1. TDFuhringer
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    Salvage

    Discussion in '2012 Science Fiction Contest' started by TDFuhringer, Feb 19, 2012.

    Salvage

    by T. D. Fuhringer



    The starship Alexandra stopped dead in the middle of nowhere.

    “What happened?” asked Anderson.

    “Not sure, Cap,” said Rawls. “Computer dropped us out of hyperspace.”

    Anderson frowned and sat down at the navigation console. He brushed aside empty food packets, looked at the screen and checked the co-ordinates. “This doesn’t make any sense. There shouldn’t be anything out here, so why’d we stop?”

    Rawls shrugged. “I think the computer’s bugging out again.”

    Kepler entered and pointed out a blinking red light on the overhead panel. “You know we have a collision alarm, right?”

    Anderson glared at her. “You know the collision detection system isn’t working properly, right?”

    Kepler sighed. “Is anything working properly?”

    Rawls laughed and opened another energy drink. “Call the Union. I feel unsafe.”

    “Screw the Union,” said Anderson quietly. He looked out the viewport. “Computer says there’s a metallic mass directly in our path but I can’t see anything.”

    Anderson hated this. The Alexandra made him crazy, all her systems breaking down with age but he knew he couldn’t afford to fix her. It was just a matter of time before she became completely useless.

    “Should we move in closer?” asked Rawls.

    “Maybe we could go around it,” said Kepler.

    Anderson said. “What we need is light.” He turned to Rawls. “If we fired a torpedo near the... whatever, can you guarantee a miss?”

    Rawls shrugged. “I can try disabling the torpedo’s A.I. Turn it into a dumb fire missile.”

    Anderson nodded. “Have the torpedo detonate above it.”

    “We’re wasting a torpedo on this?” asked Kepler. “Why don’t we just go around?”

    “I have a hunch this might be worth it.”

    Rawls clapped his hands together. “Torpedo ready!”

    Anderson chewed his lip. He sat up straighter. “Do it.”

    The ship rocked as the torpedo blasted away and ignited into a massive ball of yellow light. It streaked towards the target.

    An older man burst onto the bridge. “We’re firing torpedoes now?” he asked.

    Anderson reassured him. “Relax Doc, we’re just trying to shed some light.”

    Doc squinted. “Something out there?”

    “Yes. There,” he said, pointing. “See it?”

    They watched as the torpedo slowly revealed the object, edges and surfaces glowing faintly.

    “It’s a ship!” said Kepler.

    Anderson’s breathing got shallower. “We don’t know that.”

    “Look at it! That’s a comm relay.”

    Doc stood up straighter. “That’s a military comm relay.”

    They fell silent. The torpedo passed over the object and for an instant, its outline was unmistakable.

    “Oh.” said Kepler. “Oh yes.”

    Rawls whooped, “It’s a ship alright, and it’s huge!”

    They laughed and pressed together against the viewport. Finally, the torpedo burned out.

    Anderson breathed deeply. Shaking, he sat down.

    “Rawls,” he said quietly. “Prepare a salvage beacon.”

    The crew cheered. Rawls pumped a fist in the air. Doc smiled like a little kid on his birthday. Even Kepler looked pleased.

    Anderson relaxed. Finally, he thought. I might actually be able get my ship fixed. Install some upgrades. Maybe even pay off my debts.

    “What about our mission?” asked Kepler. “Our cargo?”

    Anderson raised an eyebrow at her. “Seriously?” He leaned forward. “Rawls, take us in closer.”

    “Wait,” said Kepler. “Whats the plan?”

    “Well, it looks like the ship is badly damaged so we’ll need to find a safe entry point. And since we’re going to need suits, you should go get us set up.”

    “We can’t go in there,” said Kepler firmly.

    “Why not?” asked Rawls.

    “We aren’t outfitted for salvage. We have no scanning equipment, no lights... We don’t even have tow cables.”

    Anderson felt his smile fade. “We have to at least investigate.”

    “Sure,” said Kepler. “We tag it with the salvage beacon then we finish our run. Drop off our cargo and use the credits to buy as much salvage equipment as we can.”

    “Don’t you think we should at least I.D. the ship first?”

    Kepler frowned. “Well ok. But it’s going to be hard without searchlights.”

    Anderson took that as a yes. “Rawls, take us in.”

    Rawls smiled.

    “No mistakes. nice and slow.”

    “Got it.”

    The massive derelict dwarfed the tiny scout ship Alexandra. They were barely able to make out details with the weak lights. What they could see was badly scorched and in some places the hull was open to space.

    Rawls circled the ship slowly but they didn’t find any visible markings. “Hey Cap,” he said. “Over there. “Emergency airlock right above the engines.”

    “I see it.”

    Kepler glared at Anderson. “We are not going in there.”

    Anderson held back his temper. He knew if they left to get supplies, there was a chance they might not make it back. The people he owed money to might even be waiting for him. If they took his payment for the mission, or worse simply stole his cargo, he’d lose the Alexandra and never be able to return for the salvage.

    He spoke calmly, “We need to I.D. that ship. Without a positive I.D. our salvage registration could be questioned.” This was a lie, but he was sure Kepler didn’t know the law as well as he did. “We have to go in. It’s the only way to be sure.”

    Doc looked at him skeptically, but remained silent.

    He turned from her and pretended to study the entry site. “Looks good. No debris.”

    Rawls parked the Alexandra as close to the the derelict as he could, positioning their airlock mere meters away from its airlock.

    “Nice job,” said Anderson.

    Rawls activated hover mode then turned the controls over to the computer. Kepler didn’t say a word as they suited up. Doc used a scanner to collect DNA samples from each of them and gave it to Rawls, who loaded their signatures into the beacon. It recorded their identities and registered their lawful right to salvage the derelict. He switched it on and it began transmitting.

    They were ready. The group passed through the airlock into open space. As they passed outside the Alexandra’s artificial gravity field, they became weightless. They used their suit thrusters to position themselves above the giant ship’s airlock. Rawls attached the beacon firmly to a clear spot on the derelict’s hull.

    “All set,” he said.

    Anderson smiled, unable to hide his excitement. “Talk to me Doc,” he said. “What are we looking at?”

    Doc examined the airlock controls. “It’s old. Definitely pre-war.” He pointed out the markings surrounding the panel. “No words, just symbols. The kind used by the military.”

    “Which side?” asked Rawls.

    “No clue,” he replied, opening the manual release. “Both sides used identical technology at first.” He began pumping the handle. “Keep your eyes open for a registration number.” The seal on the door broke but no gas escaped.

    Anderson sighed. “No atmosphere.”

    Doc snorted. “With this much damage? After a century and a half?”

    The door slowly opened. It was pitch black inside. Kepler turned on her suit lights.

    “Inner door is wide open,” she said. “Corridor looks badly burned.”

    “Let’s get in there,” said Anderson.

    They moved inside. The hallway was wide, but debris floated everywhere.

    “Kepler, Doc, head forward. Rawls and I will head aft. Focus on anything that will help I.D. the ship.”

    “On it,” said Kepler as she and Doc went down the hallway.

    Working their way through the debris, Anderson and Rawls found a stairwell and moved down a level.

    “There,” said Rawls. “Engineering section.”

    Anderson moved faster. He laid a gloved hand against the giant door. “Must have been bad if they sealed this bulkhead.”

    “Yep,” said Rawls, reaching deep inside the smashed control panel. “Lucky for us, they didn’t have time to weld it.” He found the manual release and pulled it.

    They slowly forced the giant door to one side, leaving just enough space for them to squeeze through. The engineering compartment was in better shape than anything they’d seen so far. Many of the control consoles looked intact.

    Anderson moved faster. This was a huge break. He and Rawls began exploring the compartment with determination.

    Kepler and Doc made it all the way to the officer’s quarters before they saw the first body. The corpse was dessicated and frozen, still wearing an intact uniform. The body looked like any corpse you’d find in a space wreck except for one odd detail. Only the top half of the body was visible. The bottom half was embedded in the wall.

    Kepler’s guts churned. She stared at the body, afraid to move.

    “What the hell is this, Doc?” she asked.

    Doc examined the body closely. “I have no idea.”

    Kepler turned away from the ghastly corpse. She looked inside the next room.

    “I’ve got another two bodies in here,” she said, trembling. “Different uniforms though. Wait. This can’t be right.”

    “What?” asked Doc.

    Kepler backed away from the bodies. She pointed at the corpse in the wall. “That’s a Colonial uniform. But these guys in here? Doc, they’re Empire.”

    “That’s impossible,” said Doc, racing over to see for himself.

    Kepler wrung her hands to keep them from shaking. “No no no. This is very bad.”

    Anderson had been listening. “Are you absolutely certain?” he asked.

    “I’m looking right at them,” said Doc. “She’s absolutely right.”

    “Whoa,” said Rawls. “Why would Colonials and Empire be together on the same...” His voice trailed off.

    Anderson’s heart was pounding. Was it possible? It couldn’t be. He tried to calm himself. “Do any of the bodies have name tags?” he asked.

    “This one says Lieutenant Friis,” replied Kepler, spelling it out.

    Anderson activated the comm pad on the left arm of his suit and frantically started typing. “The Alexandra’s database might have something on him in the historical record.”

    “Ho,” cried Rawls.. He had forced open one of the consoles. “I’ve got serial numbers here.”

    Anderson’s comm pad displayed the search results.

    “Aravind Friis,” he said, his voice sounding very small, “ served aboard the Concordia.”

    It was a minuted before anyone spoke.

    “The Concordia was vaporised,” said Doc. “I saw the vids myself.”

    “We’ve all seen the vids,” said Kepler.

    Doc continued, “The explosion was so big it was visible from the ground. No one could have survived.”

    Rawls interrupted, “I’ve got something here. These are Empire codes!”

    “Then this is definitely not the Concordia,” said Kepler.

    Anderson swallowed. “Where the hell are we?”

    “It’s impossible, but I think I know,” said Doc. “Tremaine was onboard the Empire Flagship, that’s why Captain Stewart of the Concordia sacrificed his ship to ram her. He knew without Tremaine the Empire would collapse.”

    “The Empire Flagship,” said Rawls quietly.

    “He was right. The two ships collided just as they were entering hyperspace. Tremaine died, the war ended. But everyone assume the flagship was destroyed.”

    Anderson looked around with awe. He was too stunned to speak. He spotted a data pad floating in the debris. He grabbed it, turned it over and wiped it clean. On the back of the pad was an emblem of a golden bird. Under the bird was a single word.

    Anderson screamed. His scream turned into a laugh.

    “What is it?” asked Rawls.

    Anderson thrust the pad at him. Rawls read it.

    “Oh my God.”

    Anderson shouted, “It’s the Goddamn Prometheus!”

    He closed his eyes and smiled while the others cheered. He reached out and laid a gloved hand on the control panel. I’m touching the most notorious vessel in all of human history, he thought. It was a find beyond his wildest dreams. The ship that started the war, he thought, and ended it.

    Kepler asked, “I wonder if Tremaine’s body is still on board somewhere?”

    “Who cares?” yelled Rawls. “Either way, we’re all rich!”

    Doc and Kepler hugged awkwardly and laughed. Doc shone his suit light down the corridor.

    “So do we keep exploring?” he asked.

    Kepler said, “We’re going to need serious equipment to tow a ship this size, and better suits if we’re going to explore every inch of it.”

    Rawls chimed in, “Cap. The mains are still intact.”

    “What are you thinking?” asked Doc.

    Anderson couldn’t concentrate. “Wait. Everybody slow down.”

    Rawls opened the bank of manual priming switches. “Seriously, I bet I could get us some power in here.”

    “Wait a minute,” said Doc. “This ship is badly damaged with several compartments open to space. There’s no way she’s structurally sound.”

    Rawls closed the first primer. “I’m not starting the engines, Doc. I’m just going to try to get some lights on.”

    “Lights would make things easier,” admitted Kepler.

    Rawls closed the second primer.

    “Everybody stop,” ordered Anderson. “Right now. Nobody moves. Nobody touches anything.” He thought for a minute. “Is it safe to restart the power systems of a ship that’s been dead for centuries?”

    “Well,” said Doc. “It’s space. There’s no decay, just cold and vacuum. The systems are probably well preserved.”

    Rawls said, “Besides, with all the damage, the best we could hope for is to get limited power in this compartment only. The conduits to other parts of the ship will be severed.”

    “Then why turn on the power at all?” asked Kepler.

    “It would help to know what’s working and what isn’t. Look Cap, let me finish priming the system and see if there’s even any juice at all in the cells. If not, then there’s no point discussing it.”

    Anderson was torn. If the power systems worked, it would make salvaging the ship much easier and less expensive. On the other hand, turning on the power was risky. Predicting which ship systems would come up safely was impossible.

    He sighed. “Go ahead.”

    Rawls closed the third primer. Nothing happened at first. He touched the panel. It was vibrating. He backed away.

    “Come on baby,” said Rawls, grinning.

    A single red light came on. Then several at once. Suddenly the entire wall lit up like a Christmas tree.

    “Hell yeah!”

    Anderson swallowed. “Everything is coming up red.”

    “Not everything,” said Rawls. “Look, power generation is yellow and the hyperdrive is..” He frowned. “Must be a glitch. The board is showing the hyperdrive green and charged.”

    “That’s not possible,” said Anderson. “Not after all this time.”

    “Actually it is,” interjected Doc. “The hyperdrive acts like a giant capacitor. If it was running when the power systems went down, it would still be charged.”

    “It’s showing an overcharge though,” said Rawls.

    Anderson kicked off and floated over to the hyperdrive control panel. “Give me a second.” He turned the console on. Incredibly it started up. “Damn. It’s showing a critical overcharge here too.”

    “That’s not good,” said Doc. “An overcharged hyperdrive can go off by itself.”

    “Go off?” asked Kepler. “You mean engage?”

    “I know that Doc,” said Anderson. “But there’s no way. It’s got to be a mistake,”

    Rawls was already on his way over to the hyperdrive access doors. “There’s one way to find out for sure.” He palmed the switch and the safety doors opened.

    “Oh shit,” said Anderson.

    “What’s going on down there?” asked Kepler.

    “Get away from there!” he shouted.

    The hyperdrive chamber was filled with static electricity. Bolts of white lightning exploded from the core like fireworks. The core shook so violently its mounts looked like they were about to shear off. Rawls, unheeding, launched himself towards the blazing core.

    “What are you doing?” screamed Anderson. Then he realized. “Rawls stop!”

    “It’s ok,” said Rawls breathlessly. “I’m just going to discharge it.”

    “NO!” He punched his suit thruster and sailed into the chamber at full speed. He aimed for Rawls but he was too slow. Rawls reached the discharge ring first.

    “Stop!” he cried and smashed into Rawls just as he pulled the ring.

    The static stopped instantly. The core went still.

    Anderson grabbed him by the shoulders. “You idiot! Do you realize what you’ve done?”

    Rawls frowned, “I just saved our lives?”

    Anderson snarled and released him. He looked at the comm pad on the arm of his suit. “No no no!” He turned away and made a beeline for the airlock.

    Rawls followed. He looked at his own comm pad. No signal.

    He felt sick. “Oh God.”

    Anderson got to the airlock first. He stopped dead.

    “FUCK!” he screamed.

    The Alexandra was gone.
     
  2. TDFuhringer
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    Rawls caught up, launched himself out the airlock and looked around frantically but the ship was nowhere in sight.

    “I think,” he said, then threw up in his suit.

    Kepler and Doc arrived. Kepler gasped.

    “Where is our ship?” she demanded.

    Anderson didn’t speak.

    Doc headed for Rawls. “You okay in there? Can you breathe?”

    “Yeah,” said Rawls miserably. “I’m sorry.”

    Kepler reached out and touched Anderson’s arm. “Cap?”

    He shrugged her off violently.

    Doc inspected Rawls’ suit. “Looks like you didn’t clog your air supply.”

    “Where is our ship?” said Kepler again, her eyes wide.

    “The discharge created an electromagnetic pulse,” said Doc. “It’s harmless to humans but not to ships.”

    Kepler went pale. “The Alexandra detected the pulse and thought it was being attacked.” She swallowed. “It jumped away to protect itself.”

    Anderson turned and headed back towards engineering.

    “Where are you going?” asked Kepler. “Seriously what the...”

    “Apparently nowhere!” he shouted.

    Engineering had lights and power. It was a contained space. Anderson entered the compartment and immediately felt safer.

    He calmed down and regulated his breathing. Air, he thought. We’re going to run out of air and we have no ship to go back to. We’re dead.

    The others arrived and waited. Doc was the first to speak.

    “I hate to say this but, we’re going to run out of air in less than two hours.”

    They looked at each other.

    “Well what do we do about it?” asked Kepler.

    Anderson snorted. “Die?”

    Rawls said, “I have an idea...”

    Anderson cut him off. “No one wants to hear your ideas. You’ve contributed enough, thanks.”

    “I was just trying to stop us from getting vaporised,” he said quietly.

    “Can we call the ship back?” asked Kepler.

    Doc shook his head. “No signal. She jumped too far away for us to contact her.”

    “Maybe we could extend the range of the comm pads?”

    “Even if we did, where would we direct the signal?”

    Anderson ignored them. “That core held a charge for over a century. It could have handled a few more minutes.”

    “Not with power flowing into it,” said Rawls.

    “Power YOU turned on.”

    Kepler sighed. “This isn’t helping.”

    They stared at each other for while. Lights flashed on the main power panel, their faces pulsing red. The gauges on their suit air supplies slowly continued to drop.

    Anderson breathed deeply. He looked at Rawls. “Let’s hear your idea.”

    Rawls hesitated. “Okay. We need air.” He pointed at the main power panel. “According to that, the life support system is drawing power, which means the conduits between here and there are intact. If we’re lucky, the control system might still be intact.”

    Doc interjected, “But the hull is blown open in dozens of places. Any air the life support system creates is immediately lost to space.”

    Kepler asked, “Are you thinking of somehow recharging our suits by connecting them to the ship’s life support system?”

    “No,” said Rawls. “I was thinking, if we seal up just one compartment, say the one we’re in, then block off all the access ducts to everywhere except engineering...”

    “I see where you’re going with this,” said Anderson. “Turn the entire engineering compartment into a life raft.”

    “Exactly.”

    They considered the idea briefly.

    “Can we make it happen in less than two hours?” asked Kepler.

    “We have to,” said Anderson.

    “Well ok then let’s do this thing.”

    They each took a task and split up. Doc took a welding kit into the life support duct work and sealed off each branch except those leading to engineering. Rawls made sure the life support scrubbers actually worked and moved the control panel into the engineering compartment. Kepler collected food, water and medical supplies, anything she could find that might help keep them alive. Anderson sealed them in, every door, every hatch, everywhere that air might escape. They worked as fast as they could. Rawls fired up the life support control console. It seemed to be working properly.

    “How’s it going Doc?” he asked.

    “One more panel. Five more minutes.”

    Kepler checked her suit. “Twenty minutes of air left. We’re cutting it close.”

    “Kepler get inside,” said Anderson. “We need to close the bulkhead door.”

    She floated inside, hauling a large supply container behind her. “Help me with this.”

    Rawls went to her aid. “I hope we have enough.”

    Anderson cranked the massive bulkhead door shut. “Done.”

    “It’ll take a while to build up pressure in here,” said Rawls.

    “Assuming there are no leaks,” said Doc.

    “As soon as there’s enough pressure to breathe safely we need to get out of our suits. Conserve whatever air is left in them for emergencies.”

    Doc emerged from the ducts. “All set.”

    Rawls activated the life support system. They waited.

    Anderson’s eyes were glued to the pressure monitor. “Come on.”

    It was at dead zero.

    “How much pressure do we need?” asked Kepler.

    “One hundred is normal,” said Doc, “but we can breathe anything above forty. Fifty to be safe.”

    Anderson shouted, “It’s moving!”

    Rawls frowned. “It’s not rising fast enough. We may have a leak.”

    “Everybody spread out, try to find it.”

    They searched the compartment. Doc threw handfuls of insulation around and the others got the idea and followed suit. Instead of floating free, one of the piles of insulation was moving, slowly at first, then rapidly till it was sucked between two hull plates.

    Doc fired up the welding rig. “Get me a piece of something, anything to cover this up!”

    Anderson found a piece of debris that fit and held it in place. Doc started welding.

    “It’s working,” said Rawls. “The pressure is rising.”

    Kepler checked her suit. “Ten minutes left. How are we doing?”

    “57kPa and climbing.”

    Doc finished the weld. “That’s well above the point where hypoxia would kill us. We can take our suits off now.”
    They hesitated.

    Doc pulled the seal release on his suit and removed his face mask. He took a breath. Then another. He gave them a thumbs up. When they had all removed their suits, Doc said, “It’s going to be harder to breathe for a bit. If you feel any nausea or a headache, speak up.”

    Anderson sighed. “What now?”

    “We should eat, or at least hydrate,” said Doc, handing out food packs and water bottles.

    “Any booze in there?” asked Rawls.

    “I meant what do we do now?” said Anderson. “We have air, food and water, probably enough to last years. But then what? We’re alive, but we’re never getting home.”

    They all looked at each other.

    “Is there any way we can contact someone?” asked Kepler.

    “The comm relay is blown apart,” said Rawls. “There’s no way we can repair it.”

    “What about escape pods?” asked Anderson.

    Doc shook his head. “Unlikely. The Empire wasn’t big on that sort of thing.” He turned to Kepler. “You see any escape pods while you were out there?”

    “No, nothing.”

    Anderson thought of something else. “What’s the range on the salvage beacon?”

    Rawls answered, “It was designed for close range transmission only. Technically the signal will eventually reach someone, someday. But it will be too weak for anyone to notice it.”

    Anderson looked at Doc. “I know that look. What are you thinking?”

    “Well, I don’t know how this helps us but I think I know what happened here. I mean why the ship wasn’t vaporised in the crash. Why that man was sticking out of the wall like that.”

    “Okay,” said Anderson.
    “I think they collided in hyperspace, not normal space. If the Prometheus and the Concordia both made the jump into hyperspace at precisely the same moment and location... maybe they got sandwiched together.”

    Rawls said, “You mean some of those huge chunks of burned up ship out there that don’t seem to fit are what’s left of the Concordia?”

    “Exactly.”

    Anderson thought about it for a minute. He shook his head. “That might explain why there are Colonial and Empire bodies on board, but it doesn’t really get us anywhere.”

    “True,” said Doc. “It’s just interesting. I don’t know of any recorded incidents of ships colliding in hyperspace before. Certainly none that were ever recovered.”

    “Hyperspace!” shouted Rawls.

    “What?” asked Anderson.

    “The hyperspace core was still holding a charge when we arrived. Which means it’s CAPABLE of holding a charge! Which means?”

    “It still works.” said Doc.

    Anderson frowned. “Even if the hyperspace core works, the ship’s engines are shot. It can’t go anywhere. Not in real space or hyperspace.”

    Rawls grew excited. “Yes it can. It can move, just not very fast.”

    “Explain.”

    “We’re in space. All we need to do is generate momentum. Once we’re moving, we’ll keep moving.”

    Doc nodded. “I see what you’re getting at. We generate a small amount of thrust, enter hyperspace and the ship will coast. Very slowly, but in hyperspace it won’t take centuries to get anywhere, maybe only years.”

    “Wait,” said Anderson. “Years?”

    Rawls headed for the console. “We need to figure out how much thrust we could generate if we blew up one of the engines...”

    Anderson’s eyes went wide. “Hold on. Blew up?”

    Rawls typed furiously at the computer. “All the main engines of a ship are is a continuous controlled fusion explosion. We’d just have to rotate the Prometheus till it’s pointing at the nearest settlement...”

    “Outpost 27,” said Doc.

    Rawls continued, “...ignite one of the engines and let the blast propel us forward. Then we fire up the hyperdrive and we’d be on our way!”

    They all stared at him.

    Anderson was the first to speak. “You’re nuts. That’s what you are.”

    Rawls finished typing. “It could work! It would just take a long time.”

    “How long?” asked Kepler.

    Anderson glared at her.

    Rawls grinned triumphantly. “We’d get there in just under 47 weeks.”

    “Uh, that’s an awfully long time,” said Doc. “Do we have enough supplies for that? Can the life support system run continuously for that long?”

    Anderson interrupted, “The real question is, could the ship take the stress of thrust, never mind the impact of an explosion, without disintegrating? It’s already a broken junk heap.” He threw his hands in the air. “The whole idea is crazy!”

    “Doc’s right,” said Kepler. “We probably don’t have enough supplies to last that long.”

    Rawls smiled again. “It doesn’t matter.”

    “Um... what?”

    “Think about it. The outpost’s long range scanners will detect us. They’ll think we’re an asteroid or something on a collision course and they’ll send someone to investigate!”

    It took a moment for them to process the idea.

    “Unbelievable,” said Doc. “It just might work.”

    “How would we trigger the explosion?” asked Kepler.

    Anderson threw up his hands. “You people are insane!” he shouted.

    They all looked at him.

    “It would be suicide.” he insisted.

    “So?” said Doc. “We’re dead already. Eventually we’ll run out of water or this compartment will spring a leak or the life support system will fail. Either way, if we wait to be rescued, we’re finished.”

    “True,” said Rawls. “No one has reason to come out this way. We’re a long way from any regular flight paths.”

    “So we die slowly or we die in an explosion,” said Anderson.

    “Right,” said Doc. “But this way, at least we have a slim chance.”

    “And something to do,” said Kepler.

    Anderson held his head in his hands. It was beyond crazy. What was the point? There was no way it could work. Impossible. He sat and thought for a very long time.

    Finally he spoke. “I guess, when all you have are bad choices, the best you can do is pick the one you can live with. I’d hate to go down not having tried.”

    They worked with eagerness and purpose. It took weeks to set up. First they had to figure out a way to recharge their suits using the life support system. Then they created a makeshift airlock using a small access tunnel. This allowed them to go outside.

    The hardest part was rotating the ship. Eventually they found a cache of unexploded missiles which they welded to key parts of the ship and used as thrusters. After what felt like endless attempts, compounded by the fact that once the ship started rotating, it didn’t want to stop, they got it close enough.

    Igniting one of the engines turned out to be easier than they’d expected. One of the engines was fully intact. There wasn’t enough fuel in the lines to generate thrust normally, but there was just enough to create an explosion. They disabled all the safeguards and control systems and set up a remote circuit that would initiate an uncontrolled fusion reaction.

    When the time came, Rawls gave Anderson two switches. One for the explosion, the other for the hyperdrive. He went to the main panel one last time and routed power to the core.

    He pointed to a yellow light. “When this turns green, the hyperdrive will be fully charged.”

    Anderson nodded. He helped Doc and Kepler strap themselves to a support beam, then Rawls and finally himself. He held one switch in each hand.

    “Everybody ready?” he asked.

    They looked at each other.

    “If anyone wants to back out, speak up now.”

    They laughed nervously.

    “I’ve always wanted to go out in a blaze of glory,” said Rawls.

    Kepler raised an eyebrow. “You know, this might actually work.”

    Rawls grinned.

    The wait was unbearable. Finally the light turned green.

    Anderson said, “Here goes nothing.” and triggered the first switch.

    The explosion was far worse than he’d expected. The chamber rocked so violently he thought for certain the ship had broken apart. But the shaking soon stopped and they felt nothing.

    “Did it work?” asked Kepler. “Are we moving?”

    Rawls unstrapped himself and headed over to the console.

    He whooped. “Oh yeah! We are definitely moving.” He smiled back at them. He steadied himself against the console. “Any time you’re ready Cap.”

    Anderson took a deep breath and triggered the second switch.They all felt it, a brief sensation like swimming through caramel, the unmistakable transition into hyperspace.

    “Oh my God,” said Anderson.

    They cheered. Incredibly, the massive derelict was in hyperspace and moving slowly towards Outpost 27.

    “I’m amazed it worked,” said Kepler, laughing.

    “We might actually have a chance,” said Doc.

    Rawls replied, “I told you it would work!”

    Anderson relaxed and breathed deeply. Just maybe, he thought, everything is going to be okay. He smiled.

    “We’re alive,” he said. “We’re on our way and we’re alive. That’s all that matters.”



    (c) Copyright 2012 by T. D. Fuhringer. All Rights Reserved.
     

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