Part 2 of the Piazzi Mining series: [Piazzi Mining has canceled all mining expeditions after an earthquake rocked Ceres. In a breach of company orders, Shauna plans to lead her team to rescue an abandoned team in a collapsed shaft.] Link to Part 1.
Shauna flicked the switch on the intercom outside the door to her first mate's quarters. "Machupa, come on, your late. We must make our mining run." Shauna punctuated her plea with a punch on the door which slid open revealing Machupa, in what Shauna thought of as her natural shape snake self, wavy dark hair shoulder length with a squat body four inches shorter than Shauna.
"What? I heard they canceled the expedition," said Machupa.
"I should be in bed." Machupa floated away from the door.
Shauna placed a hand over the quarter door so it wouldn't slide shut. "They abandoned a team in Ceres core who will die if we don't rescue them."
"A rescue mission?" Machupa approached the doorway her iris changing from the usual dark brown to a cloud pink that peered into Shauna's eyes. "Sanctioned by the Piazzi brass?"
Shauna twirled a stray lock of hair behind her ear and nodded.
Machupa leapt into the hallway floating in the low gravity to wrap an arm around Shauna's shoulders turning her along the plasteel tunnel. "What are we waiting for?"
Their breath heaved by the time they arrived at the central elevator shaft that descended through Ceres' outer dirt-ice shell. Shauna approached the elevator shaft and the door panel blinked red.
"Out of order?" asked Machupa.
"Maybe." Shauna glanced over her shoulder at the plasteel tunnel with its plastic grasps for moving in low-gee. "They have locked it down." A pause. "You can change your shape. Impersonate Chinhao and order central command to let us access the elevator."
Machupa hung from two holds in the ceiling to look down at her captain. "No. I can't do that."
"Can't? You can take any humanoid shape you want."
"Physically, I can," said Machupa, "but it goes against the shape snake norms. As the only shape snake on Ceres, I can't." Machupa's eyes were flat as she turned away from Shauna.
"As your commanding officer, I order you --"
Machupa laughed. "That won't make a difference."
"Why not?" asked Shauna with a trace of miffed annoyance to her voice.
"They say you learn to behave like your superior officer. You're disobeying orders aren't you."
Machupa pushed herself down towards the panel to the left of the elevator shaft and pried off the maintenance shaft cover. "Come. We can get down to the inner sea this way." Machupa swung her legs into the chute and dropped down out of sight before a clang where she must've grabbed one of the handholds.
Shauna stuck her head in the shaft, dim light illuminated a never-ending shaft with bundles of fiber-optic cables and handholds crowding the plates around the edge of the shaft. The air was cold, only residual heat bleeding down from the station would heat the shaft. "But it's at least a click through the dirt-ice shell."
"Good thing we have gravity on our side, for this trip," said Machupa letting go of the handhold to fall down the shaft occasionally grabbing ahold to slow herself and maintain a controlled descent.
Shauna sighed and muttered, "Always the hard way." Before she turned around to climb into the shaft to follow Machupa.