first shaft. It was a ten meter drop straight down. A ladder ran down the side of the shaft. The entire trip down promised to be this way; catwalk, ladder, catwalk, ladder, etc.
While he was sick of climbing down ladders, he found this to be much easier than the climbing he'd done earlier. The rungs were wide and thick, and covered in a hard foam rubber. The process seemed to get easier the further down he progressed.
He winced at the the thought of climbing back up. That was going to suck.
He reached the base of the shaft and dropped down into the next chamber. There was a mild downdraft flowing through the tower, and the air seemed cool.
He found himself at the top of another set of catwalks.
The climb became easier as he progressed, and he eventually realized he was getting lighter. Apparently, the tower didn't have gravity plates of its own, and relied on the gravity plates of the decks above. As he put more distance between himself and the reactor level, the force of gravity lessened.
Gravity plates were another breakthrough from the research labs at TriOptimum. They used quantum sorting techniques to distribute gravitons on either side of the plate; positive gravitons would go on one side and negative gravitons on the other. The effect was that it would pull on things above it and push on those below.
Gravity plates were a major factor in the success of Citadel. Because of the negative effects of weightlessness on the body, long term work without gravity was out of the question. Creating artificial gravity through rotation was complex and ungainly. Gravity plates made long-term work in space simpler and cheaper. TriOp was the only company who had it, and they weren't sharing.
By the time he reached the final chamber, Deck weighed about half of what he normally did.
At the base of the last shaft was a sliding gate. It was a circle of chain-link fence encased in a sturdy metal frame. It was locked. A metal sign affixed to the fence declared , "Restricted Area".
The gate restricted access to the sensitive parts of the tower, while still allowing airflow. The downdraft was much stronger here.
There was a keypad set into the wall of the shaft, just beside the gate. He jacked in. He hacked it. The gate rolled open.
The final chamber was a cone shaped space that was twenty meters in diameter at the top, and slowly tapered off to a point at the base. The spinal cord of power and network cables had been reduced from dozens of tubes to just five, all of which ran into the tip of the cone where they would connect to the communications array. The space was filled with narrow metal supports that crisscrossed the room, providing excellent handholds in the low-gravity environment.
As he had descended, he could feel the temperature drop. Here at the bottom of the tower it was cold enough that he could see his breath.
The space was illuminated by several portable fluorescent lights that had been clamped to the outer walls. The light shone between the metal supports, forming a lattice of shadows on the walls.
There were four vertical beams running down the walls. These would be the main support beams. He needed to blow these up if he wanted to completely separate the communications array from the station.
He leapt from one metal bar to another until he reached the first of the large metal beams along the outer wall. He found leaping and balancing to be child's play at one-half gravity.
He withdrew the first explosive gel pack and detonator. He tore the covers from the two sharp hypodermic style needles on the detonator and inserted them into the gel. He hit the "ARM" button and the detonator injected an opaque white material into the clear gel. Despite the thickness of the gel, the two seemed to mix evenly. Twenty seconds after injection, it looked like a pouch of milk. He could feel it become warm as the chemicals mixed.
Deck tore the cover from the pouch's adhesive strip and gently pushed it onto the metal beam. He needed to be careful at this point, since it was now very volatile.
He repeated the entire process for the next two pillars. For the last one, he would need to set the timer. The explosion of the first one would set off the others. He just needed to decide how much time he wanted.
Not counting the time he'd spent resting, the climb down seemed to have taken about three minutes. He gave himself ten to get back up. That should leave plenty of room for error.
He set the final charge and set the timer for ten minutes. His finger hovered over the Enable button. He took one last look around the room.
A camera quietly observed him from the outer edge of the room. He looked back. Something felt wrong to him. Something was making him uneasy. It reminded him of the night he escaped from the TriOp building. He had the feeling he was missing something.
The camera had no answers to offer him.
He shook his head and thumbed the Enable button. The timer began counting down.
He scrambled up the ladder. Technically, he had plenty of time, but he wasn't taking any chances. When this stuff went off he wanted to be on a whole different level of the station. This demolition was far from precise, and there was no telling where hull breaches would occur once the tower was subjected to the force of an explosion.
Halfway up the first shaft, he heard the whine of hydraulic compressors above. At the top of the shaft, a hatch was closing. His eyes widened. He had seen the groove around the edge of the shaft and the keypads on either side, and had never made the connection. The shafts were actually airlocks, capped on either end with heavy doors, which had simply been open on the way down.
The door locked shut above him, and a rotating red emergency light came on.
He hit the emergency open button, but the door refused. He jacked in, and ran into a wall of black ICE.
There was a metal clang from below.
He cursed. He would have to deactivate the explosives until he could open the door again. If Shodan kept it locked, he would just rip the data feeds out and wait. A bot would show up eventually to fix what he'd done, and to do so it would have to open the door. He started down the ladder.
Glancing down, he saw that the metal gate had rolled shut as well. He was now trapped in the shaft, unable to escape or deactivate the explosives.
Once he had descend far enough, he jumped down onto the fence. The low gravity made long vertical drops quite easy. He landed on the fence with a clang. He grabbed the keypad, jacked in, and hit another wall of Shodan's ICE.
He swore, slamming his fist into the metal sign.
He looked at the latch on the gate. It was some sort of catching mechanism encased in metal. It didn't look very sturdy.
He pulled out his pistol and fired several shots through the metal casing. He couldn't see what the inside of it looked like, but he knew the catch was in there somewhere, and if he destroyed it the door should open.
Several shots passed easily through the metal casing and punctured the hull beyond. There was a loud squeal, like someone letting air out of a balloon and then pinching off the flow. As the sound subsided, a bubble of expansion foam appeared and quickly hardened.
He tried the gate. Still locked.
He changed position, trying to shoot the lock from a different angle. More holes appeared in the latch and in the outer hull.
He tried again. The latch had finally failed and the gate moved slightly.
Deck managed to pull the gate open less than half a meter before it stopped again. It began to push back. He could hear a small motor on the other side of the door, fighting against him. It was overpowering his arms.
He let it slam shut again and changed his position. He lay on his back against the gate and braced his legs against the bulkhead. He hooked his fingers through the fence and pushed with his legs.
A furious whine came from the opposite side as the motor fought against him. He drew in a deep breath and held it, and pushed again. The fence gave, finally sliding open. It felt like he was going to dislocate his fingers if he held on much longer. The motor howled in protest, spinning at full speed. Deck could smell it burning itself out as it fought against him.
The gate was open a meter or so, but he couldn't go through. He couldn't hold it open and go through at the same time, and he was afraid he would just get crushed if he tried to dive through from where he was. He cursed again and released the gate in disgust.
From his position, he could just see the outline of the motor mounted on the wall on the opposite side of the gate. He drew his pistol again and drove a single bullet into the motor. The whine stopped.
It wouldn't budge. He changed position and pushed with his legs as he had before, but he couldn't get it to move at all now. It had seized up.
He cursed and hammered his fist into the metal sign. He could see the detonator from where he was. It was just a few meters away, quietly counting down...
Giving up on the gate, he climbed up the ladder and tried again to hack the hatch at the top.
He hit the open button, and it refused. Checking the error, he found that it refused to open because - according to the internal regulators - the other side was decompressed already. The door was equipped with a system that prevented the door from opening if only one side was pressurized. All doors had this safety mechanism on them, to prevent people from accidentally opening a door that they shouldn't during a decompression emergency.
But why would the regulators claim it was decompressed? He wondered if that was even true. Shodan probably couldn't decompress the area herself. It was mechanically impossible to open both doors of an external access airlock at the same time.
It didn't matter anyway. If the other side had decompressed, he was dead no matter what, so he would simply proceed assuming it wasn't.
The only way to open a door if one side was decompressed was to use the emergency override, but that part of the interface was shielded by Shodan's unbreakable ICE.
He needed some way to make the computer realize that there really was air on the opposite side of this door so he could open it.
The control panel had a pressure gauge built into it. He could change its reading to whatever he wanted, but he couldn't do anything about the reading on the opposite side.
He tried to access the opening mechanism directly, but it was blocked by the safety program. He tried to circumvent that, and found it was guarded by emergency override, which was in turn guarded by Shodan's ICE.
He banged his head gently on the bulkhead in front of him. How could he beat this?
In just a couple of minutes, the bombs would detonate and decompress the entire area, if they didn't just vaporize it outright. He decided if he didn't get out, he would wait at the gate to ensure the explosion killed him, instead of waiting to die from decompression.
Shodan had beat him. He had completed the mission but it had cost him his life. He realized that this was exactly what TriOptimum wanted. This was going to put a stop to both of their problems at once.
He pounded his fist impotently against the hatch. How could he be trapped here? He was a hacker. This was what he did, he opened doors and got into places where he didn't belong, and now he was trapped between a set of ordinary doors, about to die from a bomb he had planted himself. They would go off, this chamber would decompress and -
Suddenly he realized the answer.
He jacked in. The door wouldn't open because it believed one side was pressurized. He couldn't change the reading on the other side, but he could make it think his side was decompressed as well. His face turned red from embarrassment as he realized he had almost sat still and let himself be blown up when such a simple solution was right in front of his face.
It took him a minute to understand how the gage worked. It was actually made up of several components that needed to be manipulated at once. He tried to put the bombs out of his mind as he worked. Panic would just slow him down. He was either going to finish on time or he wasn't, and worrying about the bombs wouldn't help.
Once he had it working, he altered the pressure gage so that it appeared as though this side was also decompressed. The red light stopped spinning and changed to a slow strobe, like all of the airlock lights on the station's exterior.
The doors finally parted. Deck pulled himself through and scrambled for the catwalk. He wanted to get as far from the explosion as he could.
Halfway up the stairs, he realized he should have closed the hatch behind him. The explosion would just enter this chamber. Was it worth climbing back down to close it, or should he just keep climbing?
He hesitated. He should close it. He ran back down and closed the hatch, wasting precious seconds he didn't have to spare. He started running again.
Deck reached the top of the chamber and began climbing the next shaft.
It was like setting off dynamite inside an aluminum can. The explosion ripped easily through the metal walls, vaporizing the lower chamber. The support beams buckled outwards and then snapped, and the communications array was ejected from the base of the tower like it had been launched. Eventually it would slam into Earth's atmosphere and burn up. There was no way Shodan would be recovering it.
The blast sent a shockwave through the entire station, causing earthquake-sized tremors.
Deck glanced down to see a fireball rushing upwards from the chamber below. It expanded violently, reaching outwards to incinerate everything within its fiery embrace. Then - just as violently - it began to retreat. The roar became barely audible as the fireball was pulled from the ship and dissipated in the vacuum of space.
The downdraft became a hurricane, and Deck struggled to keep his grip on the ladder. He had to escape this before the reactor level ran out of air.
Fighting against the howling wind, he ascended the ladder. He fought for air. It was like trying to breathe while sticking your head out the window of a fast-moving car. At the top of the ladder, he searched for something to grab onto. The force of air threatened to pull him away the second he released the ladder.
He glanced down the shaft to see more and more of the structure being torn away. There was another explosion that he could feel but not hear, and the chamber below was ripped from the station.
Deck found himself staring down the shaft into space. Beyond, he could see the Earth.
The force of the separation jolted the shaft violently. The ladder was ripped from his hands. The wind picked up his body like a scrap of paper and tossed it down the shaft. He twisted in the air to see the gaping hole below as he fell towards empty space.