Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 03
Helena located the source of said voice. Seckon, the engineering officer, stood against a console stabbing down at a screen with both forefingers. The rating who should have operated it was on the floor. Blood matted his hair. He stared at Helena with open sightless eyes. An icicle of frozen saliva hung from his lips. The poor bastard had frozen to death making her wonder how long she’d been out?
What was the engineering officer doing on her bridge? What was she doing on the deck? Unanswered questions orbited around her mind. Nothing made any sense.
She pulled herself upright using her chair as a crutch. She realized she had missed some important piece of information. What had Seckon said? The motors were out, that was it. The emergency power must be on or she would be floating under zero gravity.
A loud crack sounded and the deck twanged like the skin on a kettle drum. Helena gripped her command chair tightly. Oh God the motors were out. That meant the field was down and they were still in the debris stream.
The lights snapped on. The ship suddenly hummed with that faint background vibration that was so normal a part of her life that she never usually noticed it at all.
“Getting there, ma’am, field on,” Seckon said triumphantly.
Helena sat down and activated her chair. The navigation hologram sprang to life. She switched to damage status causing it to light up with red and orange icons like New Year decorations in a shopping arcade. Her ship was a bloody mess but what struck her as odd was the temperature. Parts of the ship were well below freezing. She boosted power to environmental control to start hot air circulating.
“That’s not right,” said Seckon, frowning.
“Which of our many failed systems do you mean?” Helena asked.
“The heat sinks, ma’am. They’re…well, have a look yourself.”
Helena triggered the necessary controls and did a double take.
“My screen says they’re empty, stone cold empty,” she said.
“Mine too,” replies the engineering officer. “But they can’t be. The monitoring system must be faulty.”
“Great. Any sign of the jolly boat?”
“Haven’t looked, I was too busy starting the motors.”
Helena activated a scan. Scanning while semi-phased was inefficient but the boat should be close enough to detect. There was no sign of it at all, not even wreckage from the hull registering. She couldn’t tarry as for all she knew the heat sinks could fail at any moment. She consulted her navigation charts then pressed the icon for wideband communication.
“All crew, this is the captain. We have sustained considerable damage but essential systems are functioning.”
Helena crossed her fingers at that point, for real not metaphorically. She had no idea what state the ship was really in or how long anything would function. She couldn’t trust her instruments so she was blind but it didn’t hurt to boost the crew’s morale. If something vital failed then they were all dead anyway and her people’s morale would cease to be a concern.
“We passed a habitable world some two hours normal sailing time away and I propose to head for it. We’ll be travelling slowly so as not to test anything to destruction but we should make landfall in just over three hours. Captain out.”
She looked around the bridge for the pilot. He sat up and was noisily sick on the deck. Helena sighed.
“Please stay on the bridge Mister Seckon,” she said to the engineering officer. “It looks as if I will be conning the ship personally and I would like you to nurse the motors for me.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am.”
Helena found a small river on her landing approach. It was bordered by trees restricted to within a few meters of the water so she set the ship down on nearby scrubland nearby not wishing to push her luck with the strained hull by trying for the tree-lined bank. That meant extra work for the crew in rigging a hose to the river but she was in no great hurry. She wanted every system thoroughly tested before they began the long voyage home.
The Reggie Kray supported its bulk on proactive self-levelling landing struts that balanced the stresses affecting the hull. Most ships dispensed with such expensive technology but most ships landed only on perfectly flat reinforced starport pads or on the water. A research ship needed to be able to land on any vaguely flat surface so it devoted valuable carrying capacity to rough terrain landing gear.
Helena observed the semi-desert terrain with a disinterested eye despite its forlorn beauty. She had stood on so many alien worlds that the novelty had long passed off – seen one wilderness, seen them all. She barely even noticed the change in smell from the tang of the sterile filtered ship’s air to the mix of organic aromas associated with a living ecosystem. She disregarded the subtly different spectrum of the sun overhead from the Brasilian standard light used on the ship.
She walked around the vessel to check the hull. It was extremely unlikely that she would spot anything not already revealed by whatever instruments were functioning. Nevertheless, a flight check was traditional and would reassure the crew.
What was left of the crew, she corrected herself bitterly. Out of fourteen naval personal she had lost two in the jolly boat and had four more casualties on the ship. Three of those lay in induced comas in sick bay until they reached civilization or what passed for it this side of the Bight. She doubted if more than two would ever be revived even with proper hospitalization. Not even modern medicine could do much with the burst cells of a frozen brain. The fourth was already dead.
The research team was harder hit as the B Hull had been closer to the jolly boat. Only Flipper Wallace and a young male technician survived. Flipper wisely kept out of Helena’s path but the technician was a practical sort who made himself useful to the short-handed crew.
Her datapad chimed where it was hung off her belt.
“Yes,” she said.
“We’ve rigged hoses into the river and are ready to start pumping, captain” said the mate.
“Very good, carry on.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am.”
Helena backed up so she had a better view of her ship’s dorsal vents. The blue-white sun shone brightly causing her to shade her eyes when she looked up. She should have brought a sun shield. She should have done many things including not letting Finkletop goad her into crazy plans.
The heat vents opened. She waited for the white rush of condensing steam from the water flushing out the heat sinks. She waited but nothing happened.
After a few seconds she touched her datapad.
“What the hell’s going on Seckon? Why aren’t the pumps working?”
Seckon was at his station in Engineering.
“They’re working fine. The water’s running straight through.”
Helena ran back to the ship and peered underneath. River water gushed from vents under the A hull and trickled across the dry yellow soil.
“It seems the instruments were quite accurate when they indicated that the heat sinks are cool. We can leave any time you order,” Seckon said.
“But that’s not possible,” Helena replied. “Heat doesn’t just disappear.”
Helena could almost hear the shrug from her engineering officer.
“Find that bloody girl and send her to me – now.”
“Aye, aye, captain.”
Seckon did not need to ask which girl. Whatever he did to insert a squib up Flipper’s arse clearly worked. She shot out of the ship and scuttled over to Helena, moving at a faster speed than she had hitherto employed since she came aboard.
“You asked to see me, Ms. Frisco?” asked Flipper
“No, I didn’t ask to see you I summoned you,” Helena snarled in reply. “What the hell has Finkletop done to my ship?”
“The professor doesn’t like me talking about our work,” she said, evasively. “He has enemies and rivals.”
“Finkletop is dead so all his problems are over. Yours are just beginning if I don’t get some answers. You address me as captain or ma’am. As I have co-opted you into my crew you are subject to naval discipline up to and including summary execution for mutiny. Am I making myself clear?”
Helena glared at the girl so hard that she backed up a step. Actually, Helena was not up enough on military law to know if that interpretation was correct but she rightly assumed that Flipper knew even less about military law than did she.
“Um, yes,” Flipper said, flashing frightened eyes.