Part 6: Adrift
“Is everyone alright?” First Lieutenant Osondu asked the rest of his crew, once the dropship had stabilised. The impact from the shrapnel had caused the ship to spin out of control. With a third of the manoeuvring thrusters inoperable, it had taken some time for the pilot to cancel out the erratic motions.
“I’m fine,” Lieutenant Figueroa replied, her voice still shaking after this ordeal.
“I’m not,” Sergeant Van den Berg complained. He had hit his head against the inside of his vac-suit’s helmet and a few drops of blood could be seen scattered across his visor.
The pilot leaned over to him and tried to identify the wound as well as he was able to through both his and his gunner’s visor. He then said, “You’ll be fine, Van. It’s just a scratch.”
Once he was satisfied with the state of his crew, Osondu’s next move was to assess the state of his ship. He tapped the central display that made up most of the instrument panel before him. The ship gave no response whatsoever.
All that was working was the backup control for the manoeuvring thrusters. Dissatisfied with this result, he opened the central lock of his five-point harness and gently pushed off, causing him to float into the rear compartment.
“Where are you going?” Figueroa asked him.
“Not very far,” Osondu replied sarcastically, before explaining, “I’ll do a hard reboot of the ship’s systems. Hopefully we’ll get some control back that way.”
First Lieutenant Osondu uncovered a lever that was hidden behind the interior panelling of the dropship’s transport bay. Next to it was a bright red warning label that hinted at the importance of said lever, which was furthermore sealed in place by a magnetic lock with an autonomous power source.
Osondu used his personal identification code to unlock the lever, pulled it and held it in place while slowly counting to five. He then released the lever, which gradually travelled back into its original position.
For the briefest of moments, the pilot thought that something had gone wrong. The computer hiccuped a few times before coming back to life. Shortly afterwards, the cabin lighting was on full brightness and the displays and HUDs had begun to re-initialise themselves as well.
“Now the real work begins,” Osondu said to himself, as he pulled on one of the handrails to re-join Figueroa and Van den Berg in the cockpit. Only now that the computer was back online, would they be able to figure just how badly damaged the dropship really was.
Beyond their tiny bubble of breathable atmosphere, the battle had continued without them. They had luckily been left alone, mistaken for debris, as their ship drifted aimlessly away from the freighter.
While Sergeant Van den Berg kept an eye on the few remaining passive scanners, making sure that they were not disturbed during their attempts to get the ship back online, Figueroa and Osondu busied themselves with the rest of the dropship’s systems.
In spite of the reboot, the ship’s systems were still in a complete mess. The navigator’s displays showed arbitrary numbers, completely unrelated to their actual orbit around Proxima, making it impossible for them to perform any kind of orbital adjustments. Without a ping from the freighter, they would not be able to set up the nav-systems properly.
The pilot’s controls and displays, located in the centre of the instrument panel, appeared to be functioning normally at first glance. Osondu ran a systems diagnostic on his console to be certain. Waiting for the process to complete, he let his mind wander.
Osondu asked himself what he had gotten himself into, not for the first time in his career. He had been the first of his family to leave his homeworld behind. Every single one of his relatives was quite literally down-to-Earth. He had been twelve years old when his parents had left behind the lush shores of the river Niger to seek employment with the desalinisation plant outside of Lagos.
Moving to the huge city had been a shock in many ways. Of all the things he had experienced, observing the orbital shuttles take off from Lagos’ Spaceport had had the deepest impact on young Emenike Osondu. Seeing the sleek vessels shoot skywards day after day had reinforced his desire to one day leave the planet behind.
He had used every spare moment since the move to Lagos to make sure that his performance in school, especially mathematics and physics, was on point. This had enabled him to enrol into the civilian spatial navigation program at the age of sixteen.
A high-pitched, obtrusive beeping tore Osondu from his thoughts. The diagnostic program had run its course and had uncovered a myriad of errors in the process. With a quick swipe of the hand, he dismissed the least relevant, focusing only on the critical issues. While this narrowed down his task immensely, there were still over a dozen matters to be addressed and taken care of.
As a professional with years of experience, Osondu could tell right away that the dropship would have to spend some time docked for repairs once they made it back to the ISC Phantom Angel, the troop carrier they were affiliated to.
Even without a breach or apparent structural damage, he was certain that the hull had taken enough of a beating to make the replacement of a few armour plates necessary. Besides that, the display in front of him showed a multitude of inoperative sensors and thrusters which would need to be replaced.
The pilot had just started to recalibrate his controls, taking the uneven spread of manoeuvring thrusters into account, when Lieutenant Figueroa interrupted him.
“I’ve patched everything up to the best of my abilities over here, but there will be no interplanetary navigation with these numbers,” she said, gesturing at the displays in front of her. She then continued, “I can ping the freighter so we can feed something to the computer, but I wouldn’t want to alert anyone unfriendly to the fact that we’re still alive.”
“Can you give me any kind of data with what we currently have?” Osondu asked, fearing the response.
“I can look out the window and yell when I see the Atlas, that’s about it.” the navigator replied dryly.
Osondu said, “That’s what I was afraid of,” then paused shortly while considering the options. Their situation was dire enough without anyone shooting at them. On the other hand, no one knew how long it would be before anyone tried to contact them. They could be adrift for a very long time indeed.
Not wanting to spend an eternity floating aimlessly through space, Osondu said, “Ping the freighter. Let’s hope no one hears us.”
“Yes Sir, pinging the freighter!” Figueroa said, more dramatically than necessary.
Lieutenant Figueroa typed the required command into her terminal and hoped for the best. After tumbling through space for a couple of minutes before Osondu had managed to stabilise the ship, she had no idea what their orientation relative to the Jupiter-Class freighter could be.
Therefore, the navigator had no choice but to send out a short burst of radar waves, using her active scanner, that would return to its origin after being reflected by the objects surrounding them.
Within seconds, the results were in and the computer drew a low-resolution image of their little corner of the Proxima system. She rotated the image on her touch-sensitive display until she had identified the single largest object, which had to be the freighter they had tried to protect.
She aimed the sensor directly at the Atlas and programmed two more brief active scans in order to get a better reading on the distance and relative velocity between the two objects.
Figueroa considered whether or not to double-check the data. She removed the multifunction display from its compartment to her left. She then loaded the orbital sim and started inputting the last known data from the moment before the missiles had struck them. The navigator took the data from the active scan the ship had just performed and started extrapolating their current orbit based on this information.
Even back in her youth, growing up in one of the wealthier parts of Mexico City, Catalina Figueroa had shown exceptional proficiency for any kind of three-dimensional problem-solving, orbital mechanics in particular. To this day, her mother had disapproved of her decision to join the fleet; in her eyes, this was a waste of all the connections she had established on her behalf with the high-society of the USNA’s sub-capital.
Her father, on the other hand, had supported her. He believed that some time in the military would be an excellent stepping stone for a career in national politics, a career that Lieutenant Figueroa had no intention of pursuing. She was and always had been a strong-minded young woman, determined to do her own thing. She was aware of her abilities and wanted to put them to good use.
After manually confirming the computer’s calculations, Figueroa was satisfied. Even though the numbers were not as accurate as they could be, she would be able to provide First Lieutenant Osondu with data for an engine burn that would allow them to catch up with the freighter. She turned to her pilot, intending to let him know about her success. When she looked at him however, Figueroa noticed that he seemed troubled.
“What’s up?” she proceeded to ask him.
“The plasma injectors locked themselves when main power went,” the pilot said, his voice more serious than usual, “we can fire the ion drive, but only with a fraction of its regular thrust.”
“Is there something we can do? I’m not sure that flying through a combat zone with less than five percent engine power is such a good idea.”
“Me neither,” Osondu agreed, “unfortunately there’s only one thing I can do to fix it. I’ll have to manually reset the injectors.”
“Can you do that from in here?” Figueroa asked, slightly worried.
First Lieutenant Osondu replied, slowly, “No. I’ll have to go EVA.”