Things Fall Apart, Chapter 1, Part 1

In which a whole lot of things go wrong in a very short amount of time



It was dark.

It was impossibly dark.

Starships are, hardly ever, actually dark. There are redundant main and auxiliary power systems, local capacitors and batteries to drive emergency lighting, computer panels that should always be glowing.

Add to this, the sensation that she was floating, and Lieutenant Elyah Singer could be forgiven assuming that she had actually gotten knocked on her head somehow. Unlikely as that was, it was far more likely a possibility than that it was actually dark, or that gravity generation was offline.

A person on a starship could experience gravity two different ways. When the grav systems were online, they provided an idea of up and down that had little to do with the orientation of the starship or the direction and intensity of thrust. If that system failed, or even weakened, then the ship’s own acceleration would impart its own sense of gravity-like behavior.

She should not be floating, with no clear sense of up-and-down.

Those impossibilities digested, she realized it was also impossibly quiet. No white noise of air-circulator fans. No hum of power or engines. None of the sounds that a seasoned spacer tuned out, only noticing their absence.

Singer began to surmise that she might, in fact, be dead.

Then, she realized she could hear her own breathing, and then, the breathing of others around her, in the silence. She could feel her hair drifting around her head. Sounds around her also increased as other people began to process what they were experiencing, and began to speak up.

Suddenly, it was the opposite of quiet, as the people around her began to swear, to call out to each other. Singer had been just getting out of a chair when everything changed, and the momentum of that action had continued, she guessed, when she bumped gently into what she assumed was the ceiling.

Sadly, she did not have the presence of mind to reach out for a handhold. Like her colleagues, she was still gathering her wits.

Unlike her colleagues, she had an empathic sensitivity that was now distracting her from gathering her own wits. Resigned to the ricochet and hoping for the best, she took a moment to pull up some shields against the din of others’ emotions.

She realized it fell to her to try to assert some semblance of order. She had been, as nearly as she could remember, the senior officer in the recreation room, as she was for the whole Delta Shift. That wasn’t very senior—still only a lieutenant. She’d been a lieutenant a long time, which bothered her, a little. The XO thought her work exemplary, though, and believed she was due for a bump to lieutenant commander, and a slot as actual head of communications, if not for Bellerophon, than some other excellent starship in the Tau Ceti Treaty Fleet.

She was woolgathering. Maybe she had hit her head, as well as power being (impossibly) offline, completely. She took a breath—yes, her head did hurt a bit—and said in what she hoped was the right register of authority, “Everybody be calm.”

It took a second attempt. Her voice was not quite obedient the first time. But they heard her, recognized her voice, and began to settle down.

Now that people weren’t making alarmed noises, she could hear them breathing, and bumping off of things. She tried to remember who else had been in the room, failed, and asked, “Anyone from engineering here?”

“Here, Lieutenant!” Junior Lieutenant Alexander, that would be. Lightly augmented, as many engineers and technicians were, the easier to interface with the various systems that made a starship go. All of which, at the moment, appeared to not be doing that.

“Any idea what happened, Lieutenant?” An obvious question. Singer did not feel confident enough in her authority, just yet, to have simply asked for a report, and anyway, the answer would likely be…

“Not a single idea, ma’am. There are supposed to be so many safety interlocks and shielded emergency power sources that this kind of thing is impossible.”

Someone piped up—Singer thought it was a medic, a young man who had joined the ship just before Bellerophon had left Norfolk Station on its current mission. Despite which, she could not recall his name or rank right now. “Any chance this is a localized thing? I mean, the whole ship can’t be like this, can it?”

Singer knew the answer before Alexander answered, “I’m sorry, PO, but there’s no way it can be anything else, and actually, that’s a good thing. Ship was under thrust when the gravity went. If the engines hadn’t stopped at the same time, we’d all be paste on the aft bulkhead.”

Alexander was, Singer remembered now, not known for easing people into bad news. But ze was also not wrong.

OK. So, great big mystery. That could wait. Next order of business. “Anybody hurt?”

“I think…” said a shaky voice, young and female, another petty officer, “I think I hit my head right when the gravity went. Like, I think maybe we were actually thrown upward, and then the gravity went out.”

That would explain her own burgeoning headache. “Anyone else have a similar impression or memory, say, ‘aye’!”

There were what sounded like about twenty ayes around the room, including Alexander, who Singer now realized was not far away from her.

A thought occurred to her, and her aching head. “Alexander, if gravity comes back suddenly…”

“In theory, there’s supposed to be safety systems to make sure it comes back grad—“

Everybody slammed straight down.