In the main recreation area aboard Tau Ceti Treaty Starship Bellerophon, off-duty personnel find themselves suddenly without power, then bounced around by gravity-generator failures, and finally, picking themselves up gingerly and trying to figure out what’s going on. Achieving Main Dining across the hall, the found a similar catastrophe, only this one included cutlery, and closer spaced tables and chairs, leaving only five survivors. Now, the twenty ambulatory survivors start making plans to find out how the rest of the ship is doing, and cleaning up the compartment so it can be used…
“All right, Ensign.”, Singer said, “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.”
Ensign Garecki sketched a salute, of all things. Singer, unused to the formality, returned the salute somewhat absently. Bellerophon was an explorer vessel. Captain Blinovic had struck a balance between formality when truly needful, and a more relaxed attitude the rest of the time. Other than major ceremonial occasions, Singer could not remember saluting since she’d been a middie.
Well. Unsettled times.
Singer realized she was woolgathering again. The concussion she’d been postponing dealing with was starting to charge interest.
She wasn’t the only one. Despite the carnage in the room, Lieutenant Alexander sat down, gingerly, using a miraculously clean and vacant table as a prop as ze lowered zirself onto a seat.
Singer quailed at the idea for a moment. The air circulators were still not functioning, so there was nothing even trying to clear the air of the odor of what had happened here. Her knees, however, were just about done.
Finally, if only to save her dignity from the offense of simply slumping to the floor, she followed Alexander’s example, sitting opposite the engineer, who was staring resolutely at a wall, beige and boring, except where it was black and boring—display screens, stubbornly darkened.
The one Alexander was vaguely staring at came to careful life, remaining fairly dim to match the room’s current pallor, and Chef’s craggy simulated features appeared, familiar and…concerned.
“Lieutenant Singer, I’d like to resume my mapping of what remains of the ship’s network, but if you need me here…”
Before she could formulate a response, Alexander slurred a question. “Chef, with so much power out, how are you managing to do anything? Shouldn’t you be…off?”
“That’s one of the things I’m trying to figure out, myself. I told you that the training area had been isolated. Power still went out…except to the node I was inhabiting. I speculate that someone—maybe the XO—had thought for some reason to shield it, or reinforce it, somehow.
“Anyway, I don’t have much of a theory about anything yet, but the fact that the training cadre, and that node, were isolated doesn’t feel like coincidence.”
The engineer took an extra breath, whether against nausea or just because zir brain wasn’t working well, before saying, “And you’re finding other nodes that are also…reinforced?”
“That, and I’ve found one that was connected to a supercapacitor. I was able to initiate a circuit breaker reset. That’s how the lights are on, and this screen. Of course, by itself, that one supercap won’t last very long. I’m trying to find my way to any of the power rooms, but so far, no luck.”
Alexander remembered something. “I was going to…” Ze started to rise. Sat down again.
As if on cue, the medic who had been leading the triage efforts across the hall came in, took one look around, and said, “Sit down, Lieutenant. I’m what passes for medical authority right now and you are definitely a patient.” He looked over at Singer, “And so are you, so just sit. Also, what the hell happened in here?”
Singer answered, “Same thing that happened over there, only with sharp implements. I’m trying very hard not to think about it, since the room is already smelly and spinny and a lot our friends are dead in here, so…can we talk about anything else?”
“Like your and Mx Alexander’s concussions? Gladly.” He waved a scanner for a few minutes at Singer, with some focus on her head but not stopping there, then repeated it for Alexander. “The good news, Lieutenants, is that you both have a lovely collection of contusions, and very definitely concussions, but somehow haven’t broken anything. Now, this is definitely an emergency, and right now you two are the senior officers on hand, so there’s something I can give you that’ll clear your head for a little while, and I will. But! As soon as either one of you start feeling muzzy-headed again, I need you to just lie down. Don’t sleep, just lie down, and send someone to come get me or one of the other medics. I think right now we’ll set up across the hall in the Rec Deck until we know more. It’s central, after all, and anyway, I’ve got people over there I don’t dare move, even in light gravity.”
This medic has his head on straight, which was more than Singer could say for herself just this minute. “PO…Kasel, isn’t it?”
“Thank you. I believe we can abide by your recommendations if it gets us ambulatory enough to get even a few more systems—like some power—up and running, while others are searching the ship.” Alexander looked sharply at her, and she replied, “I don’t know much about engines, but I know electronics repair, and if nothing else I can hold a flashlight. Let’s get the other walkers organized to start finding out what is and is not intact and tell them they can find us aft, or here.”
Alexander turned that over in zir head as if ze were considering an argument, then shrugged. “That makes as much sense as anything else that’s going on.”
Kasel proceeded to have each of them roll up a sleeve, and hit each of them with a dermal patch, which, in each case, seemed to work within a hundred secs. Singer still felt fragile, but she also felt like she could do what she just said they’d do.
When she felt able, she looked at his screen and said, “Chef, go ahead and resume your search. If you think you can find a path to Engineering, so much the better. Either way, let’s plan on meeting back here in…” to Kasel, she asked, “How long do you think we’ve got?”
“Maybe fifteen kilosecs, but I really wouldn’t count on much more.”
“Let’s plan to meet here in thirteen kilos. We’ll tell the other searchers the same thing. With comms out, we have no other way to coordinate but physical rendezvous, or sending people running all over the ship as couriers, and we just don’t have enough ambulatory people right now.
“So, thirteen kiloseconds, and then we all come back here, or at least,” she waved around her at the carnage she still did not really want to look at, “here-ish. We’ll sync up, and then, we’ll rest. One other thing, Chef.”
“How long do you think the air and heat will last without anything else…”
“Ship wasn’t exactly built for this degree of catastrophe, but it is built to be survivable in a wide range of circumstances. I have access to at least a couple of sensors along with the live nodes, and based on what I’m reading, the ship should have breathable air for several kilos more; heat is more likely to be a problem, sooner.”
Alexander, now a bit sharper, said, “Wait…if you have sensors…can you detect any survivors?”
Chef actually winced. “I was sort of hoping you wouldn’t ask that, Lieutenant. That’s one reason I think we’ve got time. Right now, I’m not detecting a lot of people actually using the air, much, except right around here. Not sure how much that means though—it’s just a few sensors, so far, that I can coax into telling me anything.”
Alexander closed her eyes for a moment, and Singer couldn’t tell if it was emotion, or if ze were rearranging priorities in zir head, or both. Finally, ze said, “Okay, that settles it. We’re not going all the way aft, at least, not at first. There are two supercap stations not far from here. If all that’s wrong is that their circuit breakers popped, we can reset them, get more lights, get circulators blowing, at least enough to clear the bad air away and get some good air here.”
Singer considered it. On the one hand, if there were survivors elsewhere on the ship, they could be thinning out their air. On the other hand, right now, they knew, for certain, they had survivors here.
On the screen, Chef chimed in, “If you can also get nodes up along the way, maybe I can follow you to Engineering, instead.”
Singer shook her head, and realized that the headache really was only being leashed in by the drugs, not fixed. She resolved to talk more, gesture with her head less, for a little while. “I think your original idea was the right one, Chef. Map out what you can, see what other sensors you can get back on line based on what nodes survived. I just hope… well, this might sound paranoid, but I really hope it’s not a trail of candy…”
“You mean, maybe someone hardened those nodes to trap Chef later?” said Alexander, genuinely considering the idea.
“I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of time to be suspicious right now, but remember how you said you weren’t ready to commit to this being an attack?”
“You think it could be some kind of inside job, instead.” Not a question.
“Yes,” Singer responded. “But I have no idea what kind, yet, so for now, we’ll just proceed as we’d planned, because breathing longer is the key to figuring this out.”
“Can’t argue that logic. Okay, let’s get started.”
End Chapter 1