Things Fall Apart: Chapter 4, Part 1

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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!

Everyone dispersed take their breaks, and then again once they firmed up what they were going to do next, leaving Singer alone with a larger datapad and keyboard Chef replicated for her. The dining hall was not, perhaps, the most convenient “office” for the skipper. The doors couldn’t be kept closed all the time, so privacy was non-existent.

Right now, however, Singer reasoned that visibility and availability to solve issues quickly were more important than her comfort. Much as she might prefer a quiet place to ask Chef the dumb questions she hoped he could answer without being overheard, she needed to be accessible.

As she sat back down at the head of the table, Chef asked quietly, “Skipper, would you like me to replicate you better chair?”

She shook her head, “Not yet, Chef. Worst comes to worst, we’re going to need to replicate a whole command deck worth of equipment at some point. Then? I’ll definitely want a good chair.”

“That’s a point. The good news is, there’s nothing really special about the Command Deck. It’s all just computers talking to each other in the end. You could fly the ship from that pad in front of you if you had to.”

“Aren’t there special hard-lines or something?”

“There are, for redundant and higher-speed communication, but they’re not strictly necessary.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. While we’re on something like the subject, is there anything else we need to do to signify a change in command? Forms to fill, codes to learn, that kind of thing?”

“Already in your mailbox, at least, some of it is. There’s stuff I can’t access just now---I’m feeling like a broken record about that, there’s just a lot of stuff that I don’t usually keep in my own memory, because I don’t need it. So until we get access to one of the redundant storage cores, all I have is what I remember personally. We’re lucky that includes a lot of replication patterns, although there’s a lot of more esoteric things I don’t have to hand. And then there’s that gumbo recipe I seem to have mislaid. That one’s itching me, I won’t lie.”

“We’re going to be on ration bars for a little while longer, anyway, I suspect. Anything else you think I need to know?”

“Not right now.”

“Then I guess it’s time to start getting through that paperwork. With any luck, somebody’ll find us one day, and I’d hate for them to be cranky at me because I didn’t fill out all the right forms!”

Chuckling, Chef slid off screen, allowing a straightforward chart of status reports to replace him.

Singer found herself hyperfocusing, and losing track of time. On some level, she expected to have been distracted by more reports by now, but most of those reports were getting filed into her inbox, rather than verbally. As a result, it was nearly fifteen kiloseconds later, Cadotte’s voice came over the intercom. This was important not just because of their message, but because it meant that internal communication was working again, at least, partially.

“Cadotte to Singer.”

Singer blinked, shaken out of her focus mode and suddenly all too aware that she had not moved out of her chair in over a half-shift. She was stiff, her bruises ached, and she needed to pee.

“Go ahead, Lieutenant!”

“Ma’am, I’ve managed to get access to the drone garage on the ventral flight deck. Had to get a suit and set up an emergency airlock to get access---the whole of deck eleven is depressurized. Good news is, the deck isn’t blown off, it just has a couple of holes in it. They’re too big for emergency patches, but we should have at least a few plates in storage before we need to start replicating.

“Of the twenty H4s that should be in here, three are missing. I believe Lieutenant Alexander reported one had been found wrecked in the time compressor bay, so that’s two unaccounted for. The rest are physically intact. I’ve done some quick diagnostics on two of them, as well, and the software all looks clean. Since comms are working, I’m betting data traffic will, as well. Chef?”

“One sec,” the AI responded. “Yes, you should be seeing H4L1 lighting up.”

“Confirmed! We’re in business!”

Singer found she was breathing a little easier. “Nice work, Lieutenant. How’s your drone piloting?”

“Not great, but I think PO Wasserman’s still with us, and that’s his jam.”

Chef responded, “He is. I can take a couple, of course, although my attention’s getting a little diffuse at this point, so having a human or two to operate the drones to examine outside would be a better bet. I’m going to need one or two to help with surgery very soon. PO Kasel is already awake, and now we have access, I think he’s going to want to move on those critical cases almost at once.”

Singer said, “Alright, then. Do you know where Wasserman is?”

“Yes’m. He’s across the hall. He’s not entirely ambulatory, but he’s conscious and, I’m betting, more than a little bored. I can get him a tablet, route some of the visual output to a screen in the Rec Deck, and he can take it from there.”

Singer considered. “Is he ambulatory enough to come over here, instead? It’s less crowded, and I’m not sure I want everyone seeing what I think we’re going to see once we get a look at the ship from the outside, just yet.”

“Good point. I’ll take care of it, have him set up here at the table with you if that’s all right.”

“That will suit. Cadotte?”

“Yes, skipper?”

“Are you comfortable enough in a suit to run through diagnostics on the rest of the H4s? I don’t want any surprises, and I suspect we’re going to need them all pretty soon.”

“Yes’m. I’ve got about 7000 seconds of air and it shouldn’t take me more than 5000 seconds to vet the rest of these. I’ll let Chef know when I’ve got two or three more vetted so he can take control of them to help Kasel with surgery. Shouldn’t be long.”

“Carry on, then. Chef, tell Wasserman to take his time. I have a few biological needs to take care of.”