Sarah Brighton felt her insides twist as she clutched the delta-winged
shuttle's control yoke amid the smoky cabin, watching the partially
obscured vista of stars in front of her view port lurch in a corkscrew
the hiss of escaping atmosphere, the soft hoot of a collision alarm filled
the space around her crew. While Brighton struggled against the forces
tugging at her body, in spite of the straps keeping her pressure-suit
encased body in her seat, her Assistant Engineer struggled to affix the
edges of the pressure patch over the shot-through armor-glass panel in the
port view port.
the fair-haired pilot barked without looking, "Get that locked down
and run the air-scrubbers...I can't see the readouts with all this
Capson clung to the tether keeping him from bouncing around the cockpit,
scrabbling beside himself against the engineering console to flip the
desired toggle. In seconds the venting pumps vacuumed out the misty smoke,
replacing it with clear, clean air. At exactly the same moment that the
pressure patch finally closed the breach, Capson thumbed the pumps off.
Commander!" Capson scuttled back across the cabin, his lanky form
partially hindered by his pressure suit and the swaying tethers he had to
cling to. He also had to avoid the limp legs belonging to the former
co-pilot of the ship, whose body was being seen to by the civilian ship's
flight attendant. Shuddering a bit as he started thumbing buttons and
controls, Capson slipped into his chair and strapped himself down, his
eyes catching one of the readouts scrolled back out of a reddish glow into
a friendlier apple green. "Internal Cabin Pressure restored,
Brighton breathed, blinking her bright-blue eyes as the last of the smoke
fell away from her view. The gesture was more of a reflex since her helmet
was sealed, and having clear vision didn't ease her mind or the readings
on her command board.
"Good, now give me a damage report!" She paused to glance at the
younger woman who was staring with a pale face at the body on the command
deck floor. "Rebecca, get… Bill out of here and go see to the
passengers! This ride isn't over yet," she stated grimly.
Ma'am!" Rebecca Rolland replied meekly, swallowing thickly before she
reached out to drag the fresh corpse back towards the exit hatch. For such
a small woman, she easily got the bulky form of her ex-crewmate through
the portal and out of sight quickly, then she herself followed down behind
isn't good," Capson said as the hatch sealed tight. "We've got
two more 'hits'... on or about amidships, underneath the main cabin and
the other just behind in Section Eight."
blanched. "That's too close to vital systems. Horst! What's the
status of the mains?"
Horst, the heavy-set Systems Technician, grunted from his chair abaft.
"Not good," he reported, his gloveless, bronze-colored hands
working to coax the crippled craft back onto her optimum settings.
"We have little power registering through the Main Circuits, though
the generators are still showing normal output."
brush-head brows knotted, his boyish features pinching into a rather
uncomfortable arrangement. "That strike must have severed the main
bus!" He paused, checking another display. "I'm showing a
pressure loss in Section Eight...and some power flux readings as
bobbed his shaven head, nearly cracking his forehead against the front
dome of his helmet. "Ya, I can confirm that...Devil take it! A strike
in there would have made a real mess of things!"
winced, "No kidding...it's got to be deuced up good. Are the controls
responding at all, Commander?"
breath whistled through clenched teeth. Looking up, Brighton could see the
sudden, spinning view of the globe as it panned into view with deceptive
slowness. Uttering a mental expletive, she tried once more to wrestle the
ship back into a more stable setting. "No good! Negative
response," she grunted. This routine jaunt was turning into a
nightmare; loss of power and control were two things no space-farer ever
wanted to face - civilian or otherwise!
not showing any mechanical failure," Horst responded slowly, his eyes
watching the readouts on his leader board.
we run a bypass, Horst? We need power to get full control back. I'm not
having much luck with this lead pig as it is!"
muttered something under his breath as he turned to manipulate his
controls. A moment later, he replied, "Damn it all, Captain, I can't
bypass the Mains! The strike must have fused our Secondary circuit as
grunted, "Great, now what!? Without control, we're gonna be
quickly turned and snapped at the younger man, "Don't you think I
don't know that !?"
fix it!" Capson groused, waving his hand towards the husky Swede as
if that was the final solution.
Brighton tried to intervene, but the two men drowned her out with their
can't fix the problem just like that, not without knowing what's broke!
I'm not all-knowing, you know," Horst sniped.
Capson's voice dripped with anxiety-laced sarcasm. "I though all sy-techs
were one step removed from God!" Capson bristled.
Horst!!" Brighton warned, trying to stop the argument from growing
was I supposed to know we'd be hit by three micro-meteors, all at once!!?
I can't foresee the future," Horst growled, ignoring Brighton.
the one that said this bucket could fly, not matter what happened to
it!" Capson snarled, rising from his seat as he snapped a finger out
to point at Horst's face. "I'm just telling you we need this fixed.
Can you understand that, dumb-ass?" Horst shot out of his seat and
went nose-to-nose with Capson in a flash. A few choice words of color fell
from the big Swede's mouth, followed by some in a similar vein from Capson.
that point, Brighton slapped the control yoke away from her and whirled
around in her chair. "That's ENOUGH!!! Enough! We've got enough
problems without you two going at it all hammer and tongs!"
and Horst fell silent in an instant, turning to face the female officer
with wide eyes. Mollified, they pulled apart from each other and returned
to their seats. "But... what can we do? Without power to the
controls, we're all dead ducks" Capson stated.
heaved a heavy sigh as she struggled to get her temper under control.
"First, we stop panicking! All of us!" When she saw that her
point had taken affect, she continued, "Then, we make sure we have
the necessities: air, heat and power. Once we have those, then we work on
getting this ship back on an even course. Agreed?" She locked stares
with each man, her features going hard as steel, giving no quarter to
give me what we need, gentlemen," Brighton prompted. "I'll see
if I can gain some control back with the reaction jets…"
minutes later, the two crewmen had good and bad news to relay. "Our
air supply is holding for now," Capson reported. "One strike hit
the compartment where the oxygen is stored... Thank God it didn't hit any
of the supply lines or the main tanks, but it came close!"
much breathable air is left, Cappy?" Brighton asked.
for seventy-two hours, split between the bridge and the passenger
compartment. And that's if we monitor it closely, and run the scrubbers
economically." he replied. "Otherwise, we're looking at much
much 'less' do you mean?"
checked a tabulator pad strapped to his thigh, frowning. "About half
that, at best."
a start for now," Brighton offered. "Horst?"
still have plenty power to run Environmental Control," Horst added.
"I put the bridge on our number-two auxiliary generator, so there's
no problem getting heat for the moment."
about the rest of the ship?"
jerked a hammer-handle of a thumb towards aft. "The main cabin has
it's own independent generator, so our passengers are all cozy."
nodded, "Good. Now, what can we do to get power to the
puffed out his cheeks in exasperation. "We don't have a drone to go
down and fix this. I may have to try to repair the damage manually. A
temporary patch might do the trick, but it won't restore full power all at
once." He shrugged in apology. "You may have to make do with
partial power to regain control."
nodded in reply. "Partial or not, we need control back ASAP, Horst!
We're losing our orbit gradient, and without power--." Just then, the
rear hatch opened, interrupting Brighton before she could finish her
thought. Rebecca's pretty, freckle-face emerged from beyond; her black
hair floating free since her helmet hung at her side, clipped to a work
harness on her double-layer pressure suit. She floated into the command
deck without a word, turning slightly to use both hands to dog the hatch
Roland?" Horst grunted, moving aside a bit so the slim girl could
squeeze by into the cabin.
the status of our passengers, Becky?" Brighton shifted to look at the
young Attendant. "Any of them wanting their money back?"
nothing of that sort, Commander," Rebecca replied, her voice laced
with stress but she managed held it in quite well. "Everyone's a
little shaken up, but no major casualties. Just a few bumps and upset
nodded. "And Bill?" she added somberly.
sad look swept over the attendant's thin face. "I... put him in the
forward stowage. None of the other passengers... saw him."
Fine work, Becky." Brighton felt slightly relieved. It was bad enough
for a girl Becky's age to have to see someone killed like that. Of course,
seeing the perforated body of William Tess, the shuttle's co-pilot, even
made an old space-jockey like Horst go sick.
bad way to go," Horst muttered.
that's enough of that," Brighton said forcefully. They didn't need to
dwell on death right now. "Becky, we've been going over the situation
at hand, so here's how we're going to kick this pig." All three faces
looked on, listening intently. "We're all going to have to work
together on this, so first...Horst, I want you down in Section Eight and
get that Main either fixed or routed around."
I can do that," the older man replied, shooting an arched look at
Capson. "That's the least this old Engineer can do."
do your best, Horst," Brighton admonished. "Cappy? I want you to
try to work around the rest of the damage from those micro-meteors.
Especially the strike damage near the tanks."
nodded at the younger woman. "Take Becky down there with you to
blinked, staring at the young attendant incredulously. "Okay, sure,
but why her?" At that, Rebecca suddenly turned a bit pink.
grinned at her modesty. "Becky's rated to handle deep space emergency
gear. Plus, she's also got an extra pair of hands that might come in handy
with some of the heavier gear." She saw both men turn to look at the
young woman in surprise. "Don't count her out, gentlemen, just
because she rides herd on the passengers."
quickly asked, "What about help from outside, Captain?"
still repeating our distress call. Libertine Station is sure to hear us...
Provided the comm-array is still functioning?"
head whipped around then returned slowly to position. "It's okay. The
UDB is still flashing." Indeed, the Universal Distress Beacon's
activation light was winking on and off, just behind Capson's shoulder.
Commander," Rebecca pressed, "What about a rescue ship?"
nodded, hitting the front of his faceplate with a thunk! "Ya-ouch!"
He growled. "Surely one of those Space Rescue Team ships heard our
signal by now!"
reached out, clapping one gloved hand on Horst's shoulder. "Despite
the fact that the United Earth Space Commission is willing to employ
them...personally, I don't trust them to be much help to us, Horst."
they're supposed to help us!" Rebecca yelped, a slight touch of new
panic coming into her voice.
older woman shook her head and explained, "An untested organization
like them can't be everywhere at once and…Well, as much as I'd like to
think they would save us, Becky, I'm more inclined to hope that a
commercial or military ship will save us." She fixed each one of her
crew people with a frank stare. "Besides, ships have always had to
rely on their own resources during mishaps in space since the beginning of
and Horst nodded affirmatively, while Rebecca looked pensive.
get through this," Brighton said with slight emphasis. "Now, get
on with your work. I'll stay here and keep an eye on our orbit, We're
holding on track for now - in spite of all this spinning - but, unless we
can get control back I have a feeling we're going to decay soon
Orbit Over Iceland
the command couch aboard the Navy gray, manta-winged rescue ship, Second
Petty Officer Albert Piccoli glanced down at the repetitive blip on his
communications board. For a moment his idle mind couldn't focus on the
importance of the tiny amber light. "Sir?"
where he sat forward, Lieutenant Commander Eric Bruebaker idly flipped the
toggle for the ready-beam lights on and off. "What's the scoop,
Piccoli?" the young brown-haired officer asked softly.
something coming across… Alert-One status," Piccoli replied,
frowning as he shifted to a more ready position in his seat.
another console behind, Chief Petty Officer Carl Duffy - the team's
Extra-Vehicular Action specialist - grumbled before shifting his feet on a
restraint bar. "Ignore it, Al.", the burly non-com muttered, his
rock-jaw the only thing visible from underneath the edge of his tilted
peaked cap. "Must be another routine station-check! Seems to be all
we get these days-!"
I don't think so," Piccoli replied. "The last status check
happened just fifteen minutes ago, and those almost always come on the
main channel in the clear." Replacing the radioman's headset over his
ears, he jabbed a finger over the master console switch. At once the blip
tuned out, replaced by an active info-screen that Piccoli set his long
fingers to, rapidly tapping a series of commands.
her console across from Duffy's seat in the compact cabin, a slim redhead
with an Ensign's flash on her collar blinked as she looked up from a
battered Engineer's Manual. "What's up?" Janine Rogers asked,
looking towards Bruebaker.
was about to ask myself," he muttered, looking up into the
rear-viewer that allowed him to see the rest of the compartment behind
started to say something, when a PING from his board forced him to
concentrate on a sudden wash of information flowing over his screen.
Tweaking a few more controls, he quickly piped up, "I've got
something on the UDB-band!" He quickly repositioned the curved
boom-mike around his roman jaw and activated the transmit key on his
headset. "This is SRT-22, receiving you Lima-Charlie. Go
that, the others sat up to stare at their radioman. Idleness forgotten,
they all listened as Piccoli continued listening to the speaker over the
comm-circuit. "Understood...will relay and respond shortly. SRT-22
the love of Mike, what's going on?" Duffy asked, trying not to sound
too annoyed, especially since he should have been more attentive himself.
rubbed a hand over the back of his close-cropped haircut, speaking to
Bruebaker, "Just got the lowdown from the SRT Observation Post on
Libertine Station, Sir. A Civilian Services Shuttle, the Washington,
started broadcasting a distress signal at 0420 hours. Libertine Post also
reports receiving a short transmission burst by the Washington, declaring
an emergency before she crossed behind the planet."
UES officer felt his insides tense. "Cause for the distress?"
unknown, sir." The non-com tapped a few more keys on his board.
"I have her last position fix at thirty-two-mark-zero-five/Sierra by
twenty-two-mark-twenty-two/Echo; Grid Kilo-Foxtrot." Piccoli paused.
"She's drifting at an altitude of three-thousand kilometers, with a
downward deflection angle."
an errant strand of summer-brown hair out of his eyes, Bruebaker frowned.
"This sounds bad...Janine? Confirm this and run a Stabilization Check
on that orbit."
on it, sir," Rogers replied, dropping the book as she turned to start
using her own computers. Her thin face framed with copper-red locks and a
pair of Navy Issue BC's, her lips twisted into a grimace as she quickly
coaxed the information out of her command board.
swung his feet around to place them on the deck. "Are you sure this
isn't a drill, Al?" he asked, his tone dripping with disbelief.
spoke up, "Like he said, drills don't come on Alert-One channels,
Duffy...plus, they would have told us back at the post if we were having
to me, Rogers!"
if the Washington continues on this tract, her orbit decay will place her
in the red in less than three hours!"
the tall officer in the command seat glanced at the readouts for his own
ship. Nobody that ever worked in space ever wanted to hear that a ship's
orbit numbers read in digits that always meant disaster. "Can you
cross-confirm with PolSAT?"
now, sir." Rogers keyed in the orbital data, sending it to one of the
two huge Polar Stationary Accuracy Transponders. A moment passed, during
which the three men in the cabin sat with barely a breath moving between
them. "Confirmed, sir! My initial numbers were off by two marks...
PolSAT shows orbit decay within two-point-three-five hours, if left
thought to himself, So this was it…their first 'live' one! Even though
his training had drilled in him to take every possible precaution against
'falsies' and other mishaps, there was no denying it; all the data pointed
to a ship in actual distress. "Can we raise any other SRT's, Piccoli?"
shook his head. "I just made contact with the Polaris and the
Cirrus...no go. They've been corralled into helping a civilian tug move a
larger cargo transport near Libertine Point!"
looked pointedly at Bruebaker in the mirror. "Bloody civilians think
we're obliged to turn to as a tug service!"
nodded. "They feel that we're out here to render aid to ships in
distress, so why not?" he quipped. "General attitudes towards
the SRT's hasn't been favorable from the start. Most gov-types consider us
a "pork-belly" on the annual Military Buget roster!"
snorted, "They never do like to spend money that's better suited
lining their pockets!"
do we respond? I've got a fix on two civilian ships that are closer to the
Washington..." Piccoli stated; reminding them all about the
'tradition' of civilian ships giving aid to fellow ships with those words.
the brief silence that followed, Bruebaker came to a decision. Looking up
at each member of his crew, he began issuing orders: "Rogers, plot
intercept to Washington and feed it to NAVACOM. Piccoli, send to UES
Command aboard Libertine Station that Starbat is responding to a confirmed
distress call from the Washington. Send it now!"
sir," Piccoli replied, poking the boom-mike closer to his smiling
lips as he tuned the SRT-ship's array to Libertine Station's frequency.
glanced at the last man seated in the compartment and smiled. "Duffy!
Ready your team. Make fast to action stations. I think it's time we
reminded the civil public just why the Space Rescue Teams were
dark-haired Chief Petty Officer grinned and levered himself out of his
seat. "Aye-Aye, Sir!" With that, he turned and shouldered open
the access hatch at the rear of the cockpit and squirmed through, headed
for the EVA bay and the rest of the Starbats' crew waiting there.
the next few moments, Bruebaker finished pre-checking the ship for flight.
He could feel the lethargy that had settled over them these past few
months lifting away. Now was the time for action. Now, they were finally
her seat, Rogers said crisply, "Course fed in and locked, sir."
sent, sir!" Chief Piccoli replied, grinning up into the rear-view
mirror. "Commodore Lent sends, 'Godspeed, and Good hunting.'
get your helmets on, crew! We're burning daylight," Bruebaker
grinned. With that, he gripped the Hands-Only-Stick and Thrust control,
snapping several toggles on the flight panel. Behind them, the ship's two
Arc-Royal engines clawed their way up from idle to full power.
his mike, the UES officer synched into the EVA-bay's comm-link. "Is
your team ready, Duffy?"
intercom filled with the voice of Petty Officer Duffy: "Let's go,
boys! Get those suits zipped up and that gear ready!" Barking orders
into the audio pickups in Bruebaker's helmet, it was clear Duffy was more
than ready to get some action. "All hands secure for action!"
a tight smile, Bruebaker gave a small nod. "Very well. All hands...
hold tight!" With that, he forced the HOST forward, and the ship
boosted up to full power as it moved into a higher orbit...
moment before, Rebecca had been doing what she had been trained to do;
working to calm the thirty-odd passengers under her care, and see that
they remained comfortable. While seeing to their needs and providing
everyone with all the answers she felt they needed to hear - 'Yes, they
did strike something, but the ship is fine.' and 'There's no cause for
alarm. A few repairs are needed, and then they'd all be on their way to
Europa Base at Io in no time.' - she silently hoped that her words were
when she heard those words she felt a sudden coldness in her middle made
her realize that she might be lying after all. "Tom!? What's wrong?
Leave the...the passengers...get the medkit from midhatch!" Capson's
voice gasped, filled with pain. "We need it...Section
as calmly as she dared, Rebecca left the passenger compartment of the
shuttle, entering the space between it and the main cargo bay; the
midhatch. Taking a moment to rise in the ships half-gravity, she pulled
herself upward until she found the storage pod marked with the bright red
cross-mark. "Hold on, Tom! I'm coming!" She jerked the panel
open and wrestled out the slim silver case inside, then shoving against
the overhead hull she quickly dropped back down to the floor and started
aft once more.
this is Brighton!" The commander's words crackled over the internal
communicator inside the young woman's helmet. "What's happening back
sure, Commander," the young attendant replied, clawing her way
towards the secondary hatch that lead down to the engineering spaces.
"Tom sounds like there's trouble, but I'm not sure yet!"
Reaching the hatch, she tugged at the sealing handle to release the
locking arms and pulled it to. Using her shoulder to prop the hatch back,
she grunted, "I'm...at Section Eight now! Will check in and report in
just be careful Becky," Brighton said at length. "I'm not
reading much from the boards, but I'm seeing more red and amber lights
here than green. Tom and Horst could be in trouble, so watch out for
through the hatch, the tiny steward moved down the crawlway, towing a
slim, silver case behind her on a tether. "Yes, ma'am!" she
replied, taking notice that the emergency lighting in this section of the
shuttle was activated. Finding grips and other handholds, she made her way
to the level where Tom's call had come from.
Capson called again, with agony coloring every word.
almost there, Tom," Rebecca offered soothingly, just before
struggling for a moment with the tightly dogged hatchway that closed off
the engineering 'hub'.
started to enter it, when an encapsulated pressure suit suddenly thrust
itself out into the crawlway. With a high-pitched gasp, Becky jerked
herself backward as the body flopped forward.
was Capson! "H-help...me..."
Rebecca quickly swallowed against the sudden rise of bile in her mouth,
staring at the limp form of the young man for a moment. Capson's left
shoulder and one entire side of his pressure suit lay scorched, clear to
the under layer beneath. She could hear his breath wheezing over her comm-set,
while the redhead kicked feebly in the half-gravity as he tried to force
himself through the hatch and into the crawlspace.
Brighton spoke over the comm once again. "What is it???"
training kicked in and the small woman grabbed Capson by the remaining
strap on his work harness to pull him into the clear. "One moment,
Commander! Oh, jays! Tom!? What happened? Where's Horst??" She moved
to lay the engineer against the wall of the crawlspace, dragging the
medikit around so she could fumble with its catches.
wrenched the kit open forcefully. "Yes, where is he!?"
raised his good arm slowly, pointing through the open hatch. "T-th-there..."
answer me," Brighton's voice snapped over the comm-line. "What
the devil is happening down there!?"
down here with Tom, Commander...down in Section Eight! We've got a
problem," Rebecca replied. "Tom's hurt, and I think Horst is
reply came back ten seconds later. "Are they alive?"
barely breathing," Rebecca reported, suddenly realizing that she'd
have to go inside the 'hub' to find Horst. "I...I haven't seen how
bad Horst is yet..."
voice came back through a slight cloud of static. "Becky...I need to
know what Horst's condition is. Can you get to him?"
thickly, Rebecca hunched her shoulders and nodded reflexively. "I...I
think so, Commander. I'll, report in one moment." With a quick check
of Capson - who was lolling against the wall deliriously - she turned and
started to make her way into the hatch...
looked down at where she and Rebecca had made a small triage in the cargo
bay for Capson and Horst. Crouching on one knee, she looked into the young
man's eyes and asked softly, "Can you tell me what happened? Don't
rush! Just, take it one thing at a time."
his head bandaged, Capson tried to keep his wits while speaking.
"We...we were checking the status of...the patchwork Horst had
started," he explained. "Becky...had to, ah...go check on the
passengers, so I...I started to head down...down to Section-Nine. I had
to...to double check the breech-patches there."
nodded silently, watching him for signs of deeper trauma as he continued.
had...he, ah, had started to make some...con-connections...to bridge the,
um...bridge the Mains to the patch..." Capson frowned over the
memories in his head. "I...I don't remember what...what, really
happened but I, ah...think, we've had a blowout in the Mains, and...Horst
got snagged by a backlash." There was a pause. "God...Is he all
he's unconscious," Brighton replied gently, moving just her eyes to
look over at where the young attendant knelt next to Horst; his burly body
covered with a thermal blanket, only his heavily bandaged head could be
seen. "Becky's no doctor, but she thinks he's got some internal
damage, being so close to the blast point." Sighing, Brighton
commented, "The main thing is we're still in one piece, and that
neither of you two were killed."
slowly shook his head, fighting off the effects of his injuries.
"Sarah... we've got a bigger problem...bigger than the one at
do you mean?" Brighton stared hard at him.
the blowout! I didn't...well, take a close look, but...I'm certain it,
well, fused the Main Circuit and the work-around patch Horst was trying. I
can't tell...with all that mess in there...now! But, I'm not sure that we
can restore full control!"
clenched her slim-fingered hands into fists, her mind reeling slightly
from the engineer's words. "Are you sure, Cappy?"
be...not like this," Capson replied, hissing through clenched teeth
as a wave of pain raced through his body. "But...I tried to, pull
Horst away...from the worst of it..." He shook his head angrily.
"It's no good! Even if we could repair...them, it would take nearly
four hours...to complete a different workaround!"
thoughts flashed back to the last time she looked at command board, as she
beheld the numbers there. "Tom, we don't have that much time!"
She reached out to steady him, trying to get him to focus on her words.
Cap'n," Capson slurred, his voice going mushy, "I...don' think
I...can...help...it..." With that, his eyes turned back in their
sockets and he slumped in Brighton's grasp.
gasped, slowly lowering his body to the deck. "Becky!"
left Horst and turned to kneel at Brighton's side. Reaching out, she
placed her fingers at Capson's throat, feeling for a pulse. Quickly
consulting her wristwatch, she let out a sigh. "It's alright,
Ma'am...he's unconscious, but alive."
heaved a much-relieved sigh herself, falling back onto her heels as she
crouched there. "Thank God," she breathed, pausing for a moment
before she glanced at the younger woman. "What's Horst's condition?
Is he as bad as we thought?"
shook her head. "I with I knew! I have some basic first aid
training...but, it never went into anything like this before! He's alive
for now, but he needs critical medical attention," she reported.
"Unless the work we did could stabilize the ship--!"
can't," Brighton cut her off. "I had the computer run over
figures...and if our chances were bleak before, they're worse now."
She paused to fix Becky with a pointed, cold stare. "We've got about
more than an hour at the least...after that, we're in the red!" She
pounded one fist against the armored part of the left leg of her pressure
suit several times in frustration. "And the only ones that can fix
this damn lead pig are either wounded or nearly dead!"
slightly, Rebecca tried to speak calmly. "Commander, can't we do
something...anything, to help?"
quickly got a hammerlock on her emotions. "Becky...look, I don't know
what we can do," she said frankly. "The engineering space
was...is Horst's domain."
got to do something!" Rebecca stated firmly. "The passengers are
asking all sorts of questions!"
know, I know!" Brighton shoved herself upright, rising to her feet
while grabbing onto a nearby handhold. "Look, for the time being
there's little we can do. The best think you can do is look after Horst
and the others. I'll get back to the cockpit and try to raise some
right on it," the attendant's words sounded leaden to Brighton's
ears, as the younger woman turned towards her unconscious charges.
looked down. "Yes?"
could see Becky shoring herself up. "What other options do we
own words sounded dead as she turned away, speaking over her shoulder in
reply. "We may have to use the Jefferson System."
could almost see sour frown forming on Rebecca's face. "B-But that
would almost kill everyone, even if it worked!"
know, I know! Most cases of a ship having to use that for emergency
re-entry have a thirty percent chance of survival," Brighton groaned.
Using that method would save the passengers from the crippled ship, but
they'd have no guidance to take them free of the planet's gravity. And
considering how often large masses never survived a direct plunge towards
it may be our only option to save the passengers. We're up against the
wall here! Anything, everything that we can do to save the lives under our
charge is needed!"
was silence for a moment. "I'll...I'll make sure Horst and Tom are
comfortable, before I see to the passengers, Commander."
do the best you can, Rebecca. Keep me informed." Brighton slid
through the exit hatch and disappeared forward, heading for the cockpit
UESS Starbat On Spinward Approach, Later
this is the ECS Washington...declaring an emergency situation. Our power
is gone, and we're in a decaying orbit over Grid Kilo-Foxtrot. To any
transport within range of this sector, please respond. We need
Piccoli literally pounced on the controls of his leader board. "I've
got a real-time transmission from the Washington!"
the same time, Rogers blinked when she saw the blip on her readout.
"I've got her on the scanner as well, dead ahead!"
Commander Bruebaker glanced up at his rear viewer. "Pass me the
slim copper-haired female tapped a few keys. "Info-fix uploaded, sir.
According to these readings, she's got less than one hour before she
nodded in understanding, feeling tiny beads of sweat on his brow that
hadn't been there an hour ago. "Let's get ready people. Chief, open
comm to the Washington, and patch the line in to my 'set. Let's let them
know we're here."
sir." Piccoli replied as he worked his board. "Line open,
Washington, this is the UES Starbat. We are responding to your distress
call, and are approaching your current position," Bruebaker said
crisply. "Do you read me, over?"
once, a relieved voice responded, "We read you, Starbat! This is
Commander Brighton...I have you on our scope now. I hope you can help
will do all we can, Commander," Bruebaker replied. "Can you give
us a status update?"
lost my co-pilot...both my systems-tech and engineer are injured
badly!" Brighton stated quickly. "Our Main power bus is gone, so
we have no controls in spite of our trying to bypass. We've still got
atmosphere and heat, but the way this lead pig's been acting--!"
Commander. Stand by." Bruebaker ran that through all of the
information he'd absorbed through his training, formulating a proper plan
of action. "Commander, we're going to move ahead of you in a few
clicks. Have your crew stand ready to receive a boarding party."
Moving his HOST forward slightly, the UES officer goosed the Starbat
towards the crippled shuttle. Clenching his jaw to trigger the intra-ship-comm,
Bruebaker piped down to the ship's interior bay. "Duffy, is your team
reply was to the point, "Ready as Freddy, sir! What's our call?"
procedure, Duffy," Bruebaker replied, hoping that things went as
standard! "Once we're clamped onto the shuttle, use access cables and
get to her main hatch to get on board," Bruebaker ordered. "Have
Nickerson use a patch to run power around their Main circuit so we can get
control, and see if there was any damage to the ship's core. We'll use the
Starbat's thrusters to stabilize her and pull her into a higher orbit.
Also tell Benson to see to the Washington's crew and passengers. We've got
one dead and two seriously injured among the crew."
alongside now." Rogers reported. "Move to match speed at
two-two-five kilometers per second."
Bruebaker replied, shifting the ship controls slightly as he turned to
watch the Washington, as she seemed to drift past the cockpit canopy
slowly. Aside from the slow tumble she was in, the Civil Services Shuttle
showed hardly any sign of outside damage.
nodded towards the rearward section of the shuttle. "Right there,
sir! Near the port engine block...that definitely looks like a
nodded, moving the HOST to keep the Starbat within a good distance from
the Washington. "The damage from just one strike would even cripple a
big commercial job," he muttered, jerking their ship away when the
shuttle veered too close. "It must have hit her gyro as well...she's
really rolling along here!"
the shuttle vanished aft, out of view of the cockpit.
nearly past us," Rogers commented, watching the readouts of the
proximity sensors. "Steady...now at one-hundred meters, sir."
turn," Bruebaker stated. With a burst of power from the Starbat's
reaction jets, they began a graceful about-face.
we try to use the nose cupola," Rogers suggested, "then secure
us to her using the grapplers."
Piccoli, man the swing arms...I'm going to try to match the Washington's
rotation factor." As the shuttle appeared dead ahead of them,
Bruebaker began to manipulate the HOST to align their ship with the
Washington's nose cone.
reached for a pair of control sticks on another panel at his station.
Slapping a pair of release switches and power relays, he curled his hands
into the form-fit grips and slowly moved them. "Deploying grapple arm
the Starbat, a pair of thin looking, yet powerful robotic arms emerged
from underneath her manta wings; one on each side of the ship. Tipped with
a quad of flexible grippers each, the arms bent towards the stricken
shuttle. Fully deployed, they made the rescue ship look like some alien
insect about to grab onto the Washington.
Bruebaker tapped the HOST a few times, finally getting the two ships to
line up head on. "We're ready to bump noses here," he reported.
"Set nose collar for docking seal, and ready all hands for
on stand-by," Piccoli replied.
glanced at her screens once more. "We'll match her rotation for only
twenty seconds more, sir!"
hang on back there," Bruebaker ordered, clenching his jaw.
"Washington, this is Starbat. Brace yourselves, we're about to make
contact!" With that, he nudged the HOST forward for two seconds,
sending the rescue ship soaring towards the crippled shuttle.
deceptive slowness, the recessed nose of the Starbat slipped over the
cone-tip of the shuttle. As soon as the two made contact, Bruebaker pumped
the aft thrusters for a brief instant to make them stick together. At the
same time, the two robot arms darted forward, their claw-fingers finding
the special hard points along the shuttle's skin, locking the UES ship
Bruebaker stated with a grunt. "Duffy, deploy your team, fast!"
are rolling, Sir!"
watched through the tiny service port as the EVA-suited men drifted along
on thin tether lines towards the shuttle. Brighton had told her to wait by
the main hatch, since one of them would have to tell the UES men where to
go to deal with the damaged power systems. Double-checking the seal on her
helmet absently by touch, she never once let her eyes drift away from the
four-man team, now moving along the hull towards the hatch.
The rescue team's almost here!"
voice crackled over Rebecca's helmet speakers, "Good! As soon as they
cycle through the 'lock, direct them to the engineering space."
do! Do you think they have someone with medical skills aboard?" the
young attendant asked.
sigh came through from Brighton. "If they do…bring them to the
cargo bay. I'll need to speak to their leading officer, so we can
coordinate getting this pig back into a stable orbit."
then, several clunks resounded through the bulkhead; sounds of the EVA
team touching down on the skin of the shuttle. A few scrapes heralded the
release of the outer hatch, followed by the muffled sounds of bodies
filing into the between-space of the airlock. As Rebecca slid over to man
the controls, a hiss-crackle announced the link-in of one of the
deep-space suited men inside the 'lock.
is Chief Duffy," a voice said crispy, "Space Rescue Team-22!
Permission to come aboard!"
pressed the thickly padded thumb of her left hand on the cycle-activator,
replying, "We welcome you aboard, sir! Beginning cycle process…now!"
chuckle sounded like warm thunder. "Don't call me 'sir', honey! I
work for a living! Standing by," he replied. A span of moments later,
the amber light over the inner hatch shifted to green, and Rebecca slapped
the release to allow the door to slide open then fall away on its
complete!" She reported, standing clear as the four-man team filed
in. The man in the lead moved to her side, allowing the two figures in the
middle to shift a pair of metallic cases into the receiving space, while
the last one brought up the rear.
the lead man looked at her and raised the reflective faceplate of his
helmet. "Okay, where is the main access to your engineering
pointed aft with one gloved hand. "Back there! Do you have a medic
jerked his head at the last man. "Benson!"
The last man shifted a smaller case with a large red cross on it from his
side to in front of him.
with us," Duffy nodded towards Rebecca. "Nick. Get down to the
Mains and get crackin' on that workaround! We need power back ASAP!"
He shifted back as the others tromped down the length of the receiving bay
towards the tail of the ship. "Okay, honey, let's see to your injured
and let me check with your captain."
this way," she prompted, moving herself towards the front of the
compartment, while the two UES-men trailed behind her. "I hope it's
not too late!"
do what we can," Duffy grunted, trying to sound reassuring.
got the young woman's attention. "What's the condition of your
flight engineer's unconscious, and I think Horst is in worse shape,"
Rebecca briefed, stepping up to a narrow ladder. "This way! It's the
quickest way to the cargo bay!"
she let the medic mount the rungs, Duffy paused beside her. "Is there
another way to the cockpit? I need to coordinate things with my
through the main hatch, and take the left-side crawlspace," Rebecca
advised. "Should I come with you?"
Duffy stated. "I need you to stick with Benson to tell him what
happened to your people. Then, you'll need to keep tabs on your passengers
while we get this ship into the clear." He gave her shoulder a brief
squeeze. "We're on the case, so don't worry, okay?"
she replied thankfully.
with the damage caused by the blowback, it's making it hell to get the
patch in place, or so Nickerson tells me," Duffy reported to
Bruebaker. "It might not be in our best interests to restore power,
but to try to shift the Washington with our own power?"
sighed, shifting slightly in his command chair. "Without help from
another SRT ship, that won't be easy, Duffy. Nickerson's got to get that
patch in place. With partial power, we could augment the Washington's
thrust and boost her out of the red zone." He paused to pinch the
bridge of his nose, rubbing briefly to ease the tension there. "We
don't have much time, but we have to use it to try. It's our best
Commander." Duffy replied, sitting back against the co-pilot's seat
in the Washington's cockpit. "We'll give it our best shot."
the status of the wounded?" Bruebaker asked.
that, it was Duffy's turn to sigh. "Half good, half bad sir. Benson
was able to treat the old Systems Tech for some broken ribs and a slight
concussion…turns out the blast that hit him and the Engineer was
partially deflected by a sub-system assembly in the engineering
space." Duffy fell quiet.
he had some major trauma, internally," Duffy reported huskily.
"He died just as Benson was cutting open his suit to assess his
coughed, clearing his throat. "Damn. Has Commander Brighton-?"
stated softly, "She…took it a bit hard. She's one tough lady, but
after all she's been through…"
Bruebaker nodded. "Well, I've contacted SRT-21 and 18 for some help.
If we can't get the Washington's power restored, they'll be here in six
minutes. Together we should be able to-."
a loud rumble vibrated the space-frames of both ships, sending tremors
that rattled even the sealed armor-glass canopy of the shuttle.
Duffy jerked from the jolt, watching as the vista of space behind the
Starbat pitched into a faster spin.
the love of Mike?!? Duffy! Report!"
sir!" Duffy tried to quell the slight touch of panic in his voice.
"Nickerson? Come in! What's going on back there?"
the hatch leading to the rest of the ship slammed open. "We've got
major trouble!" Brighton's voice preceded her entrance, as she
scrambled inside the cockpit. "Something exploded in the engineering
groaned, "Blast it! Sir, did you hear that!?"
heard!" Bruebaker had both hands clamped onto the HOST, nearly
wringing it to try to correct the sudden movement of the two ships. All
the while, the sudden movement put pressure on the grapple arms, making
the vibrations of straining metal and joints heard all the way up into the
cockpit. "Investigate the situation at once!"
Bruebaker grunted. "Can your sensors tell us what's happened out
registering the aftermath of a massive explosion…occurring near the aft
section of the shuttle. Cause unknown," She reported.
Duffy's voice came back over the channel. "No mystery there! We found
the cause! Looks like Nickerson tried to restore the secondary power feed,
and it surged back and caused another blowback!" Someone shouting in
the background came over, threading though his words. "Nick's okay,
but Dutch is down and out!"
growled, trying to keep his ship locked onto the nose of the Washington.
"Understood! Can we still repair the ship?"
The blowout took out nearly half the engineering space with it!"
Bruebaker queried, "Rogers, what's our orbital status?"
the ball, the redhead reported grimly. "We lost another ten degrees
on deflection, sir! Unless we can pull out, we'll hit interface in three
barked, "She's dead in the water, sir! What do we do about the
tried to collect his racing thoughts while his body wrestled with the
forces threatening to sever their attachment with the shuttle. "We
can't shove the Washington back into orbit! Can we use emergency EVA pods
to evacuate the civilians?"
flimsy plastic bubbles are only good for quick shuffles between ships,
Lieutenant!" Duffy shouted back. "And forget the EVA Room, it
won't even hold half of the number of passengers here!"
grimaced. It didn't seem like he had a solution…
Duffy asked urgently.
forty-five seconds to interface," Rogers relayed.
Bruebaker felt the beginnings of an idea come to him. "Duffy! What's
the status of the main cabin? Has it suffered any damage?"
voice became absent for a moment. "It's intact, sir! None of the
strikes came close!"
get the surviving crew in with the civilians and get them strapped down
tight! We're disengaging now!""
do it, Chief! We're going to try to save the passengers, but we might only
have one shot at it," Bruebaker explained. "Piccoli!" he
shot back towards the radioman, "Release the grapples, but keep them
blinked, but moved to obey. "Aye-aye, sir!" He strapped himself
down into his seat, reaching for the mecha-arm controls once more.
everyone inside the passenger compartment!?" Brighton looked sharply
at Duffy. "What for!? We've got to get off this ship!"
time to discuss this, Commander," Duffy said, his voice firm as he
listened to the sounds of the Starbat's grapples letting go of the
shuttle. "The Commander's got a plan. I hope!"
gave the petty officer one last look, before she snapped her commlink on.
"Becky, get Horst and Tom's body moved into the passenger cabin. Tell
that medic to help you!"
came the reply.
then glanced at the hatchway herself. "I suppose that means me,
looked up from where he'd been listening to his CO while the shuttle
commander had been distracted. "Not yet. I need you to tell me how to
passed the order along to Commander Brighton, sir," Duffy replied.
"Everyone's inside the main cabin, and the aft hatch is sealed. I'll
seal the forward one when I'm inside!"
said briskly, "Have everyone get strapped in, and prepare in case
something unexpected happens. Then stand by to execute."
sir! Standing by!"
me time to interface! Ready to let go on grapples and moorings?"
Bruebaker asked Piccoli.
nodded, "Ready, sir!"
stated, "Two-minutes, ten seconds to interface. Though I have to
state for the record this plan has a high improbability factor to
the best chance we've got to save those people." Bruebaker turned his
head to rub his forehead against the soft cladding that padded in inside
of his helmet, leaving a film of nervous sweat behind. "Okay, we're
going to get through this, but only if we do it all by the numbers, just
like I explained. There's not a lot of time before we can't act any
longer." Looking up at his rear-viewer, he fixed his gaze pointedly
at Rogers and Piccoli. "We get one shot, so let's make it count.
Ready back there?"
was no further argument. "Aye, sir!"
a deep breath, Bruebaker stared at the spinning image of the shuttle
before him. "Duffy," he prompted, "This is Starbat,
detaching now!" With a loud THUMP, the manta-winged ship let go of
the shuttle's nose, slipping away on a burst of backwards thrust.
reported, "We're away! One minute, fifty-five seconds to interface…"
also lost the main com-line," Piccoli added. "Switching to
was a pause, then Duffy's voice broke in over the com-line: "Duffy to
Starbat! Activating Jefferson System…She's ready!"
System," Duffy barked, "FIRING!"
ripple of explosive bolts ran down the length of the Washington, while a
muffled charge from the emergency device severed the last main ties that
connected the passenger cabin to the crippled shuttle. Another pair of
compression blasts surged underneath the newly separated cabin section,
sending it sailing slowly away from the rest of the ship.
compartment's free, Sir," Rogers reported.
by! I'm going to maneuver the ship below the cabin!" Nursing the ship
along, Bruebaker guided the Starbat around until her back was facing the
free-floating cabin. Looming close, Bruebaker tried to align the ship so
that it's shadow covered the surface of the target above them.
minute, twenty seconds…"
get those arms up! Lock on to the cabin's mid-point," Bruebaker
ordered. "That will give us the most stability if we maneuver!"
moving the controls, Piccoli kept one eye on his readouts while guiding
the twin mecha-arms by eyesight. "Steady…I've got her lined up…"
A slight rumble could be heard as some unseen force began to buffet the
Seabat, making one of the arms skitter aside. Growling, the young operator
goosed the arm back into its track. "Hold her for a few seconds,
guarantee anything but a couple, Piccoli," Bruebaker hissed.
"Don't miss!" A heartbeat later… and two heavy thumps
transmitted down the length of the ship.
We have the cabin, sir!"
us in close, Piccoli," Bruebaker prompted. "Rogers, you have
those computations ready?"
had her attention focused on her control board, but she managed to reply
briefly, "The computer's done the bulk of the computations…but the
fine tuning will have to be done manually. You'll need to have the ship
positioned exactly, or whatever we do won't matter when we hit
one minute," Rogers grimaced. "Cutting it close…I'm feeding
the computations to your station, now!"
glanced down at the readouts on his console; seeing the projection of the
Starbat's vector, speed and position. A slightly red after-image lay
superimposed over it, indicating the proper direction. "Commencing
maneuver! Hold tight!" Shifting the HOST, he felt the ships
guide-thrusters begin to pull the ship and the cabin pod into position.
the view of the Earth panned away, leaving only a view of stars ahead.
seconds to interface," Rogers reported tensely. "You're off by
Feeling the tension in his knuckles, Bruebaker held on to the controls
with one hand briefly so he could snap off three toggles. "Overdrive
still off target! Adjust roll-guides by two-point-four!"
are locked down!" Piccoli reported, taking the time then to strap
himself in tighter. "Wherever we go, the cabin goes with us!"
hope it's out into space," Rogers prayed softly, raising her voice
when a PING emitted from her computer. "You have it, sir! Optimum
trajectory for slingshot!"
to interface!?" Bruebaker asked sharply.
time like the present!" He set his hand over a three-split lever
beside his controls. "Here goes nothing…Engines to Military
Power!" With that, he jammed the lever roughly until it hit the
spears of incandescent flame vomited from the Arc-Royal engines, filling
the space behind the Starbat with violent light and motion. With a
shudder, the ship and its hastily mated cargo began to resist the pull of
gravity against it.
seconds! Trajectory holding!" Rogers and Piccoli held on to their
stations, as the vibrations got worse. Outside, the cabin pod rocked
against the Starbat's grapplers as the force of gravity pounded away at
glared at the display as it trembled under the encroaching gravity stress.
"Coming up…c'mon! Just keep it up…"
slapped the emergency thrust levers with the heel of his hand, as if to
coax more power to the engines. "Just little bit…more…there! MAX
Rogers' eyes widened at the numbers now scrolling over her readout.
"Sir, it's working! We're holding at six seconds, relative position
the view of the receding stars had come to a halt, while still shaking
from the stress of the engines fighting the planet's pull. Then, slowly,
the paired ship and pod began to move forward, away from the Earth behind
at eight seconds, relative…ten…twelve…fifteen," Rogers
reported, relief coloring her words. "We're holding course and moving
back into space!"
Max-Power," Bruebaker said, bracing himself so that the controls
didn't shift off the mark by a micron. "Tell me the moment we've
breached the gravity limit!" Even as he said this, the vibrations
that had seized the ship were lessening in intensity with every passing
moment. Eternity crawled through the tunnel of a minute…
Rogers reported, sighing as the vibrations slacked off into a muted
background rumble, "Gravity Limit reached, Lieutenant! We're back in
free space again!"
Bruebaker quickly yanked the emergency thruster levers back to idle. The
howl of the twin Arc-Royals spooled down into near-silence, leaving the
ship to coast forward under her increased momentum. "Status?"
beyond the Gravity Limit at course three-five-one-mark-two," Rogers
reported gustily. "The cabin pod scans as intact!"
arresting thrusters!" Pulling back on the HOST, he let out a long
breath himself as he heard the cough-hiss of the forward ring of thrusters
along the Starbat's nose come to life. With the slightest reduction in
speed, the ship slowed to more-controlled pace, still moving away from the
from certain destruction…
Geo-synchronous Orbit Over Geneva
away from the air dock, Commander Brighton paused amid the sudden flare of
flaring lights, shielding her eyes as a cluster of world-net reporters
crowded in close. Amid this whiteout, she could barely make out the shapes
of a few recorder devices and wand mikes being shoved at her face.
What was it like being the captain of the first successful rescued ship in
Brighton! May we ask what your thoughts are over the skills and abilities
of the Space Rescue Team that assisted you???"
Brighton could respond, a wall of Station Security regulars moved in
between her and the reporters, holding them at bay like a dark-gray wall.
right, settle down people!" one of the men said almost soothingly.
"The Commander will give you a statement…after she sees her
superiors. Now, back off and give her some room to breathe!"
at her side all most at once, a short man with a weasel face, dressed in
the drab colors of the Earth Civil Services gently latched onto the elbow
of Brighton's pressure suit and guided her away from the paparazzi.
"Commander…this way, please?" With quick steps, he pulled her
along until the mob of questions and cameras was left behind.
do apologize for not being here so quickly when your cabin was finally
opened, but the lead office here didn't have time to assemble a…formal
unit to keep the press at bay in time."
nodded numbly. "I…understand, sir." She turned her head
slightly, looking back over her shoulder at where she came from.
entire docking bay was filled with the gray, manta shapes of three SRT
ships, which loomed over the now anchored cabin pod all that remained
of the Washington. The cabin pod itself had both aft and forward hatches
open, and it was only now that the last of the ambulatory-capable
passengers were disembarking into the hands of several station medical
teams, who guided them into a hastily-erected triage area near the mouth
of the bay.
ECS officer nodded, following her gaze. "It's good no further deaths
occurred during this crisis. Some of the passengers had been knocked
around when the Jefferson System blew the cabin clear from your
ship." He shrugged. "Very fortunate, I'd say."
frowned at that remark. "One death alone isn't something to be
considered 'fortunate', sir."
his throat, the short man replied, "It is regrettable that Officers
Capson and Tess were killed…we're going to make a full retribution to
their families after we process the paperwork, of course."
course," Brighton agreed blithely. Just then, she caught sight of two
figures at the edge of the triage. "Excuse me, sir…there's
something I need to tend to."
man started to object, but he released her arm and nodded. "We still
must debrief you, afterwards, Commander," he stated in a no-nonsense
Brighton didn't look back once as she crossed the cold metal floor towards
screens separated the area, forming small cubicles where the medics and
doctors looked after the victims, who rested on cots and raised gurneys.
Amid the hubbub of medics and the gaggle of passengers, she wove her way
to where a medic and another person knelt beside a stretcher. The lone
figure laying on it was hooked up to two monitors and an IV-machine…
he looked mad as a wet cat, in spite of the drugs hazing his pain.
you get this off me and let m'go!" Horst muttered crossly, glaring at
the medic who was checking his vitals and the dressings on his exposed arm
calm down! We're only doing this to save your life," Rebecca said
soothingly, blinking back a new set of tears that threatened to join the
tracks on her cheeks.
his bald head towards the young attendant, the engineer fumbled his free
hand to absently pat the one Becky had left on his undamaged shoulder.
"I'm gonna be fine, kiddo…you just wait, you'll see."
what you went through," Brighton commented as she reached their side,
"I'd be surprised if you finally made yourself a liar, Horst."
burly man looked up at his commanding officer and cracked a half-smile.
"I haven't been 'round this long to go out like that, Captain!"
He suddenly frowned mightily, shaking his head. "Devil take it…it's
not how I'd thought Tom to go…"
gave his shoulder a squeeze. "It's okay, Horst…we understand."
She looked up at Brighton briefly. "So far, everyone else is okay. No
one got more than a few bumps and bruises."
lucky! That's what we were," Horst intoned roughly.
nodded, "Lucky for us, those Space Rescue people were around!"
"Indeed," Brighton agreed, recalling what she'd said before
about the recently formed organization. "Speaking of which-?"
She was cut off when another body joined them at Horst's stretcher.
looked up and blinked, surprise filling his features. "Janie!? What
the Devil are you doing here???"
that, the titan-haired engineer, Janine Rogers fell to her knees at his
side, a scowl glittering in her eyes behind her glasses. "Saving your
hide, grandpa! What else would I be doing?!" She grabbed his free
hand with both of hers, scolding, "You look like hell!"
thought you were still assigned to Libertine Station, girl!"
was," Rogers huffed. "Until they activated the rescue ship
division two months ago! I thought I sent you a letter telling you about
stared at the two arguing, then glanced at Brighton. "She's his
Brighton just grinned. "His daughter's one of the primary heads for
ECS Corp, but this is the first I've heard of her daughter being on the
now, Horst was trying to calm Rogers down, speaking in a less gruff tone;
"Sweetness, if I'd known what was going to happen-!"
you old reprobate," Rogers hushed him huskily, emotion overcoming her
for the first time since the whole event started. "You're not
one-step removed from God, you know!"
groaned, "Won-der-full! I suppose you're going to tell your mother
about this now? She'll really rake me over for getting myself hurt like
shook her head. "She'll know but I'll be there to help you recover
She's always said you're getting too old to be playing space jockey,"
she replied with a hint of a smile.
You're mother's got one Devil of a temper!"
chuckled, "Easy to see where she gets it from."
that, Rogers and Horst looked up at the other two. "I'm sorry, ma'am,
I didn't mean to, well…intrude on your debriefing!"
shook her head. "This wasn't a debriefing, Officer Rogers, though I'm
sure that will come later!" She reached down to offer her hand to the
slim redhead. "Allow me to thank you and your team for coming to our
aid! Without you…well, I'd hate to think…"
me, Captain," Rogers nodded, gripping the older woman's hand firmly,
"I know what you mean. And no thanks are necessary. I and the rest of
the team did all we could to save your people and your passengers."
reminds me," Horst grumbled, trying to sit up on his pallet.
"Where is the rest of your crew, Janie? Got to thank them for saving
my worthless hide, too!"
think they're over there," Rebecca offered, turning to point with her
head in the direction of the nearest SRT ship.
and the others turned at that. Facing towards the manta ships with a
searching eye, she caught sight of them in the shadow of the one with the
sigil "SRT-22" on the side. A small cluster of uniformed men and
women spoke to the crew of the rescue ship; all of them still garbed in
their deep space and EVA suits. They had a tired aura around them, but the
still stood up straight and proud in front of their superiors.
good fellows, Captain," Rogers stated softly. "Every last one…"
Brighton could comment on what her crewman had said, she caught sight of a
brown-haired officer being bracketed by two men in very-fancy dress
uniforms. He had the air of a ship-leader, and was trying to gamely stay
erect on his feet before the two men in their soup-and-fish.
one point, the man turned a haggard face away from the two officers…that's
when his eyes met Brighton's. The blonde-haired pilot shared a sudden
flash of connection with the young UES officer. For a brief instant, Sarah
Brighton and Eric Bruebaker recognized each other. Without speaking,
Brighton mouthed the words 'thank you' across the distance between them.
With a nod, Bruebaker returned her thanks with a soft smile. Then, clearly
being addressed by one of the officers, he straightened up and turned back
to his superior, speaking with a bit more animation than before.
Brighton smiled. "They're all good people…and thank god we have