“Approaching the Dailums system now. Helm, prepare to drop to sub-light”. The ship dropped down from faster-than-light speed, its sub-light engines flaring up with a dull amber-golden glow which grew brighter as the ship began to cruise. The blackish profile of the ships’ hull was punctuated by the vessels’ green, red and white running lights, as well as the lighting in the windows and portholes which housed her crew. Each side of the hull featured the nameplate ‘A.S.N. Kosmosa’ in a silvery grey, preceded by a large shield emblem featuring three entwined roses in ruby red, sapphire blue and emerald green, subdued against the dark colours of the hull. On the bridge, the crew worked quietly in the blue hue from their work stations, the bridge lights themselves dimmed so that the crew didn’t have to strain their eyes during their shifts. A ships officer stood by the helmsman checking their present heading, while another was stood closer to the front of the bridge, looking out through the large bridge windows towards their destination: A small planet within the system, mostly covered by ocean but with two distinct land masses that could be clearly seen even at their current distance. His uniform bore the markings of a star navy Captain; four silver braids and a loop around the end of each tunic sleeve, with the visor of his cap displaying a laurel wreath in the same silver braid, the left breast of his tunic bore two rows of service ribbons earned from a long career in the military. His short black hair was visible beneath the rim of the cap, though fading with age, with dark blue eyes that formed part of his permanent frown gazing off towards the planet. Walking up the ramp leading from the bridge to the rest of the ship came another two men in officers’ dress; the first was a man clearly into his thirties at earliest, with three silver braids and a loop on his sleeves to denote his position of Commander, along with a small number of ribbons on his left breast. The other was much younger man with light brown hair and blue eyes, the usual thick rings on his sleeves instead replaced by a single wavy band which rose and fell in silver braid, holding a small electronic display in his left palm. The Captain partly turned to see them as he heard their footsteps approaching on the metal floor.
“Mister Karteris, good timing” he said in greeting.
“Yes, sir, it looks that way” replied the older officer, noting the approaching planet as he stepped up to stand beside the Captain “And I found Sparks on my way up here”. Upon hearing that, the younger officer perked up attentively.
“Yes, sir, I’ve got the system information you requested from Garnizons Trispadsmit” told the young man, presenting the Captain with the small display “They just sent over the updates now”. The Captain took the display, gently thumbing the screen to begin reading through it, though admittedly quite briefly.
“Thank you, Sparks” he said, in a rather flat, corporate tone. He then turned to look back over to the rows of workstations “Crewman Laima, commence scanning for the signature”.
“Scan’s been active since we entered range of the planet, Captain” she called back, only briefly looking up from her station “So far no signs of any ships, drive trails or even a debris field”.
“I’d say it’s Skrek pirates” the young officer suddenly interjected, the two senior officers turning abruptly to look at him “They love these sorts of unclaimed systems to base themselves from”.
“Yes, Mister Lauris, that will be all” replied the Captain, with a somewhat gentle but firm inflection. It didn’t take the officer long to realise what he was supposed to do and for a moment the two senior officers thought he might lose his composure with embarrassment.
“Yes, Captain” he simply answered quickly, before giving a brief bow of his head and turning to leave, taking his leave with a brisk walking pace. The two senior officers simply smiled slyly, before facing once again out of the bridge windows, Karteris smartly linking his hands behind his back.
“So what do you think it is, Mister Karteris?” the Captain asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine, sir” came the response “But it’s strange it happened in a habited system of all places”.
“Yes… And I’m not sure I like what’s written here” said the Captain, now taking the time to properly read through the information “From what’s been observed; the planet is largely industrialised and broken up by different nation states, the majority of whom are violent”.
“The ships’ computer said the same” Karteris agreed “It does look like a nice enough world, though. But then worlds of this class generally do”.
“Hm…” nodded the Captain. He read on for a few moments longer, before deactivating the display “Well that’s me off. Maintain speed and heading, Mister Karteris”.
“Sir” affirmed Karteris, as the Captain stepped past him to depart from the bridge.
Sparks, meanwhile, had returned to is post in the communications room. It was a rather small soundproof room, much like a cabin, located close to the fire control room and officers quarters just beneath the bridge. Much of it was taken up by the work station console and the blue aerogel display, but the room did have a certain snugness to it; a small bed took up the opposing wall, a table littered with papers and display units, while a metal clock was mounted to the far wall set to shipboard time. He had only just sat back down at the comm station to check for any missed transmissions when the door opened again, in walking another communications specialist; a woman who was both older and shorter than him, with dark brown bobbed hair and brown eyes behind a pair of glasses.
“Sveiki, Lauris” she greeted, closing the door behind herself “Slow shift?”
“Oh, sveiki, Balta” he replied, standing himself back up again rather than get too comfortable at the console “Yeah, just, took a message up to the Captain. Things have been quiet since we left Arborean space, you’ll probably be bored”.
“Well I’d rather be bored than have too much to do” Balta responded, removing her cap to hang it on a metal coat rack placed up beside the door “Spending eight hours working DK-1 with messages for families and friends is giving me hand cramps”. Sparks just smiled.
“At least you’re not the one constantly making themselves look bad in front of the Captain” he put in “Every time I go up there I embarrass myself”.
“Oh that’s just because you’re new, the Captain understands” replied Balta "You probably tried weighing in on something the officers were discussing, didn’t you?” Sparks moved to speak, even his arms emoting as he tried to formulate a response that didn’t make him sound bad.
“Well, I… I thought he’d appreciate my input” he eventually managed to come out with “I mean he did want to find out what we’re here for, after all”.
“That’s why he has the bridge crew. He’s going to prefer to hear it from his first officer over the second comms specialist” Balta explained “You just tell him what he asked you for, then you leave”.
“But then why did he ask me to contact Garnizons Trispadsmit and ask them to send over the data they have on this system?” he asked “He must have everything I gave him on the ships’ computer already”.
“He probably just wanted to be thorough, you know what he’s like” she said with a mix of dismissal and sympathy “And you should be going to bed”. Sparks glanced up at the clock, noticing how the time was now starting to get late for him.
“Yeah, yeah you’re right” he agreed, stepping past her to head for the door “Have a good night, Balta”.
“Goodnight, Lauris” she politely replied, sitting herself at the console as Sparks retired himself from the room.
Up in the canteen, the room was populated sparsely with crewmen enjoying their time off, many of them just having come off shift and opted to unwind in the open plan canteen, with the bar being attended by a similarly sailor suited crewman. The biggest single group in the room was around one of the corner tables, where a sizeable gathering of crewmen and marines, some with star navy metal drinking flasks, had assembled around one of the marines; he had light brown hair and similarly light blue eyes, he looked a good few years older than the other marines present though still fairly young. His light grey fatigues had two thin fabric boards slipped over the epaulettes that had been banded with a silver outline. The group of marines and crewmen bobbed and bounced energetically as the older marine strummed away at a small wooden guitar, one leg propped up on the edge of a spare chair.
“It’s the legend of Daneslayer, known from Whitewall to the sea; from the tale of blood and noodles gained his place in history” he sang along to the upbeat tune “He felled the foe of Atlas feared through out the Vangle lands, the villain known as Placis did fall to Eastwood’s hands”. Not too far away two Marines were sat quietly watching the group enjoying themselves, each of them wearing the flat, four-pointed army cap used by the military, with the rim colour in khaki.
“Raitis really knows all the classics” the first commented, he was a man in his late 30’s, with blonde centrally parted hair and green eyes, his uniform epaulettes bearing a fully silver fabric board with a pair of golden chevrons in the centre “Even if he ran out of new ones a while ago”.
“Ahh, you’ve got to have something to keep you from getting bored on these assignments, sir” replied the other, who was only a few years younger, black haired and blue eyed with a tall, muscular build. His own epaulette boards featured a silver band around the edge, with two silver chevrons along the dark grey centre “I guess everything starts to sound like you’ve heard it before when you get to our age”.
“Oi. Watch your mouth” the first replied flatly “We’re not that old, Pavils”. The second just smiled, somewhat smugly as he leaned against the seats’ backrest.
“You are for a Captain, sir” he wryly retorted. The senior marine rested laxly in his seat, almost dejected at the thought.
“Yeah…” he agreed, before lifting his thermos to his mouth. Pavils waited until it looked like he was about ready to lower his drink before speaking again.
“So what are you going to do, sir?” he asked.
“I don’t know” came the blunt response “We’ve both been doing this a long time, Pavils. We’re two old soldiers, who’ve reached the height of their careers”.
“Speak for yourself, Roberts, I’ve only been doing this about twenty years” replied Pavils “I might get that coveted officer promotion like you did, leave being an enlisted man behind me and retire an officer”. The older marine just smiled cheerlessly.
“Yeah… Not sure there’s going to be many chances for that on assignments like these” he said.
“Well, you never know, sir” Pavils ended, as the pair returned their attention to the music and the crowd, who had just finished applauding Raitis.
“Thank you, you’re too kind” he said, holding a hand up graciously “Any requests?”
“Do Big Drum!” came the first response, a crewman at the front, followed by a few cheers of approval from other sailors and marines.
“Well that was quick” Raitis smiled, before lifting his guitar up, taking a moment to check the strings before starting to play “When first I went to soldier, with rifle on my shoulder, there was nobody bolder in the corps, boys, oh!”
In one of the bunk rooms on B Deck, a young man was reading off of a small handheld display as he lay with his back propped up against the headboard of a thin metal bunk bed. He had short, fluffy ginger-brown hair and brown eyes behind a set of wire-framed glasses, with his tunic, beret, boots and square-collar neatly tidied away beneath the bed to reveal the black under shirt, socks and trouser braces worn beneath. There were only a couple of other crewmembers in the room at this point and he was enjoying the peace and quiet when the door slid open; in came two other crewmen, entering mid conversation.
“It was a starbase, Leons, it didn’t go anywhere” one was saying, who was relatively taller than the other, with dark brown hair and similarly deep blue eyes “And you know what? I liked it that way, it was familiar, when I got time off I could leave the station-”.
“That’s great, Dzons, but I’m just saying I think you’re failing to really appreciate the upside to being on a ship” the other interjected, who was shorter than the first, with thick black hair and blue eyes “For someone in the star navy you don’t like space very much”.
“Ah- Hey, no, that’s not true” protested Dzons “Dzili Kosmoss Viens was a deep space station, the clue’s even in the name”.
“That’s not the same, though” Leons replied dismissively, crossing through the bunk room to the far wall where a narrow, elongated window looked out from the starboard hull. He gestured out of the window and the view that it offered; the now much closer planet dominating the panorama, the blue and green world contrasting with the stark black void speckled by white distant stars “Look at that. You wouldn’t get to see stuff like this on a starbase. If I’d gone all those months in training just to end up on some base somewhere, I’d have quit. Or, transferred, or something”.
“Didn’t you want to be a pilot but you dropped out of the program?” the red head put in from where they were sitting.
“Nobody’s talking to you, Vilnis” Leons shot back at him “I just want him to be making the most out of all this”.
“I didn’t realise you cared so much about his career” said Vilnis.
“I can be very compassionate!” Leons insisted, stepping over towards Vilnis’s bunk “And I just think that, since he’s in the navy and all, he should probably enjoy himself more now that he’s out here”.
“Would you please be quiet?” came a complaint from a few bunks across, prompting the two boys to look at a female crewman who had addressed them, with dark blonde hair and grey eyes that clearly looked tired “Some of us have a shift starting soon”.
“Sorry, Mendrys” replied Leons, lifting a hand up to her before turning back to Vilnis “Come on, Vilnis, back me up here. Who doesn’t join the star navy to see the galaxy?”
“Uh, I didn’t. Just, putting that out there” Dzons answered, a little hesitantly “I mean, I did, but I didn’t, you know, want to go explore it”.
“What about you? You didn’t join to get stuck on some planet or space station, did you?” Leons went on, resting an arm on Vilnis’s mattress as he continued, when a sly grin crossed his face “Maybe it’s because you thought your girlfriend would like a man in uniform, was that it?” Vilnis’s expression fell to one of indifference, if not slight annoyance, as he gazed at his colleague.
“It wasn’t that” he responded in a deadpan tone.
“I wouldn’t blame you if it was, I mean, it’s all the reason I’d need” said Leons, before swiftly taking a step away from the end of the bunk, his arm taking with it a picture frame between his fingers from under Vilnis’s pillow which he held up; it showed what looked liked some kind of celebration, with Vilnis in his navy uniform standing happily embracing a girl next to him; she had brown eyes and long, wavy black hair, wearing a navy blue dress with exposed shoulders and a set of partly see-through sleeves. Vilnis quickly perked up upon seeing it.
“Hey!” he squeaked, crawling forward on the bunk to try and snatch it back, only for Leons to step away from the bed and out of reach.
“She looks like she treats you rather roughly, if you know what I mean” Leons went on, almost childish in his delight at teasing the red head. Or at least he was until Vilnis jumped off the end of the bunk and grabbed him, the pair toppling into the frame of an opposing bunk with a clatter.
“Stop touching my stuff!” snapped Vilnis.
“Uh, guys? You shouldn’t be fighting!” Dzons fretted as he quickly moved in to try and get Vilnis off of Leons.
“Hey, you can’t hit me!” protested Leons as Vilnis grappled with him “You’ll end up in isolation for striking a fellow crewmember!”
“That’s enough!” came an angry shout. The pair stopped fighting to look over at Mendrys, who had sat up in bed to glare wearily at them “You’re not at the academy any more, you’re sailors, now pack your shit in and act like it”. With that, she flopped back onto the mattress and pulled her covers up over herself, leaving the two crewmen sheepishly quiet. Vilnis quietly snatched the picture back from Leons and went back to his bunk, while Leons just smartened his uniform again.
“Yeah, uh… Sorry, Vilnis. Mendrys” he apologised, then turned to Dzons “Just give it time and I think you’ll like it here”.
“Sure, just, no more fighting? Please?” Dzons asked.
“Don’t look at me! He’s like a little Gremlin when he gets upset” complained Leons, while Vilnis just flashed a devilish smile before returning to his reading.
On the bridge, things were still quiet. The crew busied themselves with their duties while Karteris stood up by the foremost pane of glass observing the planet ahead of them, the ship approaching in what visually appeared to be diagonally to the world before them.
“Beginning approach for geocentric orbit, Lieutenant” the helmsman reported, the ships’ officer stood nearby leaning over to check the ships’ position on the helm station.
“Good. Stay on course, Havardis” she replied.
“Crewman Laima, is there still nothing on sensors?” Karteris called over to the monitoring station.
“Nothing, sir. Sorry” came the response. Karteris frowned with frustration with the lack of information, considering his possible options while gazing through the panoramic view afforded by the bridge windows.
“There’s got to be something…” he pondered “We were sent out here because something was detected in the first place. If we found it once, I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to find it again”.
“I don’t know what to tell you, sir” replied Laima, returning her focus to the sensor readouts.
“If it’s a drive trail, or FTL signature, it might have dissipated by now” suggested another crewman.
“Maybe, if there’s no residual ions present” Laima agreed “If it was only on sensors for a moment, then there might not have been much of a trace left by the time we got here”.
“Well, do what you can” said Karteris. Without warning, as if acted upon by some unseen force, the bow of the ship suddenly reared upwards. The ship quickly and violently climbed with a port list, the suddenness of the manoeuvrer and extreme motion overwhelmed the inertial dampeners’ ability to compensate, giving the bridge crew no chance to react as they were flung off balance, everybody crashing to the floor as the Kosmosa pivoted violently forwards moments later. Sounds of metal groaning reverberated throughout the hull, alongside the sound of tearing. Almost immediately alarms began sounding on the bridge and a series of indicator lights on the ships’ master display unit towards the back wall of the bridge lit up in red, followed by the brief flicker of lighting across the ship as the power systems surged. Karteris caught himself on the helm station to avoid being slung across the deck, looking around the bridge with the same confusion as the rest of the crew.
“Sir! Hull breach reports coming in across multiple decks and compartments!” called a crewman, who had managed to somehow hold onto his station as the inertia began to settle.
“Close all bulkhead doors!” ordered Karteris. The Lieutenant that had been thrown from the helm pulled herself up, staggering over to one of the consoles to follow the command, her hat having been lost somewhere along the line. With a few taps of the console, the heavy bulkhead doors across the ship began to seal, accompanied by the red emergency lights and ringing alarm to warn the crew that they were closing. Within moments, indicators began appearing on the MSD showing that most of the bulkheads had successfully closed, but not all.
“Doors are closed, sir” called the Lieutenant. With that, things fell quiet again, the crew standing themselves up carefully to check themselves for injuries.
“Is everyone alright?” asked Karteris, to which came a mostly contented response from the bridge crew, who were all still quite stunned and in a daze, unsure what had just happened to them “Crewman Havardis, get us back on course, stop this drifting. Miss Renate, note the time and enter it into the log”.
“Sir” the Lieutenant affirmed, picking her hat from the floor before moving to depart. It wasn’t long before the Captain arrived on the bridge, his tunic, cap and tie missing, instead with just a hastily fastened black waistcoat on.
“Mister Karteris, report” he said firmly, with a notable hint of urgency to his tone.
“We don’t know, sir” Karteris answered “We were on course for geocentric orbit and we just… It’s like we hit something”. The Captain sharply turned to look at Havardis, who had returned to the helm to steady the ship.
“All stop” he ordered.
“Yes, sir, all stop” replied the helmsman, directing the helm to come to a halt. An EOT rang as the engine room was signalled to cut propulsion, while the Captain turned back to Karteris.
“Close the bulkhead doors” instructed the Captain.
“The doors are closed, sir, but not all of them” replied Karteris “They might be damaged and jammed open”.
“Was it a sub-space mine?” the Captain went on, stepping over to one of the windows.
“No, sir” replied Karteris, following the Captain as he surveyed the exterior from the panes of glass as best as he could. Although dark, the ships’ running and interior lights were illuminating the hull just enough that it was possible to see that at least a degree of damage had been done to the ship; a window had clearly been blown out somewhere on B Deck and debris could be seen scattered in the wake of the ship, while patches of the outer hull had buckled and plating come loose from the force put upon the hull, the loud, low groaning of stressed metal echoing again.
“Right… Mister Karteris, find Lieutenant Commander Jekabs in engineering and have him sound the ship, bring a damage report to me and we’ll go over it in my cabin” the Captain instructed, before turning to the rest of the bridge crew “Crewman Azuls! Begin re-opening bulkhead doors that don’t lead to damaged sections of the ship! Crewman Uldis! Send word to medical, I want to know how many casualties we’ve sustained. And get me a roll call from all department heads”. With a polite but loud response to the Captain, the bridge crew wasted no time in setting about their duties. Karteris departed the bridge via its C Deck ramp, passing a bewildered Sparks who had come looking for answers.
“Sir, what’s going on?” he asked, still mostly out of uniform “I was just getting to sleep”.
“We’re trying to find out, Sparks” Karteris quickly replied, walking past him on his way to engineering. As he made his way along C Deck to the stern of the ship, bulkhead doors were being slowly opened and people were beginning to wander about. The crew at least had some idea of what to do in these types of situation, but the marines seemed hopelessly out of their depth. All manner of theories about what could have happened were being discussed between different groups as he briskly passed through the companionways; ‘We must have hit a meteor’
‘They’ve probably tried to avoid something’
‘I bet there was a power surge and it blew a thruster. A similar thing happened when I was on the Majestiks’. Karteris eventually made it to the C Deck entrance to the engineering section, soon arriving in the engine room itself; a large, almost cavernous room that stretched off into the distance, filled with machinery and electronics, the ceiling lined by the main reactor casing running the length of the room. The engineering crew were extremely busy, rushing about making checks and minor repairs to the components within.
“Have you got the pumps working!?” called one of the crew from the gantry ahead of Karteris, who was wearing a dark blue set of overalls in place of the usual tunic and square-collar like the rest of the engineer team.
“Not yet!” came the response from somewhere below.
“Well keep at it! If we have to vent the drive, we’ll be in a world of trouble!” he shouted, before turning to spot Karteris. He quickly stood himself more smartly, arms moving to his sides “Commander”.
“Senior Chief” replied Karteris politely “Where’s the Chief Engineer?”
“He was thrown over the railing when everything happened, sir” explained the crewman “He’s been taken to medical with a head injury. I’m in command here for now”.
“Alright…” Karteris said with a subdued, low exhalation. He knew that it couldn’t be helped, but he did wish it hadn’t been the Chief Engineer of all people “What’s your name, SC?”
“Teodors, sir” the crewman answered “Senior Chief Petty Officer, engineering”.
“That’s, alright, you don’t have to tell me everything” replied Karteris “I need a damage report, the Captain wants to know how bad things are”.
“I can do a round with you, sir. Show you how things are from what we’ve seen” Teodors offered.
“That would be best” said Karteris “I’ll need you to come with me to the Captain’s cabin, too, he wants to go over the details”.
“Right, sir, I can do that” smiled Teodors, leading Karteris round the main entrance towards a set of thin metal stairs leading down from the gantry “Look smart, everyone! The first officer’s come to see us!”
Sparks entered the comms room, now properly dressed again, to find Balta sat at the console nursing her hand.
“Any idea what’s happening?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine” she replied, giving a sore hiss as she flexed her wrist and thumb “I banged my hand on the edge of the console”.
“I’ll give you a hand, then. No pun intended” said Sparks with a smile, moving to swap places with her. She stood up and allowed him to take his seat at the console. The pair looked up as another low groan from the hull could be heard throughout the ship “Do you think we’ll have to go back?”
“Oh, don’t say it…” groaned Balta “If we do it’ll be non-stop messaging for us in here”. It really didn’t take very long for the survey to be conducted in the engineering section and an evaluation drawn up, Karteris and Teodors were soon on their way back along C Deck to the officers quarters under the bridge. Karteris took the lead as they approached Captain Modris’s cabin, giving a polite knock at the door.
“Come” came the sharp reply from inside. He opened the door and stepped in, closing it behind Teodors once they’d entered. The Captain had put his tunic, hat and tie on and was waiting for them inside. The cabin was the largest and most comfortable cabin of all the officer quarters, which in turn were larger and more comfortable than any other living space aboard; there was a door on the far right wall leading to the bedroom, while the room they were in served as a mixture of a study and a lounge room, with wooden chairs and a desk featuring a built-in terminal, a lounge seat and armchair against the far side of the room, an old clock stood against one of the end walls and a coffee table was centred to the seating arrangement.
“Captain, this is Senior Chief Petty Officer Teodors” Karteris said in introduction “Chief Engineer Jekabs was injured, he’s in medical being treated right now, making Crewman Teodors acting head of engineering”. The Captain gave a nod, before turning to Teodors.
“Do you have the damage report?” he asked.
“Yes, sir” replied Teodors, holding up a handheld display and gesturing to the terminal “May I?”
“Of course” nodded the Captain. The three men stepped over to the terminal and Teodors connected his device, loading up a display of the ship much like the bridge MDU, distracted for a moment by another painful groan from the hull.
“From what we can tell; there’s significant structural damage across the ship, with hull breaches here on A Deck, here and here on B Deck, here on C Deck and across these sections of D and E Decks, mostly concentrated around the midship” explained Teodors, using a finger to gesture to the different sections in turn “Since the initial incident, we’ve detected an average drop in hull integrity of about 1.2% per minute. Have your computers come up with the same on the bridge?”
“That’s right” agreed the Captain “What do you suggest we do to make repairs?” Teodors rested his forearm against the desk as he looked the display over, before turning his head to face the two officers.
“There’s nothing I could suggest, sir” he replied, his tone surprisingly unchanged “She’s going to break apart”. Modris and Karteris looked at him with alarm, unable to properly register the thought of the ship being damaged beyond repair after such a seemingly short span of time, from such a mysterious cause.
“But she can’t founder…” said the Captain, stunned.
“She can’t fly either, sir” replied Teodors, reaching over to indicate again to the different highlighted sections of the ship display “Look: the strain on the hull, which has already been breached, is only getting worse as time passes. If we had the time I could have damage control teams access the exterior and begin making repairs, but it would take too long. With this amount of damage to the superstructure she can’t possibly hold together”. With that, he pulled over his handheld, ejecting the stylus from its top right corner with a click and started writing on the screen with it, while the two officers mulled over the new information.
“Mister Karteris, gather all ships officers onto the bridge. I’ll be up shortly” ordered the Captain flatly. Without a word, Karteris looked at the two for a moment, then turned to leave, closing the door with a click behind him “How long do we have, Crewman Teodors?”
“I’m just working that out now, sir” he replied, in the tone of voice you’d expect from somebody working in tech support “If our computers are right and she’s losing structural integrity at a rate of about 1.2% per minute, that’s… I’d say fifty minutes…? Yes, that sounds about right”.
“Fifty minutes…” echoed the Captain, still in a bit of a shock, which wasn’t made any better by the sound of the hull creaking.
“That’s assuming the engine room isn’t breached, sir” added Teodors “If that were to happen the drive core would explode”.
“Can’t we vent the core?” asked the Captain. Teodors simply responded with a sigh, wishing he could give the Captain something good.
“We’ve already looked at it, sir; the pumps to vent the core were damaged in the accident” he explained “The warping to the superstructure’s jammed the valves, which is also why some of the bulkheads have failed to close. And as soon as the superheated core comes into contact with the cold vacuum the reaction will be catastrophic”. The Captain took a moment to compose himself, straightening himself up.
“Thank you, Crewman” he said after a moments pause “Return to engineering, direct maintenance efforts there. I’ll brief the command crew about our course of action”.
“Of course, sir” replied Teodors. He disconnected his handheld from the terminal, before giving a polite nod of the head and taking his leave from the room. The Captain took a moments pause to himself, before exiting the cabin. He briskly made his way up the ramp and onto the bridge, where the ships officers had all gathered in a small cluster to wait for him. Once he arrived they smartly organised themselves into a semi-circle, watching him step to the front of the crowd in order to address them. And even though they had other tasks to handle, the bridge crew couldn’t help but try to eavesdrop.
“Officers, the damage to the ship is too severe for the damage control teams to manage. We have to be ready to abandon ship” he said bluntly. With the exception of Karteris, the officers looked alarmed. If it hadn’t been the Captain who’d said it, it was unlikely any of them would have believed it, even with the occasional stress groans of the damaged ship “The plan will be to make for the nearby habitable planet in this system, then group up on the surface and await rescue. Mister Karteris, I want you to have the lifeboats loaded and ready to launch”.
“Yes, sir” replied Karteris sharply while the Captain turned to the others.
“Mister Linards, sound the alarm for all hands to gather at their mustering stations” he went on grimly “Miss Renate, you will head to E Deck and have all drop ships and supply pods loaded and ready to launch with supplies for when we make landfall. Mister Gothards, you’ll help Mister Karteris on C Deck. And Mister Martins will remain on the bridge with me. Get things done quickly and keep order, we can’t have any panic. If we do this properly, we can have the ship evacuated within half an hour. Carry on, please”. And like that, the officers set off to carry out their orders, all except Karteris, who stayed a moment to pull the Captain aside.
“Captain, I feel that I wouldn’t be doing my job as first officer if I didn’t remind you how dangerous we decided the planet was” he advised.
“I’m aware, Mister Karteris” replied the Captain “As you’ll be in charge of the evacuation, I’m leaving it to you to find a suitable landing site for our forces to regroup at”. There was a pause. Karteris looked conflicted, as though he was considering whether or not to speak again.
“Yes, sir” Karteris eventually replied, masking what concerns he might have had in stoicism like the others.
It wasn’t long before the ship was abuzz with activity; alarms were ringing loudly throughout the decks and hallways of the ship, people were moving to C Deck with their minimal belongings to gather at their muster stations, having been told not to take anything they couldn’t easily carry on their person. In the comms room, things were getting equally busy now that the Captain had arrived bearing a handheld display.
“The ship’s badly damaged, we’re ordering everybody to the lifeboats” he explained to the pair, passing the display to Sparks “That’s our position and an explanation as to what’s happened. Send a distress call back to Arborean space”.
“The, official navy distress signal, sir?” asked Sparks, almost hesitant in taking the display.
“Yes, at once” answered the Captain firmly “Tell whoever responds to send a rescue ship as soon as possible”. With that, he briskly departed the room, leaving the pair to start transmitting, Sparks hastily starting to input the displays’ information. Out in the main deck space on C Deck, the access hatches to the lifeboats had been opened up and crewmen were beginning to load small piles of kit and supplies aboard, whatever could be managed from food stores to medical supplies to clothing. On the port side of C Deck, Karteris was directing the loading efforts, while on the starboard side Vilnis, now fully dressed, Leons and a few others were loading their own boats.
“Alright, that’s as much as we can fit in the compartments” said Vilnis, folding up the backrest of a seat before looking along the lifeboat towards where the pilot would be sitting, currently occupied by Leons “Is it ready to go?”
“Just powering her up now” he replied. With a few presses of the console controls the lifeboat came to life; the dual rows of overhead lights and red floor lighting strips activating, while the engines began to warm up with a hum. As he stood up from the flight controls, Dzons entered through the side hatch with his arms carrying a large grey container. He was wearing a thick reflective white lifejacket around his torso, with an l-neck torch fixed to the left shoulder, a tracking beacon on the right, with a thin oxygen tank fitted horizontally across the crook of his back connecting to a breathing mask which found its way around his side and to his face.
“Hey, where do you want these?” he asked, lifting the box slightly to gesture to it “They’re meant to be more signal flares, I think. Just in case”. Vilnis looked around the lifeboat for just a moment, eyes passing over the collection of boxes and stowed compartments behind the seats already.
“Uh… I think we’re full, take it to boat twelve” he answered, before giving him a peculiar look and focusing on the large white vest “Why’d you put your lifebelt on before we’d left?”
“Well if we have to land on water or something it’ll be helpful” replied Dzons “And I thought it’d set a good example to the others, you know, so they feel more relaxed?”
“Seeing you in a lifebelt isn’t going to help anyone feel more relaxed” put in Leons. At that moment Dzons was pushed aside by a group of Marines boarding the boat, stumbling while trying to keep his container from falling as the now fully geared soldiers began to take seats in the lifeboat “Hey! Get out, we haven’t been cleared to load yet!”
“We’re abandoning ship, aren’t we?” one of the Marines asked rhetorically as he pulled down his chair harness over himself.
“Yeah, you can hear that creaking, can’t you? We can’t stay here waiting to get blown out into space” another added.
“All of you, get out” came the short, sharp command. Stood leaning through the hatch of the lifeboat was Fifth Officer Gothards, a rather young member of the command crew with grey eyes and pale blonde hair mostly concealed by his cap, while his tunic bore the sleeve markings of a Sub-Lieutenant. Upon seeing a superior officer the marines were quickly subdued, unbuckling themselves from the seats.
“There’s room in the boat, sir, I thought we’d just-” began one of the men.
“We’ll get you off the ship safely” Gothards replied, if a little firmly “But nobody’s going anywhere until we make sure everybody’s ready to leave. Now get back to your mustering stations”. Although clearly reluctant to do so, the handful of marines did indeed vacate the lifeboat, followed shortly by the crewmen. On C Deck, everybody not involved with either damage control, loading the lifeboats or some other important task was assembling in small squares along the length of the deck, mostly marines but also present were some members of the ships medical staff and crewmen not currently working any of the evacuation procedures. Vilnis could see Commander Karteris on the port side directing a number of crewmen working at boat 13, he even thought he caught a glimpse of second officer Linards, looking very severe as he briskly navigated his way through the quickly gathering crowds.
“This seems serious…” Vilnis muttered to himself, watching different registrars being taken by the formed up groups.
“What was that?” asked Gothards, stepping up next to Vilnis who looked over, startled.
“Oh! Nothing, sir” Vilnis began, but he soon gave up his attempted facade. He took a moment to think over whether or not he truly wanted to ask what was on his mind, before speaking again “The ship’s seriously damaged, isn’t it, sir?” The officer looked at him and drew in a quick breath.
“Yes” he replied flatly. He must have been able to see how much of a shock to the system hearing that had been for the young crewman, whose expression dropped as he registered the thought, eyes widening and he averted his gaze from the officer in an effort to not give himself away “Don’t worry, crewman. We’re not going to leave anyone behind. We have plenty of boats and time. Now, carry on with your duties, we’ll begin loading soon. And mind what you say to the others”. Vilnis didn’t reply right away, he was almost confused as to how the Sub-Lieutenant could be so calm and collected if the situation really was as serious as implied.
“Yes, sir” he eventually replied, quickly, before making his way past the officer to rejoin the others at the next lifeboat along. Up on the bridge, the crew were running systems check after systems check, ensuring minute by minute updates were coming in about the ships’ functionality, given her deteriorating condition.
“Captain, we’ve entered orbit” reported sixth officer Martins “But helm reports we’re losing steering”. Captain Modris strode over to the helm station, where Havardis was doing his best to coax some kind of response from the slowly dying console, the power failures to the display and backlit interface growing more and more frequent. The crewman crouched down and pulled open two long, discreet metal plates in the decking to reveal the steering gear, withdrawing a small torch from his duty belt to begin inspecting the insides.
“There may be a connection damaged further down, sir” he said in a dull, monotonous voice “I can’t see anything here”.
“We don’t have time to check the entire ship for where that’s come undone” replied the Captain “Get yourself to C Deck for now”.
“Yes, sir” came the short answer. He put the torch away and replaced the cover of the steering gear, before making his way to the bridge access ramp.
“That goes for the rest of the navigation crew!” the Captain went on, turning to shout over the bridge to the rest of the staff “Those of you working on navigations, get yourselves to your mustering stations!” With that, a number of the crewmen left their posts, quickly making their way towards the exit.
“Sir do we really have time to get everybody off?” Martins asked, watching the crewmembers departing.
“Engineering estimated fifty minutes when I spoke to Senior Chief Teodors” replied the Captain “If our luck holds, we’ll have the whole ship evacuated with time to spare. We’re lucky to have so long”.
“And if it doesn’t, sir?” asked Martins. Modris paused for a moment.
“I can only hope it doesn’t come to that” he responded plainly.
On D Deck in engineering, the damage control teams were hard at work keeping the ships’ systems online. Teodors was overseeing a group of engineers trying to move one of the damaged circuit breakers, which had come loose in the initial incident.
“There’s no point to it, SC” complained one of the engineers “All the sheet metal on the ship won’t hold this lot together”.
“You’re right, but the longer we can keep the power and life support systems going, the more lives we can save” replied Teodors “Now put your backs into it”.
“It’s my birthday today, too” grumbled another engineer, as the group heaved again to try and push the enormous device back into place.
“SC!” came a shout, prompting Teodors to turn and look up towards the C Deck gantry, where another crewman from the engineering staff was stood “Message from the flight crew on E Deck, they want to know if it’s safe to open the hanger doors!” Teodors took a moment to think it over in his head, before calling back.
“Tell them they’re free to!” he answered. With that, the crewman made his way back along the gantry to the control room. In the E Deck hanger bay itself, every drop ship the Kosmosa had aboard was being prepared for launch; hanger crew were scurrying about the place finishing up fuelling procedures and loading the last of the cargo, everything from supply boxes to vehicles into the cargo compartments of the ships, while pilots in dark green and white flight suits and marines in combat attire were gathered around third officer Renate by one of the drop pads, out of the deck crews’ way.
“These displays contain the landing co-ordinates Commander Karteris has selected. It’s the rally point for the lifeboats and drop pods, so you’ll be the first ones down” she was explaining as she handed the different flight pairs one of a dozen handheld displays “As well as your designated supplies, you’ll also be transporting members of the stores department and a small number of marines to keep you safe upon landing”. One of the pilots raised his hand.
“What if we encounter locals in the landing area?” he asked.
“It’s a mountainous region with no settlements or indigenous life in the area, at least none that’ll give us any hassle” replied Renate “If you ‘do’ run into trouble, it likely won’t be any advanced lifeforms. Any other questions?” None of the flight crews or marines spoke up “Then good luck. We’ll see you down there”.
“Ok, everybody, let’s go!” motioned one of the pilots, the group breaking up to head for their assigned craft. The marines and non-essential hanger crew piled into the admittedly cramped rear compartments and began to buckle themselves into their seats, while the pilots got themselves seated in the cockpits to begin starting up their craft. With a whine, the VTOL engines began to spin up, the ion thrusters warmly lighting beneath the engine pods. The remaining crew vacated the hanger bay, while Renate climbed up into the back of the nearest drop ship once the last of the passengers had boarded.
“Lieutenant, you’re coming, too?” asked the marine closest to the drop ship door.
“I have to. I’m not assigned to the boats” she replied, the door starting to close up behind her. As final checks were being made, the launch pads that the drop ships were parked on began to descend into the floor of the hanger, entering into a cavity beneath the decking which then sealed above them. With a countdown from the pilots in co-ordination with the hanger control room, the pilots and their passengers prepared to launch from the ship. And once they reached zero, the pads opened up to the vacuum of space, the dozen or so drop ships falling from the hull of the Kosmosa and away towards the planet, the passengers forced into their seats by the inertia of the engines kicking in. Not long after them, a series of small pods jettisoned from the belly of E Deck, racing towards the surface of the planet after the drop ships.
“Hold on, everyone, thrusters are engaged” came the pilots’ voice over the intercom “Going for minimum safe distance to commence approach”.
“Hey, do you think the others are gonna be ok?” one of the marines asked.
“They’ll be fine” replied the one next to him “You saw how calm the crew are, we’ll probably be back on board in a couple of hours”. Still on board the ship, the medical staff were in the middle of emptying out the ships’ hospital, with orderlies and nurses, even a few combat medics, taking as many supplies as they could carry out to the lifeboats. The ships’ Chief Medical Officer lifted his white coat from the back of his desk chair and pulled it on over his shoulders, before stepping from his office and into the main ward. Most of the wounded, were their injuries not too severe, had seen themselves out by now, but some of the medical staff were having to help the more seriously hurt members of the crew who had clearly caught the worst of the initial impact.
“Doctor Lacis!” called one of the nurses. He crossed the ward over to the bed where she was standing, trying to help up Chief Engineer Jekabs, whose head and left shoulder had been wrapped tightly in white medical dressing, while also trying to keep a large box of medication from falling out under her spare arm.
“It’s ok, nurse Garlands, you can go” said the CMO, before gently taking Jekabs’ uninjured arm “Come on, Commander, we have to go for a walk, ok?”
“Where are my engineers?” asked Jekabs, in something of a daze from the pain medication, as he was helped from the bed.
“They’re doing everything they can” answered Lacis calmly, beginning to walk him towards the exit of the hospital room “Right now you’ve got to come with us, alright? We’re going to the boat deck, Captain’s orders”. As they exited the hospital doors, they found themselves in one of the ships many companionways, with crew and marine alike heading about their business at a hurried pace.
“You’d better get to to the boat deck quickly, sir” said a passing crewman, stopping briefly to advise the doctor, before continuing on his way, vanishing quickly along the passage.
“I think something terrible’s happened…” said Lacis to himself, before starting to help Jekabs along, as quickly as he dared manage.