Is this what it’s like?
“I’m here!” he shouted into the blackness. “Where are you?”
There was to be someone to meet him, guide him. I thought it would be different. Where is everybody? My family, my friends, they were supposed to greet me.
The cold started biting at his fingers.
Fingers, cold, my hands?! I’m alive!
Yanex clasped his hands together to confirm the reality. “I’m alive!” he shouted.
There was no response from the blackness he drifted in. Or am I?
He was confused to find himself still in his physical body. Wasn’t that to have been left behind? Yanex swung his arms wildly about. The air, the cold air, whizzed through his fingers. Then he was conscious of the sensation of breath. The chill ran down his throat as he inhaled deeply, almost gasping. He had to stay calm, keep his head. Where was he?
The answer came with the smack of knuckles on a metal surface. He was alive. He was suddenly sure of it. In desperation he grabbed onto whatever it was he’d hit. A metal beam anchored him to a thin veil of reality. If he were alive, it surely wouldn’t be for very long. The only place he could conceivably be was still onboard the Oronos. He might as well have already been dead.
His senses had been overloaded. As the shock gradually started to pass, the silence became a hum, which grew into a thunderous roar. Yanex tried to clear his head as he floated in the darkness, a thin metal beam his only other physical contact; his only link to reality. He soon recognized it to be one of the ceiling supports of the COC. He was holding onto the ceiling in the zero gravity environment.
The humming in his ears subsided to a high pitched wine which would remain for some time. Slowly other sounds became discernible, strange sounds that with intense concentration became voices, screaming voices of terror and confusion. Some cried out for the God as he had, others just cried out. Trying to communicate was futile until the noise was dominated by a loud crack accompanied by a blue flash. Here was a sound he knew all too well, a weapon being fired on stun.
Another shot came with screams for quiet. “Shut up!” Hellor’s voice bellowed. “Everybody! Shut up!”
When most of the other sounds cleared Hellor called out, “General, are you there!”
“Yes! I’m here!”
“The General, only! Lead me to you, sir.”
Yanex guided the man to him until they touched. Yanex had never been so glad to feel another living being. The two men clasp onto each other in reassurance.
“I thought I was dead,” Yanex admitted in a hushed voice.
“We are dead,” said Hellor. “Lights, power, gravity, life-support, even the emergency lights are out, and they’re supposed to have their own batteries. We could be just this cell floating in space.”
“No,” Yanex responded, “we’d be frozen solid by now.”
“Whatever it was, it whacked all the reserve power supplies.” Hellor patted his weapon. “This gun was fully charged, now it’s dead.”
“The emergency backups are shielded,” Yanex tried to be hopeful. “They might’ve survived.”
“I doubt it sir. That thing even killed my hand communicator.”
Yanex grabbed the man by the back of the neck. “We have to try!”
Hellor tried to pull himself together. After a moment he suggested, “The power station, we can find out there.”
“That’s forward, which way do we go?”
Hellor thought a bit. “I was under a console, I think on the main floor. I have no idea where we are now.”
“I suddenly realize how big this room is,” said Yanex slowly.
Hellor had a thought. “If we kick ourselves straight down we’ll hit the floor. We should be able to find our way from there.”
Yanex pointlessly nodded in the darkness. “I’m right behind you.”
Hellor planted his feet on the beam and pushed off. With his arms out in front of him, he crashed into a floor and hunted for something to hold onto before floating off into the blackness again. Yanex in turn crashed his shoulder into a railing, which was a good thing. The two men pulled themselves along the railing and attempted to find their way around. Memories of the side walkway railings, their contours, bends, and curves were put to the test. A long downward slope had to be the side steps leading down to the forward propulsion section. Locating the exact console they wanted was another challenge. All the while they had to push aside floating debris while trying not to lose their grip.
One object touched in the darkness gave Yanex a start; a body had drifted into him. Hellor ran his hand up along the torso. He touched a rank insignia and then a cool wet face.
“I think it’s Tellious,” he said as pushed it away.
Yanex responded with a cold, “Keep moving.”
The air was getting stale and colder.
Finally they reached the station that controlled the ship’s power grid. It was as dark as all the others were until Hellor pulled open a small side compartment. Here was the only light in the huge chamber. The manual backup controls to the power grid had a dim light within its compartment. Hellor had been trained how to use this equipment in case of a computer failure. He was sure the designers hadn’t thought up a contingency like this. One of the indicators showed how much power was left in the emergency backups. The batteries were distressingly close to being dead.
“Can you bring life support back on line?” Yanex asked.
“Yeah, for about thirty deda.”
Hellor wedged his legs under the console as he tried to work. He first activated the adjacent computer terminal. All the terminals had the ability to act independently in case of a disaster. The ambient light from the screen cast an eerie glow on their faces. Being the only source of light, it drew anyone else who was able to get to them.
“What about bringing one of the reactors back on line?” was the General’s next suggestion.
Hellor worked on the keyboard a moment. “It’s the only course of action we have. Which one?”
“Number four’s the newest.”
“We only have enough power for one attempt,” Hellor explained. “Four’s too far back. Worst case scenario, we’ve broken up. We could only have the forward hull.”
“Which other might’ve survived?”
Hellor thought a moment. “Either two or three are the best bets. They’re both in the forward hull.”
“Number two,” Yanex ordered.
Before Hellor got very far, a voice called out from the darkness. It was Ratoe, drifting somewhere, trying to get to them.
“Two blew out!” he cried. His voice faded as he spoke. “Try three!”
Hellor looked over at the ghostly image of Yanex’s face. He just gave a simple nod.
“Transferring all remaining power to reactor three,” Hellor said with a sigh.
They watched intently as a darkened image of the ship appeared on the screen. Encased was a mesh of lines that represented the ship’s multiple power grids. A lighted spot under the COC was where the last of the backup power was stored. A line leading out from that point lit up as the transfer began. One by one different segments of the complex network lit up as the power made its way to the destination. Conduits, transfer points, exchange pumps, and lock down ports were all negotiated. Each piece that lit up indicated that more of the ship was still in existence.
“Come on,” Hellor urged, “be there.”
The power flooded a square on the starboard side of the map. “Good!” exclaimed Hellor, “it’s there.”
“Can you tell if it’s operational?” asked Yanex.
“I could run a diagnostic, but that will take some of the charge. We have barely enough for the ignition sequence as is.”
Yanex took a deep breath, his exhale was visible. “Well, it either starts or it doesn’t.”
Ratoe’s face dropped in from above as Hellor engaged the startup sequence. Others gathered around or floated just out of view. The computer screen changed over to the reactor’s status. Readings jumped and fluctuated as the unit struggled back to life. One of the ships many hearts was attempting to beat again.
The one reading which mattered most was the core activity. They had to use the remaining power to stimulate a reaction in the core, one that hopefully would be strong enough to sustain itself once the input was exhausted.
The reading crept up to five percent.
“There we go!” exclaimed Hellor.
“No,” stated Ratoe. “That’s from your input. That has to grow once the input is gone. Push everything you have left into it.”
The backup power level dropped out. There was barely enough left to operate the computer.
“Shit! Shit!” Hellor cursed as the core reaction dipped.
“Wait.” Ratoe pulled his face down to get a better look at the monitor. “Give it a deda.”
The reading leveled off at two percent.
Ratoe snapped his fingers and pointed at the screen. “Get it.”
Nothing happened, so he did it again.
“It’s sustaining,” he muttered. The two changed to three. Ratoe smiled. “It’s sustaining, and it’s growing.”
“That’s it,” exclaimed Hellor. “We’re back on line.”
Yanex grabbed a hold of the two men. “Well done,” he said with a quivering voice.
Then he boldly ordered, “Life support, lights, and gravity.”
“No, no, no,” Ratoe blurted out. “Not with a three percent reaction. Let it build to at least fifty, then recharge the backup cells and fire up another one.”
“All right,” Yanex conceded. “Take charge of this station, Captain. Proceed as you see fit. Keeping in mind it’s probably getting pretty cold in the outer sections.”
Yanex turned to Hellor. “Major, we got a lot of wounded floating around here.”
Hellor responded, “Plus we’re probably sitting in the middle of the entire Krix fleet.”
Marcus was confused to find himself back in his body, let alone his cockpit. Although the experience he’d gone through wasn’t quite what he expected the crossover to the other side to be like, he’d been sure that he was on his way. He was almost disappointed to find himself still alive. Surely he would ascend to the next plain. Hadn’t this past life been trial enough? He’d done all he could to help his fellow people. Perhaps it just wasn’t his time?
Then a frightening thought occurred to him. Was it his motives that were being called into question? Was he really pure of heart, or was he lying to himself in an effort to gain the rewards of the next level of reality? A step that he truly didn’t deserve to take due to his arrogance and past life of indulgence. The test was not over just yet.
It took him sometime to gather his wits. Confusion passed as he felt his way around the cramped cockpit. The lack of stars stated that he remained in the launch tube. Rather, he hoped he was still aboard, it was difficult to be sure. The instruments were dead, there were no lights whatsoever. Even his hand-held communicator was dark. Maybe he had been blinded? Marcus quickly reasoned that possibility away, certain controls made noise when activated.
He sat for what seemed an eternity, meditating and waiting for rescue. His only course of action was clear and potentially deadly. Without power or light, he had no idea what awaited him outside the clear enclosure, the stale air of the launch tube or the vacuum of space. There was plenty of time to think about it, he had a seventy-two hour air supply before going into stasis.
Stasis wasn‘t an option. It was an endless sleep that could potentially last centuries. He’d be neither dead nor alive. His soul would be trapped in his frozen corpse. Death was by far the better option.
The idea bothered him, never in all his life with all the pain and misery he’d witnessed, had he considered killing himself. He was always firm in his belief that there was a reason for it all. That it was all part of some a greater plan for them, for him. Why else were they there? Placed upon that lonely planet four thousand years ago. Surely someone had done that for a reason? Someone had terraformed Aultra.
Had he been wrong all this time? Throughout his long life his faith had held him together. Feeling that he had his own house in order, he’d tried to be a source of strength to others. Had he misled them? The doubt was overpowering. He wondered what, if anything, would greet him if he did kill himself. It would be another question to ask. Why now? Why should he be plagued with doubt at this crucial time?
There had to be more of the ship around him. As he was wearing a self-contained spacesuit he could explore and see. The question was whether there air outside his ship. Pulling the emergency release handle answered that. The canopy hadn’t been blown off by the decompression. Having seen someone die from exposure to the vacuum, he’d long since made-up his mind that was not how he wanted to die.
Then it hit him, what if the cockpit had lost pressure as well. He could still be in the vacuum. Opening a hatch could kill people on the other side. The only way to be sure was to open his helmet.
Marcus took some time to contemplate this and make peace with himself. Then an idea occurred to him. If it were to be the vacuum, he would make it easier on himself; there was no need for him to suffer. Certainly not all of his life had been righteous, he was only human after all, but he didn’t deserve a death like that.
With one hand on the release latch, he pulled his sidearm. At the first sign of the air escaping he would end it, hopefully before his lungs were torn out. Releasing the weapon’s safety, Marcus planted the barrel of the large gun in the base of his jaw. One quick pull of the trigger and his brains would go through the ceiling.
“On three,” he said out loud. However at the end of the count nothing happened. His hand refused to pull the release. Never had he been so unsure of himself. This crisis of faith was almost complete.
He became angry, angry with himself. It was he that was failing. Failing the test he now faced. If it were to be the worst of it, then so be it. He would face it with conviction. Jamming the barrel back into his throat, Marcus snapped open the helmet release, without a count and without hesitation. A metallic click preceded a slight hiss. Marcus froze as he listened to it. His grip tightened on the weapon. After the crack of the helmet’s seal there was nothing. The enclosure hadn’t been torn off, and his breath stayed firmly held.
In suspense, he sat as his mind went blank. Only the icy touch of the cold air seeping in through the gap in his face mask stirred him. Marcus jerked the gun from his head. After putting it away, he paused a moment to give thanks and ask forgiveness.
After pulling off his helmet he hooked his feet under the panel to keep himself from drifting off, he got access to the survival equipment behind the seat. Among the food, air canisters, and other items included cold weather gear. There was also a hand held lamp and a second communicator. Both were dead.
Then a chill ran up his spine, a horrible thought occurred to him. Marcus drew his gun again and checked the small control pad on its lower side, just in front of the trigger guard. It was dark. There wasn’t even enough internal battery power to indicate that the removable power pack was spent. Pointing it off in a safe direction, he pulled the trigger. There was a click and the trigger mechanically locked back in its recessed position. Marcus shook his head. Somehow it seemed funny. Why hadn’t he thought to check it before? Why? Because he’d still be sitting in the cockpit.
He chuckled to himself. The chuckle became louder and got out of control. He sat in the cold and darkness laughing hysterically. It felt good. It had been too long. Once again he had made the age-old mistake of taking things too seriously.
His laughter echoed in the launch tube and nearly drowned out the sound of a hatch breaking open.
“Hey laughing boy, what’s so funny?” Bogan called out from the darkness.
“Nothing,” Marcus responded as he pulled himself together.
“You all right? Ya haven’t gone dippy have you?”
“No, not yet. How about you guys?”
“We’re outright screwed,” answered Aurora from the same direction. They were getting closer. Other people were also climbing through the maintenance hatch that fed from one tube to the next.
“We’re alive,” Marcus answered. We still have a chance.
With the gravity and lights restored in the COC the wounded were lined up along the back wall awaiting transport to the Medical Center. With the overload it would be sometime before they would be moved. Unoccupied crewmembers did what they could for them.
Major Hellor found a free moment to check on someone he’d worked with. The gash across her cheek had stopped bleeding and blood drying on her face ran into her red hair. With a concussion and a few cracked ribs, Lorran had been lucky.
“How ya feeling, kid,” Hellor asked as he knelt beside her.
“Like I got hit by a starship,” she mused with a wince of pain, then smiled up at him.
“I was worried about you,” he confessed. “I’m, sorry I didn’t come looking for you sooner.”
Lorran reached up to pat his arm. “It’s okay, looks like you’ve been busy. How about the rest of the fleet?”
“We don’t know yet, we’re still blind.”
“What about Tri-S? How bad is it?” Lorran tried to push herself up. She hardly moved before he stopped her with a gentle but firm hand.
“Relax Lieutenant, you’re off duty. We can handle it.”
Hellor heard his name being called. Before getting up, he patted her on the shoulder. “I’ll get down to see you as soon as I can.”
“You don’t have to,” she responded.
“I want to,” he said as he stood.
She nodded with a smile as he left. It was a welcome surprise.
“What’s our weapons status?” Yanex inquired from the Command Station.
“The mains should still be pretty much intact,” Hellor stated as he rushed to his post. “I managed to drop ’em back into their bays when I saw the Excalibur going.”
“What about the shields?” asked Marcone. He stood by the General as someone rigged a sling for his arm with a piece of cable.
Hellor was able to check his instruments now that they had power. “Shields are down. I’m not getting any data from the either projector.”
“What do we have left for scanners?” Yanex asked Colonel Kayliss.
With the loss of internal communication, Colonel Kayliss, commander of the sensor section, had made his way to the COC.
“We’re not getting input from any of the external arrays,” he reported. “I think it might be a processing problem. They were working on it when I left. We do still have proximity and some of the visual equipment.”
“I don’t want any transmitted signals,” Yanex said. The proximity grid sent out an energy pulse to detect any nearby objects. That would show signs of life in the otherwise dead hulk that was the Oronos. There was also a complete communications blackout. Yanex didn’t want to arouse the attention of any nearby enemy ships. At least until they were able to deal with them. From the looks of things that wasn’t going to be any time to soon, if at all.
“Use the visual system. Let’s see if there’s anybody else here.”
He and Kayliss stepped over to the sensor station.
While watching Kayliss work Yanex was approached by Captain Ratoe.
“Sir, with some cross junctions I’ve managed to get almost two power grids on line.”
The General nodded in approval. “What about the drive systems?”
“Phase drive is out. We lost at least one projector in the collision. We’re trying to get status on the rest of ’em. There’s not enough power to try a startup yet. And we only have two of the six main thrusters working. Maneuvering is just as bad.”
Yanex thought a moment. Any hope of fighting was gone. The only thing to do was run and hide. How he detested the idea.
“Concentrate on phase drive. I don’t want to be here for very long. I want a report in two mayda (half an hour)”
After Ratoe saluted and hurried off, Yanex turned his attention back to Kayliss. Different views outside the ship flashed on the monitors set into the console. None showed Krix warships looming over them. To Marcone’s bewilderment there was no sign of planets either. Just distant stars, unfamiliar stars.
“We’re not in the Carmella System anymore?” Marcone queried.
“Could it have been obliterated?” Yanex asked.
“I don’t think so, sir,” Kayliss said. “We seem to be somewhere else.”
“Outside the system?” asked Marcone.
“Maybe beyond the frontier.”
He then placed one of the views on the main overhead screen. The scene slowly panned the sky as the ship rotated while drifting.
Marcone pointed up at the screen. “Is that quasar forty-six?”
Kayliss locked the image and zoomed in. “No, the star configuration is wrong.”
He paused a moment. “Unless we’re looking at it from the other side.”
“Great,” mused Marcone.
“What’s our present position?” asked Vice-General Yanex.
“I can’t say just yet, sir. Without the main computer on line, it’s going to take some time.”
“Bring the proximity grid up,” ordered Yanex. He leaned in to watch the incoming information.
Kayliss looked over the data. “Detection out to two-thousand. There’s a scattering of debris, most of which is probably from us.” He paused a bit to read the rest of the report. “That’s it.”
“No sign of the Ittala?” Yanex asked.
“No sir, no other ships.”
The stoic man folded his arms and grimaced. There had been over three thousand people on the Ittala. The Rhyolite he knew was dead. They were alone, alone and lost. With the ship so heavily damaged the situation seemed hopeless. No phase drive meant they were as good as crippled, left to drift among these strange stars. The sight of bodies being carried out only compounded the matter. However, Yanex wasn’t anywhere near ready to give up. He had to rally the crew. Confidence had to be maintained in his top officers.
“Our position is secure then,” he declared. “Stand down from battle stations and get communications back. I want a staff meeting in two mayda.”