04 Jan

Distress

Ship's log, 20:32, 14 March 2214
Location: Near Venus, Home System
Status: Sublight transit

 

I’ve left Earth behind. I’ve shaken the planet off my metal feet and pulled out of her atmosphere like a chick pecking its way out of an egg. It has shrunk in my rear sensors, beyond the glow of my own engines and the thick clutter of the traffic lane. I can barely sense her at all.

I’m turning left now, to swing around the bulk of Venus and head towards Terra Sol, and I breathe a deep sigh. I’m on my way again. I peeled myself out of the transit lanes a couple of hours ago; no-one around but me and mine.

I’m going to miss Earth’s atmosphere. All the time I was there, she lapped at me: through the air, through the water I rested in. I thought it might be restrictive but it wasn’t; instead, it was… comforting. Like the wrap of a fluffy robe or the brush of someone’s arm as they sit near me. It was contact and connection.

Out here in the black, I touch nothing and nothing touches me. It’s both freeing and isolating. I love it, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t look forward to going back to a planet with atmosphere again.

Out here, I can do a barrel roll on my way to the star if I want. Planetside, I had to behave myself, but here there’s no-one to see, no-one to comment, and I feel like it. My captain is whole again. My crew is all here, and I’m glad of even the two I’m not sure about yet. They didn’t do anything they shouldn’t have while we were on Earth. Dr Socks helped my captain enough that I might stop calling him that soon. He has a proper name. Swann… maybe if I give him a nickname, he’ll do something to prove that he’s worth our trust and the air I filter for him.

One more Step and I’ll be free. Dyne is our next destination: there, I’ll have my ident altered. I’ll sever the links between me and Is-Tech, and I’ll be truly free. I’ll finally be able to choose my own path (with my crew, of course).

Everyone has settled into their usual positions, mostly in their quarters at this hour, winding down for the night. Elliott is banging things in Engineering and I think Byte is cheering him on. I’m sure it’s for a good cause.

Dr Socks has woken our pirate Lieutenant up in Med Bay. We put him out for the stay on Earth, but we don’t want to risk prolonging the coma any more than is necessary. The two of them are chatting calmly while the doctor stows the new medical supplies away.

Up on mid-deck, the science team are preparing for my next Step. So much data they want to capture; I’m not sure I’ll be able to filter and gather it all, but I’ll do what I can. They’re trying to construct better resources for me. I’m not convinced that they’ll help me sort the data of the Outside but I’ll try it for them.

Wait, I’m picking something up. A faint transmission bleating across the system, coming from ahead of us.

 

External comms channel

UNKNOWN SHIP: …mayday, mayday. We’re suffering critical failures and are being forced to abandon ship. Mayday. Rescue required. Repeat: Mayday, mayday. This is the Firebird. We have critical failures and are abandoning ship. Requesting immediate assistance. Mayday, mayday….

 

Internal comms channel

STARRY: (in the captain’s cabin, voice only) Captain, I’m receiving a distress signal.

CAPTAIN: (sitting at his desk, he looks up from staring at his right hand) In the transit lane?

STARRY: No, we’re in clear space now, heading past Venus. It’s coming from between us and the sun, high vector.

CAPT: Show me.

(To his right, a holographic display comes up showing navigational data for the system. The softly glowing orbs of the planets and sun tilt and zoom to show him the sector between Earth, the glowing blue lines of the transit lanes, and the sun. Venus looms large and the blip of the Starwalker is tiny beside it. Above and to the right of the dotted course laid out from the little ship to Terra Sol’s orbit, a flashing red light pulses.)

CAPT: That’s the source of the signal?

STARRY: Yes.

CAPT: Any other ships in this area?

STARRY: No, nothing outside of the transit lanes right now.

CAPT: Let’s check it out.

STARRY: Acknowledged. Altering course.

CAPT: Time to intercept?

STARRY: Forty-seven minutes.

 

I’m punching full sublight and it’ll still take that long to get there. I’ve sent them an acknowledgement and let them know my ETA, but whatever is going wrong there, I won’t be in time to stop it. They’re already abandoning ship – in fact, they must have sent that signal at least eight minutes before we received it, so they might already be in the escape pods.

There was a flash in that direction, just before I picked up the message. If I analyse it… oh no. If I analyse that particular sensor contact, what I see is an explosion that matches the colour and magnitude of a courier-class sublight engine detonation. They must have had a power overload, a breakdown in buffering and isolation, and then…

They’re gone. Their ship is destroyed, disintegrated.

Their signal just cut off. The transmission delay caught up with the light and realised that its source isn’t there any more. Time burped, and now it’s one with itself again.

They were abandoning ship. They had time: they could be in pods by now, they could be drifting out in the black, waiting for a pick-up. Any second now, I’ll find their beacon’s transmission. It’ll come from near that explosion, so I’ll focus my sensors that way. They could still be alive.

Forty-seven minutes is going to feel like forever. If I push the max on my sublights, I can shave a few minutes off that, but Elliott will shout at me. …fuck it, it’s worth it if we can get there sooner. It won’t cause too much damage in such a short burst.

It’s still going to take too long to get there. I hate waiting. It’s too short and too risky for an FTL jump – I’ll be through the star and out the other side before I could back-thrust and drop out. Not to mention all the debris in this system, collected over two hundred and fifty years of messy spaceflight. No-one risks FTL inside the Home system.

Ah-ha! I’ve got the distress beacon!

 

STARRY: (in the captain’s cabin, voice only) Captain, I’ve picked up the beacon from their escape pod. No, pods.

CAPT: (looking over the transmission data) How many?

STARRY: Two. Possibly three – it could just be a bounce in the transmission – but definitely two.

CAPT: Any comms?

STARRY: I’m sending them pings, but nothing back yet. Another few minutes before we’ll know. Not likely on escape pods, though.

CAPT: No harm in trying. Any other ships responding?

STARRY: Not as far as I can tell. We’re the closest ship and no others have sent pings this way.

CAPT: (nods) Carry on, then.

 

It’s hard to believe that we might be their only hope. Here, where there’s so much traffic, so many ships passing in and out, and we’re the only responder so far.

Sure, they’ll reach someone near Earth eventually. Their original distress signal will reach it in another few minutes. The usual emergency ships will be dispatched, sleek little vessels equipped like a courier, all speed and economy of everything else. But how long will that take? How long before they’re scrambled, before they take off?

In an emergency, we’re on our own out here. It has always been that way and it always will be. We are our own safety net, and if we fail… Every ship and crew know how critical help is in the vacuum. Everyone knows that one day, that distress beacon could be them. That’s why it’s every ship’s duty to respond to a distress signal. We act now in the hopes that someone else will do the same for us.

And that’s okay. I mean, they’ve made it into their escape pods. They made it clear of the ship before it exploded. They should be all right.

I hope they didn’t leave anyone behind. I hope the ship held out until all the pods got clear. I can’t think of anything worse than surviving when someone else didn’t.

I can only see two pods so far. A third one could be tucked behind one of those; debris is cluttering up the area from the explosion, still spinning out on the blastwave, and the radiation is still awfully bright, so it’s hard to get a clean reading. I’m filtering out more and more shrapnel as I get closer. Just a short way now. I’m definitely picking up two beacons, loud and strong. The crew should be fine in there. I hope they are.

The captain is frowning at the sensor readings. He doesn’t look happy about this, beyond the fact that another ship has just exploded and left her crew stranded, possibly dying.

I need to make preparations. Big Ass and Wide Load are heading down to Cargo Bay 3 to clear some room. Depending on the state of the escape pods, I might need to bring them all the way inside before we can get to whoever’s in there. We might need the deck space for the injured, too.

Crap, I have to alert the crew. Dr Socks needs to get ready to tend to whoever we pick up. Cameron will want to get her people in place. Think, Starry. You have protocols for this, champing at the bit, and they’re not ones to ignore. Every minute counts; there’s no time for hesitation.

 

STARRY: (shipwide) We have received a distress signal and are on our way to intercept at least two escape pods. Please prepare to receive wounded. Clearing Cargo Bay 3 for emergency docking. Forty minutes until contact.

 

There they go. Cameron is ordering Rosie and Swann to arm up and get down to the cargo bay. Dr Socks is heading to Med Bay to get his emergency kit. Casper will meet him at the door with it. Elliott is frowning at the sensor readings of the pods and calling up the diagnostic reports for the magnetic grapples. He’ll make sure everything’s set for lassoing the escape pods safely.

The science team are moving too, but their purpose is different. They’re securing mid-deck, making sure that all the data is locked down and the hatches are sealed. They do what they need to do.

Cameron’s heading to the captain’s cabin to coordinate with him. Everything is in motion.

This is the Starwalker, rescue ship, on her way.

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14 Responses to “Distress”

  1. Nomen Nescio Says:

    suspicious place for anybody but starry to be; why would a courier be hanging around outside of normal traffic lanes? at least the captain seems to be smelling the rat…

  2. Retsof Says:

    …GAH! Why do I have to wait a week for the next update?!

  3. Antonious Says:

    Glad to see I am not the only one suspicious of this. The masking radiation levels and debris field are all to convenient of a smoke screen to hide behind. I smell pirates.

  4. Retsof Says:

    My Trope senses are tingling. Am I picking up some foreshadowing in this? …”We act now in the hopes that someone else will do the same for us.”…

  5. Melanie Says:

    Nomen Nescio & Antonious – very true; Starry is caught up in doing her duty for a ship in distress, but the captain has his suspicions. 😀

    Retsof – foreshadowing? Me? Possibly! 😉
    If it’s any comfort, next week’s post is all written and edited and ready to go. Maybe I’ll schedule it to go up a little earlier in the day for you guys. 😀

  6. Professr Says:

    Well, it might not be so bad. If they’re captured by pirates (AGAIN), they’ll probably end up at Dyne anyway.

  7. Blik Says:

    Is that a new plot arc I smell? I think it is!

    Typo suspected: “We put [the lieutenant] out for the say on Earth…” to “for the stay on Earth…”

  8. eduardo Says:

    Old pirate trick, if you see a few pirate movies you will see this trick being done with small boats full of hidden, armed pirates.
    So, I would be very carafull before leting scape pods into the ship.

  9. mjkj Says:

    *lol* She liked the hug she got from the water and the atmosphere 😀

    Oh, a distress call, might be a trap… – or that might be Starry from another step into the same time and system – …but I tend more on it being a trap.

    Oh, only two pods? How many persons are in one? Or are they one-person pods?

    I really hope that it is no trap…

    Do they have cloaking devises or other means to hide a ship from another one?

    mjkj

  10. ShorBird Says:

    Hummm. Both the Captain and Elliot are ‘frowning at the sensor readings of the pods’. Why hasn’t Starry taken a look at that data too? Hope one of them is not a bomb disguised as a pod, or that they are not overloaded with folks with big weapons.

  11. daymon34 Says:

    You know with her ability to step thru time Starwalker could become the premier rescue ship. If you don’t make it the first time come back and save them again later, or even if you need more hauling space.

    But that would also be telling everyone what she can do as well.

  12. Melanie Says:

    Wow, so many comments! You guys are great. 😀

    Professr – definitely possible! I’m confirming nothing. 😉

    Blik – ahahahaha. And, typo fixed. Thanks! (Darn, and I was doing so well.)

    eduardo – true! They’ve definitely been bitten enough to be very wary about that kind of thing.

    mjkj – the pods are small – enough for two or three people in very cramped quarters, no more. The ship was a courier, so very small and light on crew.
    Hmm, cloaking devices are hard, because you’d need to cloak all kinds of detection (radiation, emissions, visual, etc). I’m going to go with ‘possible but difficult and expensive to do well’.

    ShorBird – hi and welcome! 🙂
    The captain is looking at the readings coming in from the explosion as a whole, which is what Starry is reacting to. Elliott is mostly working out the logistics of having to grab the pods. Perhaps I should make that clearer… I’m sure they’ll all swap perspectives when they get close! 😉

    daymon34 – very true! Time-stepping could be handy for that. She’d have to avoid crossing her own timeline too much in case she accidentally caused a paradox and collapsed something important, though. 😉
    There are all kinds of awesome things you could do with a time-travelling starship! And Starry is just the kind of person to paint ‘Rescue’ across her side. She’d love that as a purpose in being. 🙂

  13. Crane Says:

    A barnswallow, huh?
    Guess Starry’s just a leaf on the wind.

  14. Melanie Says:

    Crane – hi and welcome to the blog!

    Yes, that’s exactly right, she is. 😀 Bonus points for the reference!