Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Lost Calling - Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Present Day
Nexus Gate
Location Unknown

Calrose felt the nausea wash over her. Most humans experienced FTL sickness, but all humans felt gate-sickness. The reality warping properties of being spat out on the other side of the galaxy were hard to stomach. No matter how many times you did, and for Calrose it was still few, you never got used it. Every gate had a robotically maintained 'runway' that gave incoming and outgoing jumps, plenty of space for their crew to deal with the affects.
Calrose looked over at Arabel. The gravity-nets were still down and the massive braid of red hair coiled around the teen like a serpent. Arabel was unconcious, a common symptom of the jump. Even the most well designed numan adaptations couldn't overcome the way gate travel affected their bodies. Other species fared better, but it would always feel like the unnatural thing that it was.
The captain heard Jett vomiting behind her. She really hoped that he found the sickbags in time. Gate jumps weren't a regular thing for the GRV, a small craft built for hauling things back and forth within a star system. But it had made jumps before. Even small haulers tended to make jumps just to get to the system they were working in. So it had a coordinate-dialer and the necessary nav-computer to use the gates. But it was such a rare thing and with no FTL drive, there was little occasion to stock sickbags in easy to reach locations.
"Jett," Calrose called behind her, wincing to ignore her own queasiness. "You alright back there?"
"Yeah," Jett groaned. "I'll live."
"Good." Calrose thumbed a switch to being the Gravy back online. Lights flickered and systems stuttered as the ship ran through a preliminary analysis, the internal systems trying their best to diagnose why it had so swiftly been shut down. Calrose frowned as the first readouts began to emerge on the small screen to her left. "Drek."
"What is it?" Jett said, his voice sounding much clearer as the effects of the gate-sickness were fading. It was unavoidable, but at least it wasn't long lived.
"We got hit pretty hard back there and the system is having a hard time bringing a few things back online." She looked over at the sleeping teen again. Seeing her still unconscious, her head floating loosely atop her neck, "If you can handle the movement, can you bring Arabel to and see if she can make sense of the drivel this system is pouring out?"
Jett unclicked his harness and kicked away from his chair. He held out open palms to catch himself before colliding with the wall of panels on the other side of the cockpit. Zero-g didn't bother him. His first few positions as an engineer were on a ship even smaller than the Gravy, and he got far too used to the malfunctioning gravity nets. He was even one to be fond of zero-g rooms on stations, a passtime most of his friends found ridiculous.
He pulled himself across the panels until he could reach Arabel's chair. Maneuvering around it, he floated just in front of the purple skinned girl. Zero-g he was used to, but teenage girls were a complete enigma to him. He looked at her for a second before grabbing her chin and gently shaking it. When that did little to revive her, he patted the side of her cheek.
"Bel," he called softly. Then a little louder, "Bel, wake up!"
The girl's eyes fluttered behind closed eyelids before slowly opening. A look of temporary confusion crossed her face, staring at the floating engineer in front of her.
"Welcome back," Jett said with that broad obnoxious grin.
Arabel's glare quickly morphed into a look of surprise. Thankfully Jett knew all too well what was driving that expression and he quickly produced a sickbag from within the fold of his jumpsuit. Arabel took it from him with a gasp and then proceeded to fill it.
"I'm glad you're back Arabel," the captain said. "When you are ready, I need your help assessing the damage."
When Arabel regained her composure, grabbing the meter-long braid of hair floating around her and tucking it under her backside. She turned to her terminal and began digesting the information spilling across the screens. Double checking the system analysis with a live diagnostic running on the CDT strapped to her forearm, she nodded in understanding.
"We got hit pretty bad it seems. The system is actually having a hard time assessing certain functions because it isn't even aware those parts of the ship are actually missing. We have light damage to the hull, no breach of atmosphere though, obviously. What little energy shielding we had is completely fried.  A third of the engine bank is destroyed and the damage to the rest is making it hard to start up anything other than adjustment thrusters."
"That is going to make getting anywhere very difficult," Jett commented, floating back towards his own terminal just behind the captain's seat.
"We won't need much more than that if we can jump back to a safe system," Calrose replied. "How are we for gate functions. Can we get astrogation and the coord-dialer back online?"
Arabel grimaced, "Uh, not exactly. Astrogation is online, but it is glitching out on me. I might be able to fix it given enough time, but right now, it has no clue where we are. I don't know if that is a result of the cold jump, or damage from the attack."
"And the coord-dialer?" Jett asked.
"The dialer is another story all together. It might be something you have to look into Jett, but my system analysis is not recognizing the ship as even having one installed."
"I guess we are stuck here for the time being," Calrose sighed. She assumed control of the functioning thrusters and fired a stream of energy to slow the craft down, moving it gently out of the gate's runway, before bringing the GRV to a halt. Releasing the controls, the captain turned in her seat to face the others. Her body tried its best to slump into her chair despite the lack of gravity.
"We do have power and systems running to the gravity nets," Arabel forced her voice to sound positive.
"Good enough," Calrose nodded, noting the teen's attempt to keep a brighter spin on the situation. Calrose steeled her resolved and promised herself to keep her captain's head until she saw them through all of this. She reached over and tapped in a command on one of the screens. Moving through a few menus, she reactivated the gravity nets. They felt their stomachs become heavy in their bodies as the ship returned to a tolerable one-g, human preference. She looked up at her crew, her lips tucked in thin against her teeth, "well, let's get to work and see what we can repair."

- - -

They cycled the power to necessary systems as they worked. As far as they could tell, the power cells were undamaged, but they weren't taking chances as they assessed the state of each system. Arabel's diagnostic had been correct in the extent of the damage. A few minor software issues were remedied, but the majority of the physical damage was beyond Jett's ability to repair. Given the time, money, and materials, he was certain he could do it. But certainly not with what he had lying around while floating out in the middle of who knows where. He was particularly disheartened to discover that one repair could have been managed, if he hadn't used the last spare in his cobbling together of their creative escape plan.
"If you hadn't come up with that synth decoy, we would all be dead right now," Calrose assured him. She leaned against the bulkhead of the engineering bay sipping a cup of calabas. The hot drink was a synthetic reproduction of a drink made from the steeped root of the calabas bulb. It was a specialty of her grandmother's and a particular comfort from her childhood. Though at the moment she drank it as much for its warmth as for its comforting properties. As the power was cycled from system to system during the repairs, without the engines running and the major functions of the ship operating, the temperature of the GRV had dropped significantly. It wasn't enough to do something about it, so hot drinks were proving a reasonable alternative to other measures.
Calrose also hoped the drinks would promote the other two to take more breaks. Arabel and Jett were still frantically running about the ship seeing what they could and couldn't repair with their available resources. After a few hours of watching them plug away at whatever they could find, Calrose was beginning to feel useless. She knew ships well enough. It had been a long time since her Academy days, but she used most of the things she learned every day. But she was a pilot. A captain. Her job was knowing how to fly this rust bucket, and having an overview of what did what in case something went wrong. She had the other two to figure out how to fix the problem. She knew how a peak drive worked, but was at a lost when it came to repairing one. So instead she found herself comforting Jett and Arabel as the extent of the damage made it all too clear that there was little that could be done by any of them.
The wrench Jett was using slipped and he slammed his knuckles into the edge of a planysteel plate. He swore loudly in Bantolic and threw the wrench across the room. He slapped his bleeding hand on the floor next to where he lay, head and upper body tucked into an opened panel in the wall.
Calrose grimaced painfully. She hated seeing her crew this way. She accepted that there was little other option to keep them safe. They agreed on a ridiculous plan and actually managed to carry it out. But they all felt the ramifications as the adrenaline wore off. They were adrift in an unknown sector of space, with no way to get back.
"I take it things aren't going well," Arabel said cautiously as she entered the engineering bay.
"No. No they aren't," Jett returned despondently, gazing across the room at the wrench as if it were the source of all the problems.
"Anything new on the system software?" Calrose asked, taking another sip from her quickly cooling mug.
"I got a number of the kinks worked out, but sadly it didn't fix anything. All functions previously reporting back with errors are now just plain broken. And before you ask, no there is no further information from astrogation. I am starting to believe the nav-computer is just frethed. It should have returned with something by now, but it seems these stars don't match any of those in its database. And with the dialer out of commission we can't get a coord reading off the local gate either."
Arabel slumped into a cockpit chair that sat partially disassembled on the floor. Jett had replaced the seat in the cockpit months ago and had been pulling wiring and electronics from the armrest panels to be reused in other projects. The purple-hued girl sighed heavily, blowing the bright red strands of hair out of her eyes.
Jett sat up, wrapping a strip of filthy cloth around his bloody knuckles. "Looks like we are down to one course of action, Cap."
Calrose stared into her cup, the chill was back and she could see her sigh condense on the edge of the mug. "I still don't know if it is a reasonable risk."
"What else are we going to do?" Arabel asked. "We have no idea where we are. We still have limited mobility. And there is no way we are getting back through that gate. What is left other than to call for help."
Calrose turned to the girl, stepping forward away from the wall. "I know. But we also don't know who will respond to a distress call. We could be in a hostile sector, or find ourselves ripe picking for another swarm of pirates."
"Well we have already dealt with 'rats once today, I think it might be worth the risk," Jett said.
"We are completely defenseless out here, for whatever might come our way," the captain reminded them.
"We can do nothing without outside help," Jett replied. "We couldn't fly to the nearest planet or port if we even knew where one was. The food-synth has probably enough materials to keep us fed for a couple weeks at most, but traveling on only thrusters would take decades!"
Calrose nodded in consent. She wasn't trying to disagree, she knew all the facts and just wanted to make sure they understood the problem. She was the captain and ultimately the decision was hers, but with such a small tight knit crew, she wanted it to be a well discussed and unanimous choice.
"Are we all agreed then?" the captain asked, looking back and forth at the two crew members. "We release a distress beacon and take whatever comes calling?"
            They all returned her question with agreeing nods. There really was no other choice. And even with the decision to release a distress beacon, there may still be no one to answer it. The initial choice was to call for help or sit and starve to death. While waiting for a response, the second option might still happen.

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