Things Fall Apart: Chapter 3, Part 1

In which news, good and bad, is shared

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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 disaster occurred during Alpha Shift, when all the senior officers would have been at their posts, and many of their junior relief officers were off duty, relaxing in the Main Recreation room, or eating in Main Dining. The largest single group of survivors found so far were in Main Rec, the people in Main Dining having had to contend with cutlery being jostled along with themselves. In addition, a group of midshipmen, and one of the ship’s AIs, had been deliberately isolated for a training exercise by the XO. The middies have been found alive, as has the AI responsible for matter synthesis and reclamation, nicknamed Chef. The XO has not, nor has anyone more senior than a lieutenant.

Uncertain whether it was an attack, sabotage, or purely an accident, the survivors—many of them concussed or otherwise injured—are working to set their ship to rights, or at least right enough to ensure they survive to find out what happened to them!

Alexander and Singer arrived at the rendezvous point with time to spare. Main Recreation, they saw, had become a temporary sick bay. Main Dining had been cleaned up almost entirely; even the broken furniture had mostly been removed, except for some parts still bolted to the deck. Otherwise, somehow, the time had apparently sufficed.

The two officers sat down at the same table they had perched at before they’d gone out on their quest to restore power. As they did so, they felt a change in the air quality. Both tensed, and relaxed almost in unison, first concerned about any change in status, then realizing that the change they were detecting was that the air coming from the nearest vent was noticeably warm.

Chef popped up on a screen, a broad grin on his face. “Cadotte got the environment plant on this deck up. No damage!”

The medic, Kasel, came in just as Chef was delivering this news. “Lieutenants, glad to see you’re good as your words, and then some. I have a report, or should I wait ‘til everyone’s here?”

Singer considered, then said, “Let’s wait. We’ll share out the good and the bad when everyone gets here.”

“We’ll probably have to do it in the corridor, or maybe across the hall. We’re more than’ll fit in here comfortably at this point, and anyway, some of the folks lying on the floor over there are just resting, and probably want to hear it, too.”

Singer forgot herself and nodded, and wished she hadn’t. Kasel saw the wince. “Headache coming back already?”

“I didn’t really think I was doing much compared to some of the others, but apparently I overdid it.”

Kasel grimaced. “Probably so. I hate to pull medical rank again, especially when my particular medical rank just isn’t that high, but I think I’m going to have to insist you and Lieutenant Alexander here actually rest when this little pow-wow is over.”

Singer chose a non-committal grunt, which was not her most authoritative utterance on the day, but the best she could manage at the moment. The good news was that her quarters were probably intact—her cabin was port-side, this deck, and so far, they’d seen no indication of damage there. At least, not that she’d heard of.

While she was woolgathering, she saw more parties arriving. She looked over at Alexander, who looked a bit pale, but nodded. Together, they rose, and went across the hall.

Between the folks lying prone and the standees, there were probably 120 people in the room. All fifteen midshipmen were present, Cadotte had arrived just ahead of them, looking a little smug—and with good reason, since they would not, now, be freezing to death—and she thought she recognized every face who’d been with her in Main Rec when things went dark.

The only problem was, the ship’s assigned complement was closer to five hundred.

Looking around, Singer could see she remained the senior officer present. Worse, no one between her and Alexander in seniority was present, either. Alexander had been exemplary, so far, but that spoke volumes for the surviving complement. No medics, no other engineers, Cadotte appeared to be the senior scientist. She recognized a junior navigator from her watch, a kid who’d just made junior lieutenant.

Woolgathering again. Best to get this over with before the concussion claimed her.

She raised her hand, and everyone came, if not to attention, to order. “Okay, folks, I realize we didn’t do this in the most organized fashion, but if the senior person from each search or repair party could make a report, I think that’s the best way to proceed. We’ll start to my right.”

One of the POs she’d sent searching forward with the intention that they loop back around, that was, and she spoke up, “Lieutenant, we found several people in their quarters, as might be expected. Unfortunately, about half of them were killed by blunt trauma caused by the gravity spasms. The others are all here. The forward radio room was in considerable disarray, and it looked like at least one of the panels had exploded into the room. There were no survivors. My group was the one that looped back starboard. Emergency bulkheads were down as far forward as frame ten, but no further toward the axis than we already knew—the corridor just starboard of Main Rec.

“Having a much smaller number of cabins to search, we took the initiative of heading up, in part to see who might have survived on other decks, and in part to see if we could map out at least some of the hole in our hull. The forward extent on deck six was about the same. On deck five, bulkheads were only down as far forward as frame fourteen, but came further inward—the boulevard itself was blocked by a bulkhead. Port-side still seemed intact and open—lights were coming back by then. We spread out and tried to get open as many compartments as we could to find people, but most people quartered on those decks would also have been on-shift. We were not able to find a safe access point to go higher than deck five.”

Singer closed her eyes for a few seconds. “Thank you, PO. Who’s next?”

Next was the group that had curled back port-side. They’d had more ground to cover on deck seven, since port-side was all intact, and they’d also managed a better proportion of rescues, possibly because there had been no explosive concussion on that side to add trauma to the gravity events. “We also had time to get up to deck six, where port-side was also pretty much intact. However, same problem, most people in those cabins and barracks would have been on-shift.”

One of the groups of midshipmen were next. “Ma’am, we wound up taking a similar tack from the lower decks, once we were sprung. Of course, most of those compartments are storage spaces, so not a lot of people would ordinarily be there. Good news is, all of the ones we did find were alive, although pretty banged up. Ones with nothing broken, we brought back here, but now that we have power we should try to find a way to get to the rest. Starboard side had only a small area with emergency bulkheads down, closest to the hull. We were able to cover decks 8, 9, and 10. We tried to access the ventral boat bay, but the emergency hatches had all the ladderways to it sealed.”

The other middie search party was, conveniently, next to go. “Similar report, port-side, ma’am. Handful of cargo folks, maintenance crews, that kind of thing. No emergency bulkheads down, except for the ladderways down to the boat bay.”

Singer decided to let Cadotte report for their group, and nodded toward them. They proceeded to relate their joint exploits concisely, followed by a quick report on the state of the environment plant, which appeared to be entirely intact.

Singer cued Kasel next. “We’ve got a lot of physical trauma all around, as you might imagine. The main problem is that we don’t have a lot of actual medical equipment. We’ve been raiding lockers for emergency medical supplies, but we’ve just about picked this deck clean. If the survey just reported turns out to be also be a final enumeration of habitable spaces on the ship, we have a problem, because that means the sick bay is either gone, or at least inaccessible right now. I would say we’ve got about 45 people who can’t safely be moved, between the people here in this room and the people the various search parties reported to me. Some of them probably need surgery, and right now, we have no surgeon, and no surgery stations.”

Singer couldn’t find her voice, right at first, after that, but forced herself to squeak out, “Chef?”

“Okay, good news, first: thanks to Lieutenant Cadotte and a couple of the middies they put to work, I have a working data-path between the port-side replication-mass tanks and the replicators here and across the hall. The feeder systems are intact. That means, among other things, I can replicate medical supplies, and of course, food, although I think, if the cargo bays that store them were intact, we should stick with rations for now and save replication for medical supplies. With the environment plant back online, we also have plumbing. All the emergency valves seem to have done what they had to wherever there was a breach, so we haven’t lost too much, and I can replicate some of what we’ve lost.

“Now, the bad news. There are still large areas of the ship I can’t get any access to, yet. In some places, I think network lines, not just processor and routing nodes, are burnt out, and of course, the ship has clearly sustained some degree of physical trauma to the starboard side. We have one fusion plant up, but I have no path yet to the other two. One of them would be above the level anyone could access, and may no longer exist. We have no idea yet about any of our propulsion systems, let alone the time compression drive.

“So far, I’ve found no additional traces of any of the other AIs that ought to be in the network with me. The integrity checks we initiated during our repairs in power room one still all show green. I’ve been conducting a further self-evaluation, however, and find some very odd gaps in my memory. For example, I really hope nobody has a craving for gumbo, because I cannot for the life of me remember my gumbo recipe!”

Most of the crew chucked at that. Singer did not. She was too tired, to concussed, to think through all the implications but it didn’t feel like good news that the only remaining AI had memory gaps.

All eyes were on her, now, though. She had to try to do at least one more smart thing.

“All right, people. We’re battered, but we’re still breathing. I have a feeling PO Kasel is about to insist that I go lie down for a bit, since I took a concussion myself during the incident. Anyone he or his medical staff tells to rest, you rest. Anyone he clears for more duty, go searching, work with Chef to replace enough nodes to get more access, anything that gives us a better picture of what state we’re in. I know we’re all eager to be in on that, but we serve no one if we drop in our tracks. Let’s get to it!”

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