Things Fall Apart, Chapter 1, Part 3

In which wits and equipment are gathered

Our story so far


In the main recreation area aboard Tau Ceti Treaty Starship Bellerophon, off-duty personnel find themselves suddenly without power. Lights and gravity fail, the latter in catastrophic ways, as it periodically returns at a strength that slams people first down, then up, before settling at about one-tenth standard. With lights suddenly returning, dimly, it is now possible to assess the damage and possibly find a way out of the compartment.

Alexander had moved over to one of the doors, and reached out to touch it, gingerly, as if expecting it to bite zir. And in fact, ze withdrew zir hand as if it had.

Singer gained Alexander’s side as quickly as her throbbing skull and lack of gravity could navigate.

“It’s cold,” Lieutenant Alexander said quietly. “Very cold.” Ze exchanged a very serious look with Singer. There was only one reason for any door on a starship to be cold.

Just as quietly, Singer replied, “So we were attacked.” Not a question.

Alexander was still staring at the door like it had betrayed zir, but shrugged, noncommittal. Finally, ze said, “The only thing I can say for certain is that the other side is not merely in vacuum, but actually exposed to space. Mere loss of air would not have caused the door to get this cold, that quickly.”

It took a moment for Singer to orient herself. This door faced starboard. The corridor just outside would have been lined with crew quarters. Immediately starboard of that, two more corridors of quarters, then a water storage tank. Beyond that should have been a storage tank for replication mass. Finally, the starboard hull, armor plated. Bellerophon was no warship—there weren’t really any warships—but she was designed to be hard to hurt, during her long cruises away from Tau Ceti Treaty space.

Alexander was slightly ahead of her in moving toward first the aft doors—also cold, to judge from her reaction—and then, finally, the port doors, which faced on what everyone called “the boulevard”, the wider axial corridor that was the main thoroughfare on this deck.

Alexander lay zir hand on this one, and almost relaxed, pressing zir palm flat against it and leaving it there like ze was touching a lover.

Sensing rather than seeing Singer come up beside zir again, ze said, “This door feels normal, Lieutenant. Other side could be unsafe, but it’s not actually exposed to space.”

Singer turned and leaned against the bulkhead, which allowed her both to look at Alexander, and to survey what had become of Main Recreation.

The senior-most of the medics—Kasey? Kasel? She still couldn’t remembe rhis name—had retrieved a kit from its bracket on the wall, and was starting to be able to actually treat at least some folks. Other folks were working to clear up some of the debris, which included broken glass and plastic from drinks and games. Singer counted about sixty people, which felt right in terms of how full the room had felt before the accident.

Gravity was still low, which meant a sudden move could set someone bouncing. Most people were being very careful, whether through training or because sudden moves hurt.

A shudder went through her. Right across the hall was Main Dining. People would have been eating. With sharp implements.

First thing’s first.

She looked at Alexander. “I suppose the door panel’s still dead?”

Alexander nodded glumly. “We should still be able to get the door open, but all the panels are out, so no comms, no internal sensors, no AIs.”

“What could do this?”

The engineer considered. “EMP might have an effect like this, but all our systems are supposed to be hardened against it.”

“And what could generate that kind of EMP?”

“If someone hit the ship with a big enough nuke, or several, to rip a hole in our side? That’s a guess, though. I’m not ready to commit to the idea that we were attacked.”

Singer nodded, and regretted it, as her headache momentarily intensified. At some point, she was probably going to have to let one of the medics look at her for a concussion, she supposed, but right now, they were dealing with the broken and bleeding.

After a moment, she realized Alexander was looking at her, expectantly. There was a decision to be made. Singer was still the only full lieutenant in the room.

Singer paused a moment longer, on the edge of a useful memory, she hoped. Finally, she said, slightly bemused, “Emergency slip.”

Alexander, who had also taken at least one blow to the head, looked chagrined. “I should have thought of it. Yes. It would still be better if we had suits, but we’d never have enough for everyone in the room anyway.” Ze made her way to a particular section of bulkhead that was deliberately a dark green, as opposed to the rest of the walls’ boring beige. It was a simple manual door on hinges, and it swung open easily to reveal a cabinet with a number of useful emergency items, including a temporary airlock in a box. It was a flimsy-looking thing, taken out and applied around the hatch coaming, but Singer’s training reminded her it would withstand explosive decompression if it had to.

Several of the ambulatory crew had seen what the two officers were about, and without prompting gleaned flashlights, fire extinguishers, breathing masks, and other potentially useful gear out of the same locker.

Alexander was kneeling a foot or two to one side of the now-encased hatch, and had another part of the bulkhead open—this one actually a panel, completely removed, revealing the manual release for the door. The sphincter on the emergency slip was fully closed. One of the other crew who had a damage-control chop above their PO stripes, held up a hand to ask Alexander to wait, rechecked the seal, and then touched a colored patch near the sphincter. A small holodisplay appeared in the air just in front of the plastic, showing good pressure and an air mix that was slightly high in CO2, but not dangerous, yet. Then, he nodded and gave a thumbs up.

Good, Singer thought. Training is reasserting itself all around. She hadn’t had to actually give an order at all, which was also good. She was not all that comfortable with giving orders, truth be told, especially when her authority was so flimsy at the moment. Not to mention the concussion.

But now, Alexander was looking at her, so it was time to give at least one order. “All right, Lieutenant. Open her up.”