She crouched and clutched her head, exactly as the safety instruction videos had shown her to do. A red warning light flashed around the elevator cabin, and emergency sirens began blaring. Aurelia could feel the shudder of something hitting the ship, and then she felt pressure as the shuttle righted itself from the blow. Suddenly there was a jolt, and the elevator dropped. She clung to the metal railing, her stomach dropping faster than the cabin. She was convinced that the lift was about to crash into the floor, and she had a vision of the elevator rushing through the shuttle and smashing through the bottom of the ship itself. She closed her eyes tightly but then felt a rush of cool air on her face.
The elevator had stopped at the next floor, the doors sliding open. It obviously had some kind of safety precaution. Aurelia found herself crawling on her hands and knees over the threshold of the elevator, her head spinning. Another explosion rocked the ship, and she felt the air pressure change. Her ears popped, hard. She lay on the soft blue carpet of the floor, her arms tight around herself, not knowing what to do and not caring anymore. If she was going to die like this she would do it here, alone, the tufts of the carpet pressing into the side of her face.
The alarms continued ringing.
“Security Workers to deck 31,” an announcement shouted, then repeated itself three times over the wail of the alarms.
Aurelia kept still. She could hear the sounds of people moving, of screaming, but far away, not here on her deck. Again the shuttle shook.
“Med personnel report to deck stewards,” yelled the announcement.
Something stirred in Aurelia's mind. She screwed her eyes tightly closed and breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth.
What did she know about death in space? She racked her brain, thinking back to all her training. Quiet - it was quiet, she knew that. Space was a vacuum; nothing could be heard. Not instantaneous, as many people believed. You could live for minutes out in space, even without any protection. Cold. Suffocation.
The thought of suffocating slowly in the cold vacuum as she screamed silently made Aurelia sick to her stomach.
“Med personnel report to deck stewards,” repeated the announcement.
Realising she was about to lose her first space shuttle meal, Aurelia quickly rolled over until she was on her hands and knees, her head hanging down. Her body trembled as she retched, and her eyes stung with tears.
When she was done, she crawled away from the stinking pile of vomit and sat, leaning against the wall of the column. The tech Worker had warned her that she might get space sick, she thought, and her lips curled a little; he probably hadn't meant like this, though. There had been no explosions or movements from the ship for some minutes. Aurelia wiped her face on her sleeve. What now?
“Med personnel report to deck stewards,” said the announcement for the third time.
It was only then, hearing the announcement again at the same time as she looked at the red slash on her sleeve, that Aurelia remembered. Gods, she was Med personnel.
All panic fled from Aurelia, and her training kicked firmly in. Report to deck steward. Okay, that was step one. She stood, shakily. The deck she was on had grown strangely silent, and she realised that the emergency sirens had stopped blaring out. Looking around, Aurelia contemplated taking the elevator again, then shook her head. Not safe enough. There had to be emergency stairs around here somewhere; she remembered her steward mentioning them.
Quickly, she checked all the doors in the central column. Nothing. Wait, stop, think. Medicine had taught her that it was better to act slowly with knowledge than to act quickly without it. If you didn't know what to do, then take the precious Seconds to consider the options. She closed her eyes; there was something niggling in the corner of her mind. Right, got it.
She opened the door to the steward's cabin again and saw what had failed to capture her full attention the last time: a rounded alcove on the wall. Touching the line where two panels met in the middle of the alcove, she felt a depression, and then the door slid open, revealing a long, dark stairwell.
Now she needed light. She had no idea which deck she was on. She thought for a moment. If you don't understand a situation, try to think of something it reminds you of. Another solid Medical rule. What was this like? She rubbed her tongue across the front of her teeth, thinking. Yes, fire drill. That's exactly what this was like. All schools had fire drills, and Aurelia's was no exception. And what did they do during fire drills?
Ha! It was so simple. Aurelia stepped into the stairwell and closed the door. As soon as it was shut, a soft orange emergency lamp glowed into life. The door closed the circuit for the light. Easy. She looked at the door and saw that the number 91 was engraved on it. Deck 91, presumably. Her deck was 27, so she had 64 flights of stairs to go. Well, at least they were going down.
She took a deep breath and started walking. For a moment she considered what she might be up against, what she might see, how many people would be injured. Then she shook her head. Thinking too far ahead in the process would make her panic again. Best to concentrate on the job at hand.
Aurelia quickened her pace, jogging now. Obviously whatever had happened had now stopped, since she felt no more movement from the shuttle and heard no explosions. By floor 60 she had worked up a sweat and was breathing more heavily. But still she went on.
She met no one in the stairwell, though occasionally she heard footsteps running on other floors. The orange light was dim, and she kept her attention on the edges of the stair treads.
Deck 40. She paused to catch her breath. Then continued.
Finally, she reached deck 27. Without taking time to think about what she might find inside, she clawed the door open, hurried out of the steward's cabin and almost banged into the steward himself. He was bleeding heavily from a cut on his forehead, and when he saw her he closed his eyes in thanks.
“Med star,” he said, thickly.
“Right here,” said Aurelia.
She took his arm and steered him back to his cabin before placing him on his seat.
“How bad is it?” she asked him.
“Bad,” was all he said.
“Are there first aid supplies?”
“Next door.” He pointed towards a storage room next to his cabin.
She found the supplies clearly marked and, grabbing the box, took it back to him. She pulled out a sterile pad and held it to his head to stop the bleeding. She knew she was putting off going out into the main deck, afraid of what she was going to see, but she justified this by the fact that she might need help from the steward.
She lifted his hand and made him hold the pad in place while she rummaged in the box to find tape, then stuck the makeshift bandage down Securely.
“Alright. Now I'm going out onto the deck,” she told him. “I need you to sit here for a couple of minutes until you can stand without feeling dizzy, then come and join me.”
He nodded, dumbly.
As she was leaving him, he grabbed her arm. His face was almost as white as the bandage on it, his eyes bloodshot, and his lips trembled as he spoke.
“It's bad,” he said again.
She shook off his hand impatiently, grabbed the first aid box and left.
Aurelia took a breath before exiting out on to the deck. Stepping over the threshold, she stopped. The deck was unrecognisable.
Large Sections of the hull had been torn away, and the transparent healing film that preserved the ship's integrity was almost invisible, making it look like space was invading the deck. All around her, twisted metal lay in sheets. There was no screaming here; all she heard were soft groans and whispering voices.
Aurelia swallowed. Involuntarily, her eyes flickered over to where her own seat had been. A vast metal girder pierced through the floor of the deck. Beside it she could see the tech Worker who had comforted and distracted her as the shuttle took off. He didn't seem to be moving.
Walking over to him, Aurelia saw why. The top quarter of his torso had been run through by the metal girder. He'd probably not even had time to shout out. She bent and closed his eyes. Swallowing again, she touched his hair. Gone. She couldn't help him.
A moan from behind alerted her that there were still others that she could help, though, and she got to her feet. Work time.
She made a quick circuit of the deck, assessing those who needed help most urgently, those who could wait, and those there was no point in helping. As she rounded the central column back to her starting point, she saw the steward, his colour slightly better.
“Here's what I need you to do,” she told him. “All the mobile wounded I want brought over into this Section here.” She indicated an area to their left that was relatively clear of debris. She then pointed out three men and instructed that they shouldn't be moved under any circumstances. “Anyone who has minor injuries I want here,” she said, pointing to where they were standing.
“And, you know, the others?” asked the steward, quietly.
“The dead?” The words held no fear for Aurelia. “You'll need to leave them where they are for now.”
The steward nodded, and between the two of them they managed to get the remaining passengers to the appropriate locations. Aurelia then went to survey the three men who could not be moved. The first proved to be less seriously injured than she had thought, and after a quick examination she told the steward to place him with the others, where he would wait his turn. The Second man had an obvious head injury, and Aurelia had been worried about his neck. She strapped a neck brace on him and got two of the walking wounded to slide him onto a sheet of metal debris. She then had him too moved to the others.
She had left the worst for last. The third man was still breathing. His pupils were responsive, and he had a soft, irregular pulse. Pulling scissors from the first aid box, Aurelia cut through his uniform to get a better look at what she was dealing with. Her face stony, she examined him, then nodded. She knew what to do. The man's right arm was crushed, but Prosthetics would be able to replace that for him. There were two other injuries, though. Some sort of blow to his chest had obviously deflated one of his lungs. His breathing was shallow and interrupted by soft hiccups of blood. Possibly curable under the right circumstances, but not here. Then there was his head. Aurelia felt around his skull and found a soft depression that shouldn't have been there. Something had impacted there, breaking through the bones. The chances of brain damage were high, though she had no way of knowing for sure without a scan, which couldn't be perforMed here.
She sat back on her heels. She'd already checked the first aid box and knew that what she needed was there in a locked vial. All she needed to do was input her personal number, and the vial would be opened, as it would for any Medical personnel's number. Aurelia chewed her lip. This was a tough one. By rights, she should inject him. There was little chance of survival, given the current circumstances. All her training told her to open the vial, inject him and move on to the next patient. But. But. He was breathing. She had no definitive proof that he was brain damaged.
She took the vial out of the box and programmed in her number.
“What if he wants another cup of coffee?” she murmured, remembering Nicholas's words.
Quickly she snapped the vial case closed, replaced it and stood up. The patient was quiet, unconscious, not suffering. If he came to, she would deal with it. If not, well, she'd see to the other patients first and then come to a decision.
For the most part, the injured had cuts and bruises, though there were a few broken bones. Aurelia worked for the next hour, strapping broken arms and legs to pieces of debris to keep them stable. At the bottom of the first aid box she located a wound stick, and after cleaning out and disinfecting the worst of the cuts, she was able to close them up. The passenger with the possible neck injury would need to keep his neck brace on, but other than that, the injured were as stable as they could be and could be moved if necessary.
“Right,” said Aurelia to the steward, standing up and rolling her shoulders. “That's nearly everyone.”
The steward looked up from dispensing water to a patient. “What now?”
“Now I need you to keep everyone calm. I'd give out tranquilisers, but since we don't know whether we can stay here or not, that's not a great idea.” She looked around her. “Give out food if you have some - something sweet, preferably, and keep up with the water. I need to check on the patient over there. Then I'll be back and we'll talk about what to do next.”
The steward nodded and went back to what he was doing.
The patient on the far side of the deck was still calm, his breathing stuttering, but otherwise in much the same condition as when she had left him. Again, her hand reached for the vial. She looked over to where the other passengers were calmly sitting or lying. Hmm. Everyone there was in safe hands; she wasn't risking anyone else. Alright. She took a syringe from the box and uncapped it. She reached for the man's hand and, without filling the syringe, stuck the needle under a fingernail. His eyelids moved, and he moaned. Aurelia tried again, and the man's eyes opened. She could see that they were clouded with pain.
“Tell me your name,” she said, brusquely. Just doing her job. Business-like. But only because she knew that if she showed any emotion at all, she might not be able to inject him if she had to.
His breath rasped in and out.
“Tell me your name,” she said again.
“Michael,” he whispered through dry lips.
That was something.
He rattled it off without having to think about it. And then went on to tell her the date, the current Empire president and where he was and what had happened.
Shit. As far as she could tell, his brain was fine. Aurelia's hand shook as she recalled opening the vial that would have killed him.
“Alright, Michael,” she said, more gently this time. “I'm going to help you. I'm going to give you an injection.”
She noticed the horror in his eyes almost as she spoke and cursed herself for not being more diplomatic.
“Not that kind of injection,” she hurried on. “Something for the pain. Then I'm going to help you, okay?”
He grunted, relieved.
With steady hands now, she took a bottle of painkiller and injected him. Within Seconds he fell back into sleep, his breathing slower but still irregular and rasping. She had to do something about that lung, but what?
Again she looked at the steward, who was still giving out water. That's when she remembered. It was a procedure she'd only read about, and an antiquated process at that, but without any more technical Medical equipment, there was nothing else she could do. She called the steward, and he came over.
“I need a bottle with water in it, and a drinking straw, if you have one,” she instructed.
“Sure, there are straws for the kids. Why?” He was far more relaxed now, though he avoided looking at the dead.
“Don't ask questions, just get them, and fast.”
Aurelia used the wound stick to seal the straw into the mouth of the bottle, then disinfected the straw itself as best she could. A small disposable scalpel was in the Medical kit, so she disinfected the chest of the man.
Looking at him, she could see that he was still relaxed and sleeping, but his breathing was more laboured. She had to do this fast. Biting her tongue, she lifted the scalpel and thrust it through the man's chest close to where she thought the problem lay. He shifted and groaned, and Aurelia had to shout for the steward to come back.
“Hold him still,” she said through clenched teeth.
The steward paled again at the sight of blood flowing onto the man's skin, but Aurelia ignored him. She picked up the bottle, upended it and pushed the straw into the hole she had made. Nothing. Shit. She pushed the straw deeper and moved it slightly to the right. Still nothing. Come on. She was sweating now, her eyes stinging with the salt. One more try. She pushed the straw even deeper and then...bubbles.
“Thank the Gods,” she breathed, watching the bubbles flow up into the water.
“What on earth are you doing?” asked the steward, looking at her curiously now.
She laughed, realising how ridiculous all this must look to him, someone who was used to the lasers and scanners of modern Medicine.
“He had a collapsed lung; I'm reinflating it,” she explained. “By getting the air out of the space around the lung, I allow the lung to inflate to fill that space. The water in the bottle allows the air to come in but not go back out again, and the bubbles in the water come from the air coming out, see?”
She showed him the bottle, and he nodded.
“And will he be okay after?” he wanted to know.
Aurelia smiled. “Should be. He'll need to get to a hospital as soon as he can, but for the time being he'll be fine. I'll seal the hole up with the wound stick, and hopefully his lung won't collapse again. He's got a head injury, so I think it's best if we keep him asleep as much as possible; that lessens the chance of something going wrong. Other than that, yes, he's going to live.”
The steward grinned at her. “I knew you were a Med star,” he said.
“Thanks.” Aurelia could feel herself blushing. Little did he know that she'd just performed an operation from hundreds of years ago that could have gone horrifically wrong. “What about the others?” she asked.
“Doing fine. I've given them cookies and water. They seem calm enough for now.”
“Alright, then we need to find out what's going on and what happened,” said Aurelia. “Some of these people need real Medical attention.”
The steward sat cross-legged on the floor. “The shuttle was obviously attacked,” he said.
“Right,” said Aurelia. “What's the emergency procedure?”
He pursed his lips in thought. “Okay, well, for something like this I think we're supposed to stay on deck until Security personnel clear us to move, unless there's a viable reason to move. Which I don't think there is.”
Aurelia agreed with him.
“But there haven't been any emergency announcements since the Med personnel one, which makes me think that there are some mechanical problems, and that could mean that we're cut off,” he continued.
“Okay,” said Aurelia, slowly.
She tried to think through the problem. They were relatively safe here, the passengers stabilised and more or less comfortable. Waiting for Security shouldn't be an issue, as long as Security were actually coming. The shuttle obviously had power and light, so if there were mechanical problems, they couldn't be too severe. She debated whether they should stay or go.
“Hypothetically,” she asked, “how long would it take for Security to reach our deck?”
He shrugged. “No idea,” he said. “But,” he added, “they'll start from the Elite decks probably.”
“Which are where?”
“The bottom ten,” the steward responded.
Not so bad. Okay. “Right, you're going to stay here,” Aurelia told him. “I'm going to go down and see what I can find out.”
The steward nodded.
Hopefully, she'd run into Security on her way down, or at least someone who could tell her what the hell was going on here. The shuttle was moving, she could tell by the passing of the stars, especially given the huge holes in the hull. But it wasn't moving as fast as it had been before the attack.
She got up, checked on the passengers one more time, and then went back to the emergency staircase. This time she stopped off at every floor. The next couple of decks down were empty, and both were as badly damaged as her own deck. She found a few more decks with passengers, all of which had at least one Med Worker, so she left them to their business. No one requested her help.
It was on deck 11 that she finally saw the green Security uniforms. A Sec Worker was beginning an announcement to the deck when Aurelia exited the central column, so she stopped to listen.
“The shuttle has been attacked,” he said in a gruff, no-nonsense voice. “We are, however, still under way. We expect to reach Lunar City within the next ten to twelve hours.”
There were groans at this. The trip from Earth to Lunar was generally around five hours, not more. The Security Worker held up his hands to quieten the complaints.
“Mech and Eng Workers are working to repair damages as quickly as possible, and we may reach Lunar before then. In the meantime, we are evacuating passengers up into the top ten decks of the ship. Decks 91 and 92 are to be hospital decks; anyone requiring Medical attention or supervision should proceed there. Decks 93 through 100 are general passenger decks. Is there a Med Worker here?”
He looked around the deck, and a short, dark-haired woman raised her hand.
“Do any of the passengers on this deck require help getting to the top of the ship?” he asked.
She looked around. “Can we use the elevator?” she asked.
The Sec Worker nodded. “The elevator is functional, and the body scan system has been disabled. You will be given a fifteen-minute slot to move everyone up, a maximum of eight passengers at a time.”
So that was what was taking so long. At least the elevator was working again, though. The dark-haired Med Worker had approached the Security man and was asking him questions as Aurelia turned to return to her own deck to pass along what she'd heard. There were two more Sec Workers waiting by the elevator as she got inside the central column.
“Where do you think you're going?” one asked her, his tone more polite than his words.
She explained the situation and told him she was returning to where she’d come from.
“Okay,” he said. “But please don't try to evacuate your level until we come for you.”
“Fine.” Then she had a thought. “Do you know why the shuttle was attacked?”
The Sec Worker eyed his colleague, who gave a short shake of his head and a frown.
“No, not yet,” was all he said, and Aurelia went on her way thinking that he obviously did know but wasn't telling.
It was a further two hours before Security reached deck 27 and gave the orders to evacuate, which was enough to tell Aurelia that either some of the decks below them were empty or that not many passengers had survived. If each deck was getting fifteen minutes, their wait should have been much longer. Aurelia had already filled everyone in, and they were ready and waiting to go when the order came. The steward rode up and down in the elevator escorting groups of passengers, whilst Aurelia waited with those remaining. Finally, Aurelia and the collapsed lung patient were the only two remaining people on the deck. With the help of the steward, Aurelia managed to place the patient on a flat piece of metal and carry him to the elevator. As the Security Worker had ordered, they took him to deck 92.
When the elevator doors slid open, two Med Workers were ready to take the stretcher off their hands. Aurelia paused and turned to the steward.
“I guess I'd better stay here,” she said.
“Thanks for all your help.”
“You too, Med star. And good luck. Maybe I'll catch you when we get to Lunar?” His eyes were less bloodshot now, and his skin an almost normal colour.
“Maybe.” Aurelia smiled. “You never know.”
“Catch you on the flip side, then,” he grinned, and the doors slid shut.
Aurelia followed the stretcher out onto the deck and gasped. The other decks must have been hit even worse than hers. She saw around fifty patients already laid out, most of them tranquilised. Blood was staining the carpet in several places already.
A large male Med Worker approached her. “Trained and qualified, right?” he said, looking at her uniform.
“On my way to take up a posting at Lunar City Hospital,” said Aurelia, proudly, and because she hadn't liked the arrogant way that he'd looked at her.
His eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Really? Lucky for us, then. The guy they just brought in yours?”
“Alright, stay with him. We've each got an eight-patient Section; you've only got five, no, six patients counting the one you brought with you. I'll be over to assess them in a few minutes. In the meantime, keep everyone as stable as you can. There's a first aid box at your station.”
He pointed her in the right direction, and Aurelia went over to check out her new charges. Lung collapse guy - Michael, she corrected herself - was doing fine, so she left him be. The other five either had serious penetrating wounds that had resisted being glued shut with a wound stick or broken bones, including a woman with a badly crushed ankle. Aurelia took her time looking everyone over and was satisfied that all was well when the senior Med Worker joined her.
He assessed all the patients, nodding as he went, until only two were left. Seeing the woman's crushed ankle, he looked up at Aurelia.
“Fixable?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she said. “More than fixable. The skin isn't broken, which means we can track down all the bone shards, so reconstituting the bone shouldn't be a problem.”
The senior Worker looked unconvinced.
“And,” Aurelia continued, hurriedly, “she's a Chem Worker, so unlikely to be on her feet for long periods of time.”
“Okay,” the man said. “Fine. Leave her to the Hospital Workers then; they'll make the final decision.”
Aurelia let out a breath that she hadn't realised she'd been holding. The broken ankle woman was out of it and hadn't heard what had been said. She'd never have any idea that a seventeen-year-old girl had just saved her life.
The senior Med Worker moved on to the last patient, Michael. His experienced hands and eyes soon told him what had happened. He stood.
“Alright, let the others rest; this one you can inject,” he said, pointing at Michael.
“No.” Aurelia was as surprised as the Med Worker at how defiantly her voice had come out.
“No?” he said.
“No,” said Aurelia again. “There's no sign of brain damage; he was conscious and coherent before I tranquilised him. His lung is functioning fine for now. There's no reason to inject.”
The senior Med Worker studied her. “Have you injected before?”
“Once,” Aurelia said. “Under supervision. But I see no need to do it now. As long as the skull is reconstituted, he should be back to normal within a couple of weeks.”
The Med Worker looked back down at Michael, thinking. “What did you do to his lung?” he asked suspiciously.
“Reinflated it,” said Aurelia without further explanation, keeping her fingers crossed that she wouldn't be asked to give one.
The Med Worker nodded. “Fine. I'll do rounds again in an hour, and if his condition downgrades then I'll inject him then. If not, he can stay.”
When he was gone, Aurelia sank to the floor. She was exhausted and also confused. She wondered why she'd gone to such lengths to save a patient she didn't know. It was against everything that she'd been taught, and yet, and yet it had seemed right. The conversation she'd had with Nicholas in the shuttle bay’s viewing room lurked at the back of her mind. A deck steward came by and handed her a cup of something warm, which she accepted gratefully. Nicholas. Did he survive? she wondered. There was no way for her to find out right now, so she pushed the thought from her mind and checked on her patients once more.
Aurelia was rewinding a bandage around the woman's broken ankle when she heard shouting come from the central column. Like the rest of the Med staff, she jumped to her feet and rushed to the sounds of the cries.
Pushing through the other workers, she recognised the voice. She forced herself to the head of the pack and entered the central column before anyone else.
And there, as she had known, was Nicholas. But he wasn't alone. Staggering under the weight of it, Nicholas was carrying the body of an unconscious man. A man that Aurelia also recognised. Jonathon Hansen.