Beyond Last Contact
Communications Officer June Maru, of the cargo ship Second Wind picked herself up off of the deck of the bridge. Smoke filled the air and her hand burned from the electrical shock she’d received when the ship ran through a meteor storm. The Captain, Brian Foster, was calling her name.
“Yeah,” she sat up slowly, coughing in the thick air. “I’m here.”
He was using the fire extinguisher on a fire in his command console. “You all right?”
She struggled to her feet. “Hand’s burned.” June staggered to her communication console. It was smoking but there was no obvious fire. “No idea what the board looks like though. How long was I out?”
“Just a second or two.” He put the extinguisher down and surveyed the command board. He wiped his sooty face with his sleeve. “Can you find out what happened to Bert and the crew?”
June slid into her seat and tapped the screen intercom button. It was dark. “It’s broken. Let me bandage my hand then see what’s happened under the lid.” She grabbed the first aid kit and flipped it open. After she smeared burn cream on it, and a gauze pad on top of that, she wrapped a bandage around it and tied it off. “You need this?” She held up the kit.
“No.” He unlatched his console top and lifted the lid. Smoke rose into the already smoky air.
June did the same. As she surveyed the interior wiring, also smoking, Kurt Lawson, one of the freight handlers, dashed onto the bridge.
“Everyone all right?”
The Captain turned around. “Yeah, you? The rest of the crew?”
“Yeah. Chief Ling is with the engines. They’re down. Toby and Andrea are looking at the environmental unit. It’s out. That’s why it’s still smoky in here.”
Captain Foster nodded. “Good, do what you can. Navigation and Comms are out. Grab some walkies and pass them out. It’s the only way we can talk without running all over the ship. Have everyone give an update in an hour.”
“Yes, sir. Be right back with the walkies.” He dashed away.
June coughed, a long racking spasm. “Hope they get the air on soon.”
An hour later everyone met on the bridge. “I have the nav system rewired,” the Captain told the crew. He handed out bottles of water. “The galley seems fine, except there’s no power yet. Chief?”
Albert Ling, the Chief Engineer, drank half of his water in what seemed to be one gulp. “I smacked my head on my shower wall when the ship lurched.” He still had a trickle of blood running out of his short black hair and down his neck. “The engine took a hit. Internal panels are fine. I’m going to have to go outside and check the damage. Until I can get the engines going, there’s just emergency power.”
The Captain nodded at June. She had to cough before she could speak. “I’ve got a burn on my hand from the Comm panel shorting out. We’re three days from last contact.”
The three cargo handlers, Toby Jurick, Andrea Ramirez and Kurt Lawson also reported various bruises. Toby summed up the Environmental problem. “It’s down. It should work under emergency power, but it’s not.” He rubbed his tired, pale face. “We don’t know what’s wrong with it.” The other two looked grim.
Foster nodded. “I’ll come down and look. Kurt, give Bert a hand with his walk. June, keep working on the Comm panel. I’d like to get a message out for help.”
Everyone nodded and went back to work.
Four hours later, the engine power came back on. June was deep into the wiring of her board and glanced up as the bridge lights came on at full power. Another system up, she thought, as she stripped and twisted together another pair of wires. She felt better than she had since the meteor shower.
It took five trips to the Second Wind’s supply locker, and eight more hours before the Comm panel worked. The Captain was in his bunk for a four hour nap. She called Bert. “I sent out a MayDay call. Don’t know if it’ll help.” She coughed as the Chief responded. Even though the fans came on with the power, it was just circulating stale air.
“Thanks. This unit still isn’t working. I patched the few exterior problems on the ship while I was out. It has to be inside the system. Twice I thought I had it fixed.”
She could hear the sizzle of sparking wires in the back ground. “You hurt, Bert?”
“No,” he told her. “You need a relief?”
“No, I’ll stay here. Maybe I’ll get a response. Who’s with you?”
“Andrea and Kurt. I sent Toby to catch a nap.”
“Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thanks.” He cut the call.
June had her head on the console, dozing, when the Captain called two hours later. She jerked upright and hit the answer button. “Yes, Sir.”
“Any response to the MayDay?”
“Not yet, Captain.”
“Nothing yet on the air, either. Hang in there, June. We’ll get it.”
“Yes, Sir. Out.”
She had a headache and it was like trying to breathe water. She sent out another call, just to be doing something. Alone on the bridge, she made a log entry and wiped away a tear of self-pity. Get a hold of yourself. You aren’t some rookie. But she couldn’t help but think about how she was only 32 years old and about to die of suffocation. She wondered what the Captain and Chief were doing. Probably have to trace every line. Each of them trained on all of the systems on board and environment was the most complicated after the engines.
Three hours later, June leapt up, heart racing, and stood under the air vent. Cool, clean air was coming through. Tears rolled down her face as she drank in huge gulps of it.
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