Excerpt from "Innocence Lost
“Most human beings have an
almost infinite capacity for taking life for granted.
– Aldous Huxley
Captain Bryce had just gotten back into his bed, finally feeling human again, just pulled the sheets over his chest and closed his eyes when the ship suddenly lurched sideways, throwing him from that bed. He cringed and gritted his teeth, squinting one eye in pain, as the sick sound of metal scrapping on metal squealed through the corridors, as if his ship was crying out in pain.
It took him a moment to get out of the tangle of his blankets and reach the com. When he did he heard at least ten other voices calling into the helm as well; his drowned the others out,
“Kassie, what is happened?”
“I’m sorry, Captain, there was a ship right in front of us when I dropped from jump, I had to change course, rather quickly, to avoid a head on. Our starboard sail is no longer responding and the hull has sustained damage, but no breaches, nothing critical.”
“Okay, Kassie. You alright?” asked Iain, knowing she would’ve avoided any accident if she’d had any option.
“I am certainly awake now, sir.”
“Yeah, I right expect so, as are the rest of us, no doubt. Ask Digger to get some men on the hull and sails and call the officers to the conference room while I get my heart back in my chest, if you please.”
It didn’t take them long to reach the conference room, half still in nightclothes.
Iain told Yard to fetch them coffee while they waited for Digger to come and make his report then stepped to the window facing the thing that had awakened them. The ship was only about half the size of Phoenix – actually closer to a third since half its backend was gone – and was floating on its side. Its larboard engine was gone and it had a hole in its aft bow, which was venting internal atmosphere in streams.
“What do you make of it, Master Cable?” Captain Bryce asked Jaime.
“Looks like someone hit her with a laser torpedo, space debris would’ve struck the front of the ship,” answered the quartermaster, through his hand, which was covering up a yawn.
“That’s a sleeper ship,” said Jared beside him, stifling a yawn of his own. “Most likely en route to a newly colonized planet.”
“Wonder if anyone survived?” asked Iain rhetorically as he pushed on his combadge and said, “Kassie, any response to your hails?”
“None, sir, just static,” answered Kassie.
“And no distress signal, either?” asked Jaime.
“Again, none, sir.”
“Alright, leave off, don’t need any CRF monitoring the channels to catch us,” said Iain.
Yard stepped into the conference room at that moment, holding a tray with steaming cups of coffee and a plate of pastries with Digger right behind him.
The engine master grabbed a cup of the black gold and announced, “The starboard sail is inoperable ‘til we’re on solid ground. Luckily, the hull damage is only slight and can be handled with ease by the MVS. A bit of fresh paint and she’ll be back to her beautiful self.”
This made all in the room sigh in delight, especially Iain, the sound of the ships scraping together still replaying in his mind. He placed his hand on the inner wall and stroked it lovingly.
“Alright then, since we’re already up let’s see what we can salvage,” said the captain, pointing at the piece of debris. “I want you to stay behind and monitor the MVS repairs, Digger. Robyn, have your staff prepare sickbay for possible injuries then meet us in the hanger. Yard and Mitch, your task is to transport fuel and undamaged supplies over. Jaime, Jared and Eve will join Robyn and me in getting any survivors. We need to be quick, no way to know if whoever hit the ship is ready to descend on us.”
The pirates got into their oxygen suits, unsure whether the environmental systems would be working; Jaime and Jared carried with them what they had for portable units in case they did find any survivors. Luckily the damage to the ship wasn’t on the side of the emergency hatch so it didn’t take Digger long to get the loading tunnel locked in place or them long to walk across and enter the disabled ship.
As soon as they had the sleeper ship’s hatch secured Iain looked at Jared, "Is the oxygen breathable?”
Jared looked at the device in his hand and said, sounding muffled through the helmet, “It’s a bit thin but yes. I wouldn’t recommend we run or over exert ourselves though.”
Iain nodded and held a finger up to the others as he reached up and released the lock on his neck holding the helmet to the suit, lifted the bubble off his head and took a deep breathe then proceeded to start coughing.
Robyn went quickly to him, grabbed the helmet, and started to put it back over his head. He pushed her hands away with a sick grin on his face. “Just a bit stale, is all.”
Robyn and Jaime both gave him irritated looks, not appreciating the joke.
This made him smirk and shrug his shoulders. “It’s okay but keep your helmets close in case the ship decides to take away what we have.”
It wasn’t easy to move through the ship because it was floating on its side. Wires were hanging from the walls, sparks bursting from those charged lines, pieces of decking and ceiling tiles were pulled up and twisted, their sharp edges sticking out all over the place, forcing them to have to duck and move around them to keep from getting sliced and or shocked, and the flashing charges from the live wires and the decking lights blinking on and off around them made for a weird light show, giving the whole thing an eerie quality.
All joking now aside, Captain Bryce split them up. He sent Jared and Eve to the bridge to try to shut down the internal power and keep them from getting electrocuted, Yard and Mitch to the storage bay and engine room and Jaime and Robyn with him.
Robyn took point, using a flashlight to see into all the hidden cracks and crevices for any obstacles or obstructions that could injure them.
As they made their way through the tight and dangerous corridors she told them that she’d been on a vessel like this one when still in her residency, on Avonlea. She said the stasis units would be on the central deck – which was the one with all the damage.
“They don’t have jump engines, only regular propulsion,” said the doctor, “It can take generations to reach the destination, thus the name of the ship. This one may have been traveling for ten years already, depending on how far away its departure point was.
“They usually have between five and seven chambers of cryo units, each unit, or pod, can hold thirty people, each in a separate tube; mostly young single people. This would give enough biological diversity to start a new society. The controls should be set to resuscitate certain ones at set intervals on the ship’s journey to monitor the others, then they go back into stasis and another group is resuscitated, and so on through the years until they reached their set destination.”
Iain was only half listening to Robyn. He really didn’t care to hear the particulars of the ship’s make-up but he knew it would help her cope with the destruction and death she’d likely be seeing very shortly by telling them of it so he kept himself from saying anything to stop her.
It took them much longer to make it the few feet to the ladder that would take them to the central deck than the captain liked, because they had to move large and sometimes quite heavy chunks of walls and floors to be able to safely move through. When they reached the deck it was with heavy hearts. They were tired from the exertion and too thin oxygen and what they found when they reached the first pod made them all curse.
The doors were melted tight and wouldn’t respond to the control panel.
Robyn shined the flashlight through the window in the doors and let out a painful moan, “Oh my God! There’s someone beside the far tube, Iain, likely one of the last to be awakened. I think I see them moving.” She reached for a metal rod on the floor beside her, intending to use it to wrench the doors open but Iain stopped her and shook his head.
“We can’t, Robyn,” he said, pointing to the gage beside the door that showed the level of oxygen in the room was too high. They couldn’t pry the doors open because a spark from the live wires dangling in the hallway might ignite the room and blasting the doors open with their lasers was out of the question for the very same reason.
“We can’t just leave them, Iain,” Robyn said desperately.
“We waste time here we might not be able to save them that can be,” said Iain, knowing she wasn’t going to like hearing it but having to say it. He hoped she didn’t decide to choose now to get sanctimonious on him and decide their own safety be damned.
She looked back at the door, ready to argue. She dropped the rod and kicked the bottom of the door then turned away from them. She pushed the hand Iain offered, to help her over a large, twisted piece of deck, away and climbed over it on her own, though less than gracefully.
She knew, inside, Iain was right but it was killing her, inside, to admit it just then.
The next room’s doors were part way open but that side of the ship, the back wall of the room, had a huge hole in it so they would have found it hard to maneuver and not get sucked out themselves and anything they disturbed would likely get sucked out as well.
Again Robyn tried to argue because it looked like three chambers might be viable.
Again Iain was forced to say no to her, he didn’t want to risk it.
Again Robyn didn’t look happy, but had to concede.
The third room looked to be intact and the door panel operations worked properly so they pried the doors open and quickly went from one cryogenic tube to the next.
The tubes were eight foot long cylinders, shaped a little like torpedoes, with a triangular window set in the front of them, through which the occupant could be seen, for visual tracking. Each tube had a single person inside, a mix of men, women and children of varying ages, and each had a monitoring device beside it, keeping track of the occupant’s vital signs, three bands ran across the display unit showing brainwave activity, heart rate and the oxygen levels in the tissue and all were moving slower than normal, because the occupants were in frozen stasis.
Some of the occupants were long since dead; now withered and decayed even though the units seemed intact. They’d likely died instantly, not surviving the initial cryo process. In some ways they were the lucky ones, given the condition of the others, looking like they had died slow and painfully. Some of the units had shattered windows, meaning the they had essentially died in their sleep, probably happening with the impact of the torpedo hitting the ship, some looked like they’d awakened from a horrible dream to find reality was little better.
Six tubes looked viable, the vital sign readings well within healthy ranges, but three of them couldn’t be opened due to the damage to the outside of the units. The controls to begin the unfreezing process were fused together and, for all it upset Robyn to admit, they didn’t have time to transport them to Phoenix to try later.
As much as he hated doing it, Iain forced her to step away from them and focus on the ones that were fully operational.
She was beside herself, trying hard to fight back tears.
They each stepped before a viable pod and the doctor slowly took them through the steps to resuscitate them.
A sense of urgency was nagging the captain, making him bark, “This is taking forever.” They were waiting for the units to run through the cycle to reanimate the occupant, or power up, as Robyn called it.
“If we rush it we could send them into cardiac arrest,” said the doctor.
Not wanting to but knowing they had no choice, the captain said, “Stay here, Robyn. Jay and I are gonna check the other units.” He could see her about to protest so he added, “I promise we will save all we can.”