There are so many clicks and buzzers and chimes in a spaceship it’s like having a nagging mother. Some, like a com call that isn’t flagged urgent may just be a polite *ding* that repeats every five minutes and then drops to every half hour. After a day the ships computer will even give it up for a lost cause although the call light will keep flashing.
A real emergency gets a much more insistent announcement. Thus Barak found himself standing rattled with no memory of leaving his bunk, heart pounding and breathing raggedly even before the first blast of the emergency klaxon stopped sounding. He staggered to the com board, which fortunately was only three steps away. He only needed two steps today he was so motivated.
He didn’t have to call the lights up. The computer did that for him, emergency lights on top of the regular ones so if it had to switch over there was no pause. It was dazzling to his dark adjusted eyes. The heavy subsonics shook his very bones and he slapped the receive switch before it could repeat.
“Emergency light off,” he commanded. Nothing happened, that was out of his control. “Cabin light five percent,” he tried. That was still under his control and the double lighting eased off.
FIRE IN GALLEY CUPBOARD – read the screen and displayed a graphic pinpointing it. Barak could hear, could feel through his bare feet, the alarm still sounding in other compartments.
“Bridge com,” Barak demanded, and then struggled for a moment to remember who was on watch the XO or the Captain. Oh yeah… Jaabir. “Sir, what do you want us to do?” he asked the Captain. There was no answer.
“What’s going on?” Deloris asked from the bunk. He’d been by the wall and didn’t even remember how he got out over her. There wasn’t all that much room. Normally he thought she was cute, but her hair was a fright wig, her mouth hanging open in shock, and her eyes unfocused still trying to align.
“Fire in the Galley. No answer from the Bridge. I’ll go try to put it out,” Barak told her.
Deloris covered her face with both hands, pert little nose sticking between them. “No! Alice is environmental officer. She’ll go straight to the fire and it’s her job. You get a mask and find out why the hell the Bridge doesn’t answer. A station not reporting is assumed to be a person in danger. That’s anybody’s concern who is free to render aid.”
She might look out of it but she was thinking much clearer than him. “Put on pants and shoes,” she added, since he seemed inclined to rush out the way he was. He did one better, he used the toilet because that simply wasn’t going to wait much longer at all.
By the time he emptied his bladder Deloris had his deck shoes sitting in front of the bunk and was holding a pair of suit liner pants for him. Those would serve as well as anything. From the time the alarm sounded until he was in the corridor was less than four minutes.
There was a cupboard with emergency items at the head of the corridor and he snatched an air mask out of it, not breaking the seal just yet, but he could have it out and on in not much more than thirty seconds. He stuck the thicker seal end in his mouth to free up his hands and then went up the ladder for the control room like a salmon climbing a waterfall to spawn.
The hatch to the Bridge was closed and he stopped and laid his hand on it even though the computer hadn’t said anything about fire there. “Yuki-onna,” he addressed the ship by name, “is there pressure in the control room?”
“Yes, I have three indications of life safe pressure in the control room,” the speakers by the door answered him and the speakers down the corridor echoed it. He stuck his hand in the recess and squeezed the release. It was locked.
“Open the hatch,” he commanded.
“The Captain locked the hatch,” the ship replied. “You do not have authority to release it.”
“The Captain does not respond to com. He may be disabled in the control room and unable to effectively command. Open the hatch,” he ordered again.
The computer was smart, but that was a complex series of statements for it to examine for logic. It probably had a whole series of branching conditions to examine to come to a conclusion. There was a reason most people called Artificial Intelligences Artificial Stupids. At least somebody shut the alarm off and the hull stopped repeatedly ringing with it.
“You must declare a Ship in Danger emergency to override the Captain’s orders,” the ship replied in a calm female voice. It was maddening.
“The damn ship is on fire! Isn’t that enough of a Ship in Danger emergency?” he asked. He was upset or he never would have argued with an A.S. in an emergency. You just tell them what they want to hear, like talking to an insane person or a very little child.
“That is a separate emergency,” the ship informed him after another slight pause to consider the problem. “There are no indications of fire on the Bridge.”
Barak turned at the muted sound of bare feet hitting bulkheads and the Captain advanced up the corridor to him bouncing from side to side. The fastest way to progress since there wasn’t enough traction in their slight gravity to run. It was his turn to have his mouth hang open in surprise since Jaabir was naked with a bundle of clothing clutched in one hand.
“Open the door,” Jaabir shouted like the ship was hard of hearing. “You go back to your cabin,” he snarled at Barak like the whole thing was his fault.
Barak didn’t really think about it. Maybe it would have been the same if he had. He hit Jaabir in the face in a flash of anger feeling his huge nose, his most prominent feature, squash like a piece of ripe fruit under his blow. The adrenaline surge removed any restraint and he connected solidly driving him into the oppose corridor bulkhead and thrust himself back into the Bridge hatch. Then when Jaabir bounced off the bulkhead back to him he hit him again with the hatch at his back anchoring him to put some real heft into it.
The droplets of blood sprayed all over in the slight gravity and Jaabir crumpled slowly in the gentle pull, unconscious and limp. That might not have been a good idea, Barak realized shocked at how bad the fellow looked from just two punches. He’d never struck someone with his fist as an adult.
“Yuki-onna, the Captain is injured and I am taking him to the Infirmary,” Barak announced. “Please advise the ship’s company of that and ask the XO to meet us there to treat him.”
“Done,” the computer replied quickly, “The XO asks what the nature of his injuries are?”
“Blunt force trauma of the face. Probably a broken nose. Perhaps a concussion,” he admitted. Starting to wish he hadn’t hit him the second time. He still didn’t regret the first. “What is the status on the Galley fire?” he asked.
“The environmental officer vented the Galley ready storage to vacuum. Sensors indicate there is no source of heat remaining consistent with continued combustion. The EO now informs the ship’s company that the fire is out and after sufficient cooling the scene will be put back under pressure and examined to determine the cause of the fire, what may be salvaged, and remedial action.”
“Thank you Yuki-onna,” Barak towed Jaabir by an ankle, careful to not bump him where he had to go around a couple corners. Charlotte Dobbs the XO was waiting for him at the Infirmary. Wearing mismatching top and bottom and sticky footies. Her hair was a as bad as Deloris’ even though it was shorter than Barak’s, and he realized she had no eyebrows if they weren’t drawn on.
“What happened to him?” Charlotte asked angrily. She started positioning Jaabir on the treatment table. She didn’t ask Barak’s help and didn’t need it in the slight gravity.
Barak started to open his mouth and then remembered what Happy Lewis, April’s grandfather had told him a dozen times… volunteer nothing. He stopped and took a deep breath.
“I don’t intend to discuss that with you,” he replied, feeling a great calm come over himself. “Your concern right now is to treat him.”
“I’m Commander with Jaabir incapacitated,” she barked at him. Why did everybody have to yell?
“I’m sure God himself is impressed with your promotion to his peerage,” Barak said and smiled. It obviously infuriated her. Jaabir started moving a bit, but didn’t open his eyes. He actually clutched them closed harder, and let out a little moan.
“What I mean is… I order you to answer me.”
“I will only answer an official hearing on the matter,” Barak replied.
“All right… Consider this your damn hearing,” Charlotte yelled at him. “You beat him up!”
“You can’t prove that,” Barak calmly replied.
“No, I can’t, but you did, and we both suspect you had something to do with Harold’s death too, but we haven’t figured out how to prove that yet either. You’re going to be big trouble now with two strikes against you when we do hang them on you.”
Barak was shocked. He’d had no clue his Captain was conspiring with the XO to pin Harold Hanson’s death on him. It took a moment before he could frame a reply.
“You are distraught and embarrassed for your lover. Undoubtedly you are embarrassed you helped him desert his duty station to have sex, although I understand the pressure on you from the Captain. You are not speaking rationally and I won’t expect it of you. You not only can’t prove I beat him up, as you said, but you have no basis to accuse me with Harold. I was in the lock when he had his accident. My suit camera will show I was nowhere near him when we heard his suit lose pressure, and it will document he often abused his suit kicking the ice off.”
“Your suit camera failed, which we found very suspicious,” Charlotte sneered. “And you can’t prove we were having sex either. There’s a camera on the Bridge too that will show what happened with you and Jaabir. The ship won’t allow that one to be erased!”
Barak silently thanked April’s grandfather again and his lessons to a green kid on how things really worked. He wasn’t going to reveal just yet he had his own copies of all his suit recordings.
“Neither of us ever went in the Bridge,” Barak told her. “Jaabir had it locked under his authority. The only thing that camera will show is – he wasn’t there!” He stopped let that idea hang there for her to consider it certainly wasn’t anything to her advantage.
Charlotte looked stricken. She was running on emotion and hadn’t thought it through that far. For some reason she’d assumed they both made it onto the Bridge. Perhaps just the amount of time that had passed. She probably didn’t even know he locked it.
“As for the other. Yes I make a formal accusation. Yuki-onna please copy this conversation to the log. You both neglected duty to have sex on watch. When Jaabir came down the corridor he was naked with his clothing in his hand,” Barak said disgusted.
Charlotte grimaced hard. She would have had the sense to get dressed.
“If you wish to establish your innocence I suggest you have one of the female crew come to the Infirmary. There has to be a rape kit in a sick bay this well equipped. Use it and seal it as evidence and there won’t be any question later,” he challenged.
“That is not the purpose of the kit,” she said angry. “I don’t have to prove anything. As for you, return to your quarters. I’m not sure what I’d trust you to do. I’ll review your duties and your status if Jaabir isn’t fit to resume command soon. I consider you a risk until then.”
“A risk? You aren’t acting like I’m a danger. Which I am not. If you really thought I was a danger and violent enough to have killed Harold and attacked Jaabir you’d be cringing from me. Instead you are standing here alone yelling in my face and haven’t called for anybody to come escort me to my cabin. But I’ll take myself there now,” he said turning to the hatch. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re kind of shorthanded. You might think on how you plan to assign the extra work of keeping me confined to my cabin and who gets to do my work,” he paused to say over his shoulder as he left. Jaabir had a hand up to his face feeling carefully.
“Yuki-onna, please copy my conversation with the XO to my com console,” Barak said in the corridor. Best to get it protected before that too mysteriously disappeared. He’d make sure it went on his private memory chip as soon as he walked in his cabin.