A Catastrophic Disruption - Part 1
Posted on 22nd Mar 2018 in Story
"At first we relied on chance and opportunity as we looked for our place among the stars.
Today, we shape the universe and create our own destiny."
Excerpt from Daedalus launch ceremony - UNS Admiral Sandi, Earth April 11th 2292
'Sam how are we doing?', James spoke into the commlink.
'Almost there, darling', Samantha said with a playful voice.
She's totally enjoying this. Smile crossed his face as external cameras showed Sam effortlessly maneuver the new engine unit into place. 'Just checking, dear. Here's the last piece.'
He maneuvered the ship a bit closer, waited for a few secs until she gave him an OK and then pulled the undock leaver.
'Richard, Sam's nearly finished. How are things on your end?'
'So far so good. I'm doing the final system check right now. You guys want to stick around for a test drive?'
'Only if you stop referring to me as guys,' Sam barged into the commlink.
'Yea sorry about that ma'am...'
'It's the suit, Sam.', James laughed. 'You can't really blame him.'
It's been little over a year since captain James woke up from his 80 year long cryosleep. James, along with his wife Samantha and a handful of colleagues like Richard, was part of Hellion's "Stage one" deployment team. The station they were assembling, was part of the "Hecaton" project, a large asteroid capture operation in the outer belts. Post 6 was just one of many such installations, built to insert massive ore rich asteroids into stable orbits around Hellion's most promising gas giants.
'We're good to go!', Sam said as she locked the final piece of the engine puzzle in place.
'Ok, head on back. I'm coming to pick you up. Richard, all done on our end!'
'Sure thing. I'm starting the ignition sequence in five. Make sure you are both clear of the blast zone!'
James maneuvered his "Steropes" closer to Sam's position and began depressurizing the airlock. The Steropes class was considerably smaller and much more maneuverable compared to its big brother Arges, but no less capable at assembly and transport. Due to its small size, captains had to plan ahead and economize with available resources to get the most out of their ship. Fortunately he had no problem with this, but many of his colleagues would have preferred the larger and "safer" Arges. James, Samantha and Richard were among the first Expedition personnel to wake up and for a good reason. An expert pilot, a brilliant EVA specialist and an engineering prodigy.
'Guys! There's some kind of a...', Richard's voice was cut short by a powerful wave of static and the sound of alarms going off all over the place.
For a moment the ship's instruments went dark, then the alarms started ringing. Even without the noise James could see what was going on. Only one of the asteroid's four engines was activating. The engines were embedded deep into the asteroid's rock layer and were made to work in pairs. With only one, the place would tear itself apart. Sam was still outside and he was forced to only watch as the entire asteroid slowly spun out of control. Then all he could see was a huge expanding cloud of dust, fire and smoke.
James counted to three and fired all starboard thrusters, he prayed that was enough for her to get in. Dammit! He narrowly avoided a head on collision with a massive chunk of rock but didn't have enough time to escape one of the engine support beams that came behind it. The impact sent the ship spinning out of control as the canopy cracked and the breach alarms sounded. Bringing the ship under control while trying to move them away from the incoming debris was no small feat and ship took several more hits before it was out of harm's way. As soon as he deemed it safe, James jumped out of his chair and lowered his visor.
'Sam!' Are you ok? Sam!' He found her slumped against the airlock wall, her helmet cracked. His heart skipped a beat. 'Don't do that to me girl!', he yelled as he pulled her into the prep room. A quick glance over the monitor confirmed he could take off her helmet. 15 minutes of air left, not good! He checked her pulse and pulled a stim out of his pack. Work you damn thing, work! When he felt her shift in his arms he let out a sigh of relief. Longest damn minute of my life!
Well hi there…', her eyes slowly opened.
'Damn it Sam!', he tightened his grip. 'You had me scared shitless! Are you ok?'
'Ouch! Easy there, I hurt all over…', she gasped. 'My suit stopped most of it, I think.'
'You hit your head. Can you stand?' She gave a small nod and he helped her to her feet.
'What the hell happened out there Jim? All I heard was alarms going off, then there was a flash…'
'Something went wrong with the engine sequence, only one of them fired.'
'Only one?', her eyes went wide. 'What about the station, what about Richard!?'
'I don't know yet.', he looked away. 'I barely got the ship out of harm's way.'
She noticed his hesitation and grabbed his hand. 'You did the best you could! Now lets see what the two of us can do.'
James raised his head and looked at her. Shock, pain and confusion were gone from her eyes and she stood there calm and confident, as always.
'You sure you want to go back out there?'
She threw him a smug smile. 'Why? You know someone better?
Within seconds he was back in the pilot seat. Their radar was acting up, several starboard thrusters and the main comms array were severely damaged. Three hull breaches in total and a piece of shrapnel lodged in one of the capacitor banks. Could have been worse, he thought.
The two functioned like clockwork, James routed what little air remained back into the air-tank and tweaked the systems to draw less power then went to work on the capacitor. By the time he finished, she was done fixing the hull and got 3 out of 5 thrusters working. James got back into his chair and started looking for Post 6.
'Sam better get back in your seat. This is gonna be a rough ride. We have a runaway asteroid to catch!'
Catching up proved to be a lot more difficult than James initially thought. The asteroid was spinning violently and already falling apart under pressure, sending wave after wave of debris into space. As James took a dive beneath one of the larger ice chunks a storm of smaller fragments crashed against the cracked canopy. With his radar damaged, and several thrusters barely working it turned into a rigged game of dodgeball or a space version of Russian roulette. Finally, he saw an opening.
'Richard was in the command module right?'
'I think so, why?'
'Because I'm gonna use that cargo as cover!'
James added more strength to the thrusters and went straight towards the next ice wave. He reached the module's shadow with a second to spare, dove beneath it just as a huge chunk of ice crashed against the massive doors and burned towards the rocky surface. We made it!
'Hell! I think I just aged 30 years!', James breathed out a sigh of relief.
'Wouldn't that make you...What? Like 140?', he heard Sam say from her seat.
James threw her a quick glance and caught her pale smile through the visor. He laughed and turned towards Post 6. He got them closer to the surface and avoided large cracks and the shrapnel they were spewing. As the station's remains came into view James remembered why he liked Steropes so much. The stunt they've just pulled? It would have been impossible with Arges. Better armor would have come in handy for sure, but it would make little difference if they got hit by even one of the larger chunks. Not to mention that its size would have made using cargo for cover all but pointless. James tightened his grip on the controls and moved towards the command module.
Post 6 was in bad shape. With the exception of the cargo bay most modules were still connected, but severely damaged. The station was anchored near the asteroid's center of mass, which let it avoid most of the G forces that were tearing the asteroid apart but that couldn't protect it from the explosion and debris. There were holes everywhere, and the entire side facing the crater left by the malfunctioning engine was scorched.
'...can anyone hear me. I repeat, James, Sam is anyone still there?', Richard's voice came on the radio, but it was weak, very weak.
'Can't we answer?', Sam asked. Worried look on her face.
'No. Our transmitter is busted and there is too much interference for short range radio.'
'Ok. Get close and look for a place to dock. Once I'm in the station I should be able to reach him.'
'Just be careful, alright?', James barely managed a smile.
'Aren't I always?', with that she went to the airlock.
James got them as close as possible and could see her dive straight to the surface. The entire landscape looked eerie, almost like a slow motion scene from a horror movie. A thick layer of ice dust enveloped the surface like a cloud, obscuring razor sharp edges beneath while the larger rocks slowly bounced back and forth as the land shifted. At the corner of his eye he could see a figure fearlessly darting through that frozen hell towards the command module tower. And then she disappeared inside. A thousand things could go wrong there in an instant, but James pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind and focused on flying. He noticed an exposed docking port further from the command module, near one of the broken airlocks and moved in to dock.
Docking itself was a bit harder than usual, with all the circular motion to compensate for, but James was not ready for what followed. The moment docking clamps closed and the vessels connected a violent shudder shook the ship, then another, and another. All followed by sounds of breaking rock, torn metal and cracking ice. If there is a hell, I think we've found its soundtrack. Comms were filled with nothing but static with no trace of either Richard or Sam. He waited for what seemed like an eternity when the hellish cacophony of the outside got interrupted by the static from the suit's radio. It was Sam.
'James, can you hear me?'
'Sam! I hear you but barely. Did you find him?'
'I did, but it's not good James…', her voice was trembling. 'You have to come down here…'
End of part 1
Posted by Zero Gravity team