Things Fall Apart: Chapter 2, Part 2

In which we meet another survivor, and start figuring out the power problems.

Our Story So Far - Click here to access past entries!


Starship Bellerophon was minding its business, on a long return cruise from an exploration and mapping mission, when it suffered disaster. Systems that should never fail, failed. Gravity fluctuated, slamming people against ceiling and floor.

The off-duty crew in Main Recreation managed to organize themselves enough to triage the wounded, then started to slowly assess the ship. Across the hall, the Main Dining compartment turned out to have fared much worse. But there, also, the first sign of good news: Chef, one of the ship’s AIs, had survived and reported that at least some of the ship had been prepared when disaster struck.

Now, the crew’s task is to try to get light, air, and heat enough to survive.

“Be back here in thirteen kiloseconds. Don’t dawdle. We all want to find any trapped or injured people, but we’re all battered and exhausted. We’re also, except for a group of middies trapped in the Training Center, the only people we know for sure are left. None of us are currently expendable. Understood?”

Some of the acquiescences were half-hearted. Singer didn’t need her shields down to know that some were thinking that they’d be willing to work ‘til they dropped to map the current state of the ship. If it turned out to be a mistake, they could hate her later. Right now, they needed to use what energy, heat, and air they had to try to get to a better state.

The supercapacitor stations were aft of Main Recreation and Main Dining, about half-way between those compartments and the Main Power Room. They were both along a cross-corridor, one starboard, one port, the ship being fairly symmetrical in its layout. By unspoken agreement, Lieutenant Singer’s party went starboard first. The breach they knew about was starboard, so this also doubled as a way to find out how far back the damage went.

The ship was quite long, and this deck—the middle deck in the sandwich—was both the longest and the widest, so it was about 140 meters until their turn-off, and it would be about 30 meters before they reached what they were looking for.

Reaching their junction, they shone their lights down the branch corridor, and heaved sighs of relief. No emergency bulkheads were down. They could make out the corridor-guide markings of the starboard-outer boulevard, bright white against the beige of the wall. No debris, but also, no people…except, one figure.

The figure was kneeling, exactly where Singer’s group were planning to go, looking intently at something ordinarily concealed by a panel that leaned on the wall next to them.

As they approached the figure, they could see puzzlement, possibly even frustration, on their face. Alexander recognized them before Singer did. “Lieutenant Cadotte?”

Singer remembered them. A junior lieutenant, newer to the honor than Alexander. Cadotte was more obviously augmented than Alexander—not so much in visible body-mods as in behavior. Cadotte was somewhat famous for turning their ears “off” when overstimulated and off-duty; for staring apparently into space and then making comments about things only they could see; that sort of thing. They were very quirky company, in general, and seemed indifferent to the fact.

They were also, however, a very good scientist, and, thanks to those augmentations, a crack DC officer, despite not being an engineer. They could scan and interrogate systems, not quite on the same level as Chef, who lived within them, but on a deeper level than someone like Singer, who even if she’d been more technically trained, would be stuck looking at things with only her own eyes.

Which explained why Cadotte was here.

They were also, apparently, not paying attention to anything but what they were staring at, so Alexander repeated, “Lieutenant?”

Cadotte blinked, and there was a sense of them refocusing their entire attention from a different plane. Calmly—Cadotte tended to say everything calmly, most of the time, they said,“Lieutenant Alexander, Lieutenant Singer, I’m glad to see you both. Sorry I was slow to respond. This capacitor is perplexing me. I mean, the whole situation is perplexing me, and I think I hit my head at some point, which is probably not helping much, but this capacitor…”

Singer saw PO Luchny slip around to scan Cadotte for injuries. Apparently, Luchny either knew Cadotte, or could read a room. Distracting Cadotte would be difficult and leave them cranky. Better to just scan them and decide what to do afterward.

Singer responded to Cadotte, “There’s a lot of concussions to go around, so far, Lieutenant, to say the least. We came here to see about getting these capacitors reconnected, as well. What’s perplexing about them.”

“There’s nothing wrong with them, ma’am. There’s no reason for any of the circuit breakers to have tripped, but the breakers on both the charge side and the discharge side are definitely open at the moment. Also, all of the network nodes—routing and processing—immediately surrounding this site are physically toasted.”

Singer said, “So there was an EMP?” She emphasized it a bit, for Alexander’s sake, a continuation of their earlier conversation, but Cadotte answered, “That’s what’s perplexing, ma’am. If there had been an EMP from an external source powerful enough to do that, the capacitor and the breakers would also be toast, from the EMP itself; not an intact capacitor with open breakers.”

They all sat with that for a moment, none of them really sure what it meant. Then, Singer asked, “Is it safe to re-engage the discharge-side breaker. We need to get more power to this deck, get the circulators flowing, and then, we need to see if we can get at least one fusion plant back on-line as well…”

Cadotte did not so much interrupt as finish the thought, “…and then see if an environmental plant can be bootstrapped. Yes, that makes sense. Oxygen’s going to start getting thin, and it’s going to start getting cold. We could power an environment plant off the supercaps, but only for a day or two, tops, and only if we could somehow only do a deck or two.” After short pause, which was the main way Cadotte tended to show emotion, they asked, “Do we know how many survived?”

“Not yet,” Singer responded. “Most of the folks who were with Lieutenant Alexander and me in Main Rec survived, so that could be as many as sixty. Only five people survived in Main Dining.” Somehow, she managed to say that without her gorge rising. “There were four people playing volleyball in the gym, all hale. We know there are about 15 midshipmen down in the Training Center whom we should try to spring when we can, assuming they don’t spring themselves fairly soon. Chef is the only AI we know to still be with us, and given the state of the network he doesn’t have much access to sensors. But from oxygen consumption numbers, it doesn’t look great.”

Cadotte continued to stare into the capacitor panel, nodding. “When the first incident occurred, I was strapped into my bunk, so I only really noticed that the lights were out. I made what turned out to be a mistake, and got out of bed when it seemed like it might be safe—I can shift my vision, so the darkness was merely annoying. I thought I’d go see what was what, and then I got slammed into the floor, and then the ceiling. Once that settled down, I realized the same thing you did, that we were going to need to get more power back online, somehow, so I came here. I’m afraid I let my perplexity get the better of me, because I realize now I’ve been staring at it for close to a two kiloseconds.”

This was a lot of words, for Cadotte, and told Singer more than any medical diagnosis that the younger officer was concussed. Singer looked over to Luchny for confirmation; Luchny nodded, and mimed someone being hit on the head. Singer very specifically did not laugh, if only because it would have made her head hurt.

“Let’s get it switched on, shall we? And then, maybe turn around and let Luchny there give you something short-term for the concussion?”

Cadotte blinked, looked around, saw Luchny, actually smiled, held up a finger in the still-universal gesture for, “Give me a moment”.

They turned back to the job at hand, and said, “Yes, ma’am,” and threw the physical switch, which made a very satisfying *clonk*. More lights came on, as some of the automatic power-routing systems—systems that depended more on hardware than software, deliberately—began to make choices.

So did the circulator fans. After nearly an 5 kiloseconds of silence, the sudden return of the background white-noise, even reduced as it was, seemed loud.