Experiment #276

Adrift Part 1

“Airlock 7 seal has failed,” the computer’s disaffected voice said. Kershaw slammed his fist on the console and tried to think what to do next. “What would Smats do?” He asked himself.

The doom-faced engineer, Silas Smats was tough to hold a conversation with, but could fix a hyperspace engine with a paper clip and some protein butter. Or he could have fixed it. He was in the engine room when the pods exploded. Kershaw wished he’d never laid eyes on those alien things, but Flanger wouldn’t stop talking about the benefits to science. Kershaw wished he’d never laid eyes on Flanger either, but medical skills were few and far between out in the Aphelion Worlds and he had to take what he could get.

He hoped Flanger had been in the cargo bay when the things exploded. Would have served him right. They ripped the ship in half, at least as far as he could tell.

Kershaw looked down at the console of his battered and broken ship, one room smaller now that Airlock 7 had failed, and there weren’t many rooms left.

Seven hours earlier Flanger had run onto the bridge, his long blond hair flapping behind him. “Kershaw, we have to stop! Seed pods off the port bow.”

“What is this? the navy?” Kershaw asked the way he always spoke to Flanger, with irritation.

“No one has ever seen Galmorean seed pods in the wild before. Why the scientific implications are…they’re overwhelming!”

“We’re not a science ship, Flanger. What do you want me to do?”

“Bring them on board. We’ll take them to Milton where proper science can get a hold of them.”

“A lot of things happen on Milton. Proper science isn’t one of them.”

“There’s room in the cargo bay. We might as well carry something.”

“That’s a lot of trouble for science.”

“I’ll double my fee if you don’t.”

“Your fee only doubles if the wounded doubles. And right now I’m considering adding you to their number.”

“Alright then, if money’s what you’re after, I’ll pay proper passage AND still patch up whoever needs it.”

Kershaw mulled this for a moment. Every penny in the coffers made life easier. “You’ll pay for room and board?”

“Yes”

“And cargo expenses?”

“Yes. Fine. Ya greedy son of a Joogla beast.”

Kershaw smiled. “We’ve got a deal.”

He didn’t smile long.

Experiment #277

Adrift Part 2

The seed pods were a heck of a cargo to load, particularly once the artificial gravity took over. Normally Kershaw would have turned it off in the cargo bay while they were loading but some rewiring Smats had been doing for the last four days to increase engine efficiency made that impossible. So he and the rest of the crew tried to shove around the six ton seed pods while Flanger’s blue eyes watched from the catwalk. He hadn’t made many friends up there, but neither had Kershaw down in the seed pod corral. Smats had rigged up some sleds that let the things roll, though turning them was near impossible. After about six hours of pushing and pulling and shoving and turning and tempers flaring, the seed pods were stowed enough for the time being.

Most of the crew stumped off to the showers or to lay down in their bunks to sooth their aching muscles. But Kershaw knew he had sensor and mechanical reports to check and plans to make about how these stupid pods were going to be delivered. He dropped into the navigator’s chair and fell asleep before his body had settled.

The next thing he knew was the explosion.

Enough of the ship’s guts and controls had remained in place that he could close internal air locks, seal bulkheads and build a small refuge for himself. Sensors weren’t really working so he couldn’t tell if any of his crew were alive or even the extent of the damage. For all he knew the forward decks had been sheared off from the cargo bay and engine room. Most of the crew bunks were above the cargo bay so he presumed them dead, though he still held out a little hope.

He decided to try the comms once more. “This is Kershaw, anyone out there? Repeat. This is Kershaw, anyone out there?”

Nothing but static came back for a long moment.

“Kershaw? That you?” Came a voice.

Kershaw was so happy to hear another voice, the nasal whine and the inane nature of the response didn’t register at first. “Who’s there?” Kershaw asked the added hopefully, “Smats?”

But before the voice replied, the identity of the caller sunk in.

“No, it’s Reginald.” Flanger’s first name that no one used but him.

“Oh.”Kershaw grunted. “Where are you?”

“I’m in the lifeboat.”

“How’d you get there in time?

“Oh, I went in there to nap, in case something like this happened.”

“‘Something like this’?” Kershaw repeated. “You knew?”

“Well… I had heard rumors, but nothing concrete.”

“You knew they could explode?”

“It was just a rumor.”

“And you weren’t going to tell me?”

“It seemed unlikely.”

“Yet you slept in the escape pod?”

“I was just being safe.”

“You are so very lucky the weapon systems are offline.” Kershaw fumed for a minute before his sense and survival training took over. “Is the lifeboat damaged?”

“I don’t thinks so,” Flanger replied.

“Good, I think I still have an external airlock in operation. Once I’m aboard we can look for-”

“I don’t think that’s going to work.”

Experiment #278

Adrift Part 3

“I’m hobbling along on life support here. All of my airlocks will fail eventually. Just bring her close and I’ll jump to her.”“Uh oh looks like the star drive is activating, see you later, captain…”

Kershaw sighed. “It’s called a hyperdrive, lifeboats don’t have one, and your comm link’s still on.”

The comms clicked off.

“How did that selfish ingrate ever become a medic?” Kershaw asked himself.

Then he felt a wind. A rock dropped to the bottom of his stomach. “Airlock 4 and 9 failing,” said the disaffected computer’s voice. He scrambled for the controls before all his air was gone. He got it locked down, but there was worse news. Airlock 9 hadn’t been on the outer edge of his little life raft, it had been on the hallway right outside the control room. The simultaneous failure meant he was now limited to the room he sat in.

He looked around to see if there was anything useful. Most of the rations were still in the mess and a good bit of his oxygen had flowed out before he got the door closed. His prognosis turned from days to hours. He did find a spacesuit in the corner that should fit him. It had about an hour left in the oxygen tank.

He swallowed his pride and turned on the radio to raise Flanger again and beg for help, but he never spoke. His exertions searching the room had spent the last of his oxygen. He fainted in his seat as the radio buzzed. A voice asked, “Captain?”

###

“Captain? Kershaw?” A voice asked. As Kershaw woke he saw long golden hair, deep blue eyes, red lips, and… a beard.

“Flanger even ruins my fantasies,” Kershaw thought as he sat up. “What happened?” he asked.

Smats looked at the captain.

“Smats!” Kershaw yelled. “You’re alive!”

“Yes,” Smats said.

“But the ship? How’d you survive?”

“Rear bulkheads were twitchy from the rewiring. Locked in soon as the seed pods blew.”

“The rest of the ship was sealed tighter than a fine wine,” Flanger said. “Only crew cabin to take damage was yours.”

“The rest of the crew?”

“They’re doing well.”

Kershaw looked to a window and saw trees and dirt and buildings.

“But how did we get here?”

“Flanger.”

“Flanger?”

“Used the star drive to get help.”

“The what?”

“The star drive I installed in the lifeboat.”

“Star drive?”

“Mini hyper drive for short jumps.”

“Yes, it took me all the way to Milton,” Flanger said, “and I brought back help.”

“If he hadn’t been in that lifeboat,” Smats said “we’d all be dead.”

Kershaw dismissed Smats. He turned to Flanger and opened his mouth.

“Cargo cams caught the whole thing in minute detail,” Flanger said. “The royalties from the science community should be enough to buy a new ship.”

Kershaw smiled ruefully. “Thank you,” he said. “Perhaps I can salvage something from this trip.”

Flanger smiled back. “Of course! I’m sure you’ll do a great job captaining my ship.”