Part 8: Farewell
“He’s waking up,” Sergeant Van den Berg said.
Lieutenant Figueroa got up from the small bench that lined the back wall of the Atlas′ infirmary and walked towards the bed in which First Lieutenant Osondu was laying. She rested a hand gently on his shoulder, just as he opened his eyes.
She smiled as her pilot and friend regained consciousness, while a brief sigh escaped from her mouth. Figueroa shuddered, thinking back to yesterday’s events.
It had been a close call, and Osondu had almost not made it back.
Van den Berg, standing on the other side of the bed, grinned profusely while he waited for the pilot to be completely awake. Once Osondu’s eyes had regained focus, the Sergeant said, “Please don’t ever do that again!” he gestured towards Figueroa, adding, “You have no idea what it’s like when she’s in your seat!” his face contorted in a fake grimace.
Osondu laughed loudly. Due to his dry throat, the laugh quickly turned into a cough. Figueroa handed him a fluid pack, which he quickly grabbed from her hand and began drinking immediately. Once his thirst was quenched, he sat up in the infirmary bed and took in the scenery.
Hospital beds, complete with monitoring equipment and diagnostic scanners lined both sides of the rectangular room. All of them were occupied, which was not a surprise, considering that the freighter had just seen combat. No one else currently had visitors though. Indirect lighting reflected off the metallic ceiling, bathing the infirmary in gleaming light.
“So,” Osondu began, “is anyone going to tell me what the hell happened?”
Figueroa and Van den Berg looked at each other. The navigator nodded and began to explain, “Well... after you were hit, Van reeled you in and secured you in the cargo hold. I got into your seat, rebooted the propulsion system and pointed us towards the freighter,” she paused for a moment, “with half the manoeuvring thrusters gone, that was quite the act.”
“Yeah, I almost threw up in my suit thanks to her,” Van den Berg interjected.
“Anyway;” Figueroa continued, shooting a glance at the Sergeant, making him stop in his tracks, “I started thrusting towards the Atlas. Once we got closer, I saw that they were badly hit, sections open to space and all. At some point, not sure when, they called me via comm. They guided me in and I somehow managed to dock the ship without scraping too much paint.”
She laughed briefly, then spoke again, “You were still out at that time. We got you to the infirmary, where they pried you out of your suit and patched you up.”
At that moment, the ship’s doctor, Major Aarav Hangloo, walked in. Figueroa and Van den Berg stood to attention, but Hangloo just waved them off, “At ease, at ease. Don’t be so formal, we’re not on a battlecruiser,” he stopped at the foot of Osondu’s bed, “how are you feeling, Lieutenant?”
“Good, I suppose,” the pilot shrugged, “not surprising, considering I don’t even remember being hurt.”
“Do you feel any pain at all?” the doctor wanted to know, checking the setting on the medicine-dispenser placed on Osondu’s left upper arm.
“No, Sir. None at all,” he confirmed, smiling as he said it. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse.
“How is your foot?” Major Hangloo asked, moving towards the bottom end of the bed.
“My foot?” Osondu returned the question. He frowned and his mouth hanging slightly open.
“Yes, Lieutenant, your foot. Specifically, the new one we gave you.”
The pilot’s gaze remained blank, while he silently wondered what was going on. His mind finally catching up with the conversation, he pulled the thin white bed sheet towards him, revealing his feet. His right foot looked like it always had, calluses and all, his toenails in dire need of some care. The left foot, however, looked completely out of place.
It was in pristine condition, looking freshly pedicured. It was also bright orange.
“What the hell did you do to my foot?” Osondu all but shouted, gesturing towards his left leg with outstretched hands, palms upwards.
“I was just about to mention that,” Figueroa said, her lower lip dropping slightly. She squeezed his shoulder slightly as she continued, “Your foot got torn off by a piece of debris. You were lucky that part of the freighter’s cargo is a medical shipment including artificial limbs.”
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to match the pigmentation with the means at our disposal,” the doctor explained, “but it should not be an issue for my colleagues aboard your troop carrier.”
“Don’t worry about it, doc,” the First Lieutenant said, chuckling, “I never liked that foot anyway.”
Van den Berg snorted loudly at these words. Both him and Lieutenant Figueroa were relieved to find their colleague in good health and spirits. After a short moment of much needed laughter, the navigator wiped a happy tear from the corner of her eye and regained composure.
“When can he be up and about, Sir?” she asked, turning her scrutinising gaze directed at the doctor, one hand resting on her hip.
“Anytime he wants. There is no swelling, nothing to impair usage of the foot,” Major Hangloo stated, before looking straight at Osondu with a grin, “you should put on some clothes first, though.”
Shortly after a second round of laughter, Osondu was dressed and ready to move on.
The trio made their way back to the bow hangar. They had to pull themselves along the inside of the central cylinder as the coil-train was out of action, damaged by the attack. Along the way, they witnessed many signs of the recent battle. While they knew that they had done all that had been in their power, they still felt like they should have done more.
Regardless of these thoughts, the freighter had only survived thanks to their actions and the sacrifice of those who had not made it back. Had the small group of ships not been there to draw attention away from the Jupiter-Class freighter, the outcome would have been much different.
Once outside the hangar itself, they did not have to wait long to find the officer in charge of docking operations. The First Lieutenant pushed off from his office and floated towards them once he had seen the three spacers. He came to a halt a few metres away by grabbing one of the overhead hand-rails.
“I was wondering when you three would show up,” the ODO said.
“I had some healing to do,” Osondu replied, “apologies for taking up the garage space.”
“Not to worry,” the First Lieutenant replied with a laugh.
“How is our ship looking?” the pilot wanted to know. He shifted a little to the side, holding on to the hand-rail with the other arm.
“The maintenance crew patched her up as well as possible, but she’ll need some hull plating replaced,” the ODO explained, “they took a couple of spare manoeuvring thrusters out of storage and flanged them on. They were also able to restore all primary and most secondary systems to full capacity.”
“That’s great news!” Osondu exclaimed, a wide grin spreading across his face.
They conversed a while longer on the way to the dropship. As they were moving along the corridor that lined the rear end of the bow hangar, Osondu looked through the viewports.
He stopped for a moment as his gaze rested on the small sleek craft that was docked in the hangar. He swallowed hard as he remembered the previous time that he had seen his dropship from the outside; he had almost died.
They bade farewell to the First Lieutenant who had come to see them off and pulled themselves towards the dropship’s cockpit. They floated past mountains of transport crates that had been fixed to both sides of the cargo hold, leaving only a narrow path for the crew.
Osondu, Figueroa and Van den Berg got set up in silence, each one focusing on their own tasks. Once they were ready, the pilot gave Lieutenant Figueroa a brief nod, signalling her to contact the freighter.
“Atlas, Papa-Alpha-Bravo-Three-Delta, ready for power-up and immediate departure,” she announced over comm.
“Bravo-Three-Delta, copy. Cleared for power-up and departure. Call back when ready for undocking.”
Osondu went through the motions automatically, powering up the Evremov-reactor and priming the ship’s main ion drive. As soon as the freighter’s systems registered that the dropship produced its own power, the umbilical disconnected and retracted itself.
“Atlas, Bravo-Three-Delta, powered-up and off the umbilical, ready for undocking.” Figueroa informed the ODO’s team.
“Bravo-Three-Delta, releasing clamps now. Hangar doors open, exit at your discretion.”
“Atlas, Bravo-Three-Delta. Thank you for your hospitality,” the navigator ended the communication.
The dropship slowly drifted towards the hangar’s centre. As soon as they were lined up with the open hangar door, Osondu gently opened up the throttle. A stream of propellant gas left the dropship’s engines, accelerated by the ion drive’s strong magnetic fields.
The craft moved forward at a cautious pace so as to not damage the hangar with its drive flare. The dropship cleared the hangar door, Osondu manoeuvred it away from the massive freighter.
“How are we on H2 and propellant?” First Lieutenant Osondu asked Lieutenant Figueroa.
“They filled us up, reserves included,” she replied.
“Good, we lost a lot of time here, so we’ll have to burn through most of it,” the pilot stated.
“And who’s fault is that?” Sergeant Van den Berg asked, chuckling.
“Very funny, Van,” Osondu shook his head, grinning, before addressing his navigator, “calculate a direct route back to Phantom Angel.”
“Yes Sir,” Figueroa answered, pulling of a slack salute.
As soon as the navigational data was fed to the computer, Osondu oriented the ship accordingly and opened up the throttle. The dropship jumped forward, accelerating towards the troop carrier the crew called home.