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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!
All eyes were on Singer, 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!”
There was remarkably little muttering. Kasel beckoned Alexander, Singer, and Cadotte all over to him, three dermal patches in hand.
“This,” he held them up, “will make it safe to sleep with your concussions, and go to work healing them. You will still be prone to dizziness and headaches, especially if you overdo it, for a few days. Anything more acute than that, I want to hear it immediately. I believe that all three of your cabins are port-side, this deck, and should be intact. Go to them and sleep for at least 15 kiloseconds.”
Singer wanted on some level to protest, but she was already almost asleep on her feet. Cadotte did open their mouth to protest. Kasel just stared at them. They closed their mouth again, and held out their arm for a patch.
More quietly he said, “Listen. I don’t know much about protocol, but I know that you two,” he nodded at Singer and Alexander “are senior right now. You’re not expendable. Let the folks who took fewer hits to the head and have a bit more energy left do their jobs.”
Alexander had just a little bit of fight left in zir. “And when are you going to sleep, PO?”
“Touché, Lieutenant. I anticipated you. I’ve had two of the orderlies napping for the last 3 kilos or so. Once I vet the rest of the would-be searchers, I’m going to wake them up, and catch at least 38.5 winks. It looks like I’m the closest thing we have left to a doctor aboard, and I’m pretty far from it, so, yeah, I’m in the same boat as you two.”
Satisfied, Alexander said, “Good. Carry on, PO.”
Reluctantly, the three of them wobbled their way in the direction of their cabins.
It was Chef’s voice. Not one Singer was used to hearing in her cabin. She had been asleep, which was good. She could use more sleep, but she’d gotten some, and her head felt less like things inside it were actually sloshing around.
“Fifteen kiloseconds, Lieutenant. From the moment you actually fell asleep, that is. Per Kasel’s orders.”
“That’s…kind of creepy, Chef. On the other hand, I take it that means more processing nodes have been restored and you now have access to more internal sensors.”
“Yes, Lieutenant. Port-side in general seems to have taken very little damage below deck four. Mainly burnt out nodes.”
She considered asking about damage from deck four up, but decided that should wait until she was ready for news, in general, which was not quite yet. Chef was not speaking urgently. He was waking her up because that was the general agreement, the compromise between staying awake until she literally dropped, and getting all the sleep she really needed.
So. “Are sanitary systems functional, then?”
“Completely.” That was almost smug, but then, sanitary systems were the other side of the coin of Chef’s duties, after all, part of the recycling side.
“Is there enough water for a proper shower, or should I stick to a sonic?”
Chef seemed to actually think about that. Singer wondered how artificial pauses like this were. Surely, an AI could think through a question like that faster than any person would. “I think I have to recommend a sonic, right now, Lieutenant, but depending on how things go today, I think there’s a good chance we can release some water ration to real showers later today.”
So, mixed goods, but hopeful. If all her bad news today included notes of hope, she’d still count it a good day, under the circumstances.
“Sonic it is. I assume we’re still using Main Dining and Main Rec as gathering points?”
“Please inform…well, anyone who seems to be leading any sort of effort that I’ll be there in a kilo.” Her stomach rumbled. “Do we have rations up from storage?”
“We do. Do you want me to have someone run you a couple bars?”
“No, it can wait ‘til I get to Dining. See you in a kilo.” She hoped he’d take the hint to withdraw his attention from her quarters.
“Yes’m.” He wasn’t on screen, but she still imagined a salute, that time.
Ablutions abluted, clean uniform applied, Singer felt several degrees closer to human. She still hurt comprehensively, as one might expect for having been tossed around like a cat toy by gravity generators gone wild. Still, she reflected that it could have been far worse. If any one of those spasms had gone significantly higher than 1G, neither she, nor anyone else on board would be here to complain about their bruises.
Singer arrived a few seconds later at what she was starting to think of as the makeshift command center, and chose to peek in on Main Rec, first. It was still being used as a sick bay, but now, the patients at least had palettes on the floor, and there were tablets acting as medical monitors at the head of each.
Kasel, she noted, was still awake—and it was definitely still, and not again, based on the circles under his eyes. For all that, he didn’t look haggard, just really tired. “Lieutenant,” he greeted her. “You slept?”
“Very well, PO. But you haven’t, have you.”
“I caught a couple naps, as promised, but that’s about it. I assume we’re about to have something like a briefing?”
“Then I plan to finally go get some sleep for real after that. Honest.”
She gave him a hard look she’d learned from her grandmother, but she doubted it was actually necessary. She was pretty sure he was going to fall asleep at the table during the briefing and have to be carried to a bunk.
Her stomach issued more commentary at that point, loud enough to be heard, even now that the some of the regular noises of ship-life had returned. Singer’s look turned rueful. “I’m going to address that complaint. See you over there in a few, PO.”
“Ma’am.” Again with the sketched salute. She was almost positive nobody had saluted the actual captain nearly as often as she had been saluted since the accident. She filed that away to wonder at later.
Across the hall, she saw Alexander and Cadotte had both beaten her there, working their way ration bars and drinks, and also that someone had anticipated her, and re-bolted some of the intact tables in a new configuration that created one longer table. It was a good notion, both as a temporary briefing-room table, and honestly for actual dining. The need for a sense of “we’re in this together” was going to be very strong for a while. Singer waved at them, then went to where the rations were stacked for easy access, grabbed herself two bars of e-rats and a bulb that purported to be coffee. Thinking about the bulb-shape, she realized, belatedly, that gravity was still very light. Another question for the briefing.
She sat down on the bench near Alexander, intending to enjoy breakfast in companionable silence with zir and Cadotte, only to find Alexander looking at her oddly, and then at the chair that had been clearly bolted, near them, but at the head of the table.
Singer blinked. Right, she thought to herself. Senior officer. Then, somewhat sheepishly, she shifted to the chair.
Others started to filter in, almost every one following a similar pattern—waving, grabbing rations, and then taking a seat at the table. Singer was allowing her mind to wander, right now, when everyone was still more in “breakfast” mode rather than “briefing”, and mused that they’d gone from being a quasi-naval hierarchy to a self-organizing collective with a vague sense of rank with remarkably little effort. At no point had she really organized her senior staff, but these were the people who had been leading the effort.
She made herself get through one whole bar and at least half her coffee, by which time, most of the rest, even the late-comers, had also gotten through all, or most, of their ration. Sharpening her focus, literally and metaphorically, she said, “All right, folks. Let’s get started. Chef, do I remember correctly that there are rations stacked across the hall, too?”
“Then close the door, please.”