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 triage begun and people’s wits pulled together, the crew are finally ready to see what’s become of the rest of the ship.
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.”
Alexander turned and pulled a good, old-fashioned lever. The door slid open without complaint. It was almost anticlimax. The display on the slip still showed good air—better air, in fact, now that it wasn’t just a scoop of what had been in the Rec Deck, with no circulators going to refresh the compartment.
Things were still too quiet, though. No circulators, no machinery. Singer refused to use the word “dead”, even in the privacy of her thoughts, but it was definitely bad.
Alexander had stood and, taking one more look at the display to reassure zirself, said, “Lieutenant, I think we can safely open this and pass through into the corridor. How do you want to proceed?”
Singer had actually been thinking about this, ever since the unwelcome thought about flying cutlery had crossed her mind.
“First thing, Main Dining, across the hall. There should have been almost as many people there as we’d had in Rec.”
A grimace on Alexander’s face told Singer that the other lieutenant had had a similar thought to what they might find over there. Still, ze didn’t argue. “All right, let’s do it. Ready to open on your mark.”
The sphincter widened, and Singer led a small party carefully out into the corridor. She realized she was getting the hang of walking in lower gravity, and that she wasn’t really looking forward to full gravity’s return.
She reined in her thoughts again. It was getting harder to keep her attention on what she was doing. That was bad.
The boulevard was dark—not even the dim lighting that had reasserted itself somehow in Rec—but an ensign stood at Singer’s shoulder with a flashlight. “Ma’am, there’s an emergency locker just down the hall there that should have at least one suit, and another slip.”
And after all, right now, the few of them that were walking might be all the able-bodied crew that were left. They couldn’t afford to be dumb. “See to it, Ensign….” She paused the pause that universally meant, “Sorry, but I don’t know your name.”
“Garecki, ma’am. Florence Garecki, sciences.”
“See too it, Ensign Garecki!”
That hadn’t felt too bad. The ensign had a good idea, she’d affirmed it. As orders went, so far, nothing too hard. Despite her efforts to shield her empathic senses, Singer felt the ensign brighten a bit with pride at remembered training and advancing a useful idea accepted by what passed for authority.
The ensign signaled PO Luchny, and together they bounced toward the locker, making quick work of raiding it. A minute later, and the ensign was already suiting up, with the PO’s help. That was a little ahead of any instructions. Singer had thought, albeit vaguely, that maybe she herself would be suiting up. She wasn’t completely untrained for it.
However, she was realizing, as the senior-most officer, she was not going to be allowed to take any risk that could be avoided, unless she gave a direct order to let her do so.
Alexander lay zir hand on the Main Dining door. “Warm, Lieutenant. Again, the other side might not be safe, but it’s not exposed to space.”
Garecki, fully suited up, now, and Luchny got the new airlock set up, and the ensign stepped inside while it was still pressurized with hallway air. This was, of course, what they should have done inside Main Rec, but that locker had not included a suit!
Alexander dogged the sphincter behind zir, then knelt down by the door release panel, looking up to Garecki. “Whenever you’re ready, Ensign.”
Alexander pulled the lever, and again the door slid open. And here, the young officer in the environment suit’s training failed her as she exclaimed, “Oh, fuck!”
It was, Singer saw, exactly as bad as she’d feared. The lights here were also dim, but after the time in total darkness, it was enough. The room simply had more tables and chairs for people to break themselves on as they slammed down, and cutlery had, of course, helped nothing. There were about 45 people in the room, from what Singer could see through the transparency of the slip, although the ensign was still in the way. Only five of them appeared at all ambulatory. They had their own emergency locker open and had clearly been only minutes behind in making their own exit.
The most senior among them was a chief petty officer, one of the comms ratings from Singer’s shift. That would make it a bit easier to play the authority figure, at least.
“Chief,” Singer said, “Report!”
The chief took a moment to collect herself. She was definitely looking ragged, bruised, and limping, and also having just spent about 500 seconds trapped in what had become an abattoir. She was, in fact, crying. Nevertheless, she found her footing in the face of the order. “Ma’am, all power went out, along with the gravity, which fluctuated several times. A hundred or so seconds ago, we got dim lighting back and were able to assess the situation. We five…ma’am, we five are the only survivors.”
A loud, robust voice emerged from a speaker in the room. “Six.”
Singer blinked. “Chef?”
Chef was one of the twenty or so AIs that helped manage ship systems. His chief domain was both sides of the replication system. He made things, including food; and he oversaw their recycling. As such, he was commonly “present” here in Main Dining.
He was one of the quirkier artificial personalities aboard, but Singer rather liked him, and was absurdly relieved he was “alive.”
“What’s going on, Chef? Any clue?”
“I’m afraid not, Lieutenant. I’ve spent the last 500 seconds or so trying to find my way through or around all kinds of havoc, though, to get back here. The network is badly fragmented. So far as I can tell, I’m the only AI still active.”
“Get back? Where were you?”
“Training Center, ma’am. XO had asked me to supervise the middies through an exercise.”
Singer blinked. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Chef, but…”
“No idea, Lieutenant. XO asked, I didn’t have a good reason to say no. It was interesting, though, because he asked. He could have ordered.
“Anyway, just as well, because he had also isolated the network, there. That couldn’t keep us from having the power and gravity problems—those are ship-wide—so the middies are a bit banged up. But, if we can find a way to spring ‘em, that’s fifteen more people to help with whatever we’re gonna do next. We need to do it fast, though. I’m not actually sure where the power’s coming from that’s letting me exist, right now, so I don’t know how long it’ll last!”
Alexander spoke up. “Ma’am, that’s as good a direction to start a general search as any. I want to look in on Engineering, see if I can get a power plant back somehow. I can send a detachment down to the training center and have them come back here for assignment.”
Well, that put Singer in her place. Right here. In the abattoir, which did not seem pleasant. “Chef, any chance you can transfer over to Main Rec. It’s less…well, it’s more intact, and if we’re making our base of operations here-ish right now…”
“Understood, Lieutenant. Unfortunately, the routing nodes between here and there are down. That’s part of what’s going on right now. There’s enough power to keep me going, I think. But I keep finding dead-ends in the network, so it’s all become a bit of a maze. I’m really just lucky that the path back here worked in time for me to find you all.”
Ensign Garecki, helmet back off, cleared her throat. “Ma’am, may I make a suggestion?”
Singer turned to regard her. She looked pale, but that earlier boost of pride was still carrying her. “Go ahead, Ensign.”
“Let me take a small party and see if we can find another compartment nearby that’s relatively intact. Then we can…well, then we can clean up in here, ma’am.”
A part of Singer, the part that was starting to feel outrage at what had just happened to her ship, her home, her friends, her people, wanted to rage at the euphemism. But Garecki was right.
Main Dining made the most sense as a temporary command post, if only because Chef could still reach it. The one known-intact AI was going to be invaluable to figuring out what was going on, assuming they could get more of the routing nodes back online. AIs all specialized, but they all started from the same baseline code, and all knew the ship better than almost any human being could. In a way, they were the ship, personified, after all.
Singer had no idea how much of this showed on her face, but Garecki’s remained as it had been, and Singer took comfort from that basic competence in the face of adversity. “All right, Ensign. I think that’s probably the best way to proceed right now. We need this compartment to be usable, and we should find somewhere we can…respectfully hold our fallen comrades while we assess the situation. Take care of it.”