Tour of Duty: Stories and Provocation

Tour of Duty: Stories and Provocation by Michael Z. Williamson Read Free Book Online

Book: Tour of Duty: Stories and Provocation by Michael Z. Williamson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Z. Williamson
engines up smoothly, and pushed them from free fall to 2 G standard. The couch gripped him through the acceleration.
    The panicky, uneven voice replied, “Everything! I’m not a flight officer, I’m a purser. The flight crew are probably dead. Engines are boosting hard , we have at least one breach, and I’m hearing structural noises.”
    Vela still had the call. “Understood, Mammy Blue . We have a cutter en route. Stand by for further information. Do you need a talk-through on shutting down boost?”
    “Rescue, I don’t think I can! There was a loud explosion from aft. The whole boat bucked and all the alarms triggered. I mean all of them. Even stuff I can see is working is flashing at me. We responded and the co-captain went aft. A bit later we had a breach. The captain is back there now. Do you need me to find the time tick?”
    Vela shook her head as she said, “Negative, Mammy Blue , just give me all the info you have—break—all craft, all craft, mayday mayday FSS Mammy Blue . Salvage and rescue. I show one-nine-seven passengers, one-nine-seven passengers and one-nine crew. Any craft able to assist, respond on Rescue Channel Two—break—” She shouted over her shoulder, “Budd, get Channel Two, I’m handling damage report live on One. Purser, continue, describe all damage you can confirm.”
    “Rescue, I’m squirting full status. I can do that much. Stand by.”
    Astronautics Systems Senior Sergeant Peter Budd held all the non-Astrogation tasks, everything from life support to communication repair, and docking control. He also handled tracking for Astrogation, and logistics management. Budd knew his work well, and bent his big frame and smooth head over his controls. “They’re at one point seven standard G,” he said. “Runaway reactors, from the flux.”
    Stadter winced and turned to his console. It took effort in 2 Gs. He wanted information on his own screens. Two hundred and sixteen people, minus any who were dead already. From the sound of it, most of the officers were dead or incapacitated. The couch under him was itchy-damp with sweat, and it wasn’t just the acceleration causing it.
    Emergency calls happened every couple of days. Every couple of weeks one was significant: an engine failure, a navigation failure, a medical emergency onboard. The cutter was crammed with medical gear and spare parts, and crewed by a pilot, an astrogator, astronautics tech, an engine tech and a medic. Their suits could handle short EVA, and Medic Lowther’s was meant for extended use.
    This time, there were a possible two hundred and sixteen casualties and a large and substantially valuable ship. It was absolutely impossible for them to conduct a rescue of that magnitude with their boat. They had rescue balls for fifty, but any response assumed some kind of resources aboard the distressed vessel, or a failure so catastrophic none were needed.
    Most of these people were going to die if they hadn’t already. If they could reach lifeboats aboard their damaged ship, they’d have a chance. Otherwise . . .
    “Vela, what are you working on?” he asked. Her hands flew across her screens. She was graceful despite her lankiness, and practiced, but tense under stress and acceleration.
    “I’m trying to determine cause of failure. The engine damage could pose serious threats.”
    He’d suspected as much.
    “That’s important, but first is massive response.”
    “Sir, if we don’t know what caused it—-”
    “Massive response,” he repeated. “Then we revise details underway, and we’ll also have more data to work with as ships get closer.”
    “Understood, sir,” she agreed. “I’ll scare up everything I can.”
    “Budd, keep me informed. You’re taking sensors on those engines.”
    Budd replied, “Boost is erratic, averaging one point five G standard at a guess. It’s hard to tell at this distance, but she looks bent ahead of the engines. Some struts must have failed. She’s describing a

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