SOS: Opening Scene
With the ebook launch less than a week away, here is the opening scene to whet your appetites...
“Screw this, let's get some coffee.” Ford would argue his case until his cheeks ran as cherry as his hair, “We've been at this, what? Two hours already?" His anti-gravity jacket did little to ease his back as his working space was so damned tight he couldn't bring his elbows above his chest. He'd said the job had taken two hours already, it felt more like three. But the job needed doing. Being part of the five person duty crew meant regular diagnostics on the ship, including frequent checks of the thirty other crew members sleeping in stasis, but it was still a pain. Why he’d thought it was a good idea to return to such a toiling existence, he couldn’t recall.
His sister Rebecca, better known as Becca, paused to check the time on her omni-glove, "Fifty two minutes Ford and we've done three beds out of ten. Mason's still running diagnostics on the bridge systems. We'll have a break in an hour as scheduled."
"You're a cruel boss sis."
"You know I don't like doing this any more than you."
"I really doubt that." Ford muttered under his breath, his sister certainly had the better deal. She stood at the foot of a bed, holding a data pad.
The last thing Ford expected to hear next was the proximity alarm. A piercing shrill which no part of the ship escaped. It sounded for two seconds and repeated after a one second interval. Ford slid out from under the bed and looked to his sister. Her lake blue eyes stared at the display monitor mounted on the wall opposite. The lights dimmed on the second sounding and emergency beacon lamps flashed red along all walls urging them to the bridge.
"When's the next drill due?" He asked, knowing the last one had only been conducted last month.
"Not until the next shift rotation," she answered, remaining focused on the wall display, "This is real."
On the third screech; Rebecca dropped her data pad, “Come on.” Her auburn pony tail whipped around as she vanished from the room before the beacon lamps had chance to wash the room red. Ford grabbed the side of the stasis bunk and climbed to his feet, slapping his jacket’s chest controls and turning off the anti-gravity field. He chased after her, kicking Becca’s fallen pad across the room on the way out the door.
Becca wasn't far ahead, disappearing around corners seconds before he caught sight of her again. The siren continued to scream its warning: something was going to hit them. On the fourth turn Ford grabbed the pipe-work and swung himself around, keeping his momentum. He landed closer to Becca, but she'd always been faster and by the time they took the next corner she was already breaking ahead.
They were now at the bow of the ship and with the last corner behind them they only had two decks to climb. Ford knew reaching the bridge would only be the start of it. The Jian Seng was massive; her scanner array was able to pierce the void for thousands of kilometres. The chance of anything colliding with them should have been next to impossible and yet something had clearly got through. Something that was too close for the navigation computer to avoid. The deflector turrets were designed to blast rocks out of the way, but the Seng wasn’t a military vessel. Her targeting systems wouldn’t be able to lock onto something moving too fast or too small.
Becca leapt onto the junction ladder, landing about half way up and climbed from sight. Ford mimicked her actions, "Why isn't Mason on the comm?" he screamed between klaxon beats.
"I'm not psychic," she screamed back.
Ford couldn't remember the last time he'd rushed a ladder climb, and it told. His calves burned and his chest tightened. By the time he'd reached the desired deck, he was out of breath and Becca was out of sight. He jogged down the corridor and entered the bridge; Becca was already seated at her terminal and fastening her safety belt. Mason was sat in the Captain's chair, his terminal pulled across his lap. The room was tiny, only six metres in diameter, with five articulated chairs set in a diamond formation. Ford grabbed the nearest seat available and let the system identify him, a klaxon screech later and the terminal's touch screen arranged itself to Ford's personal configuration.
"No I haven't seen anything." Mason answered the unasked question,
"Can we kill the damn klaxon?" Ford snapped, while attempting to study the telemetry in front of him.
"I don't have anything either." Becca announced as Mason silenced the alarm. The sound of which was instantly replaced by a high pitched whistle inside Ford's ears.
"Readings suggest something is definitely out there." Ford commented. He couldn't visually see anything and the readings on his screen made little sense but he wasn't willing to dismiss it. The Seng knew something was out there, it just couldn't tell him what or, "Where are you?" He mouthed the words, tapping against his screen, oblivious of the conversation continuing between the other two.
"There's nothing on the lanes." Mason offered, "I ran an invasive scan but everything came up blank."
"Well something tripped the alarm." Becca said, before starting to relay their route and speed via comms to whomever or whatever might be out there. "This is the commercial transport, Jian Seng..." she continued to relay their route and speed, all by the book procedures that Ford had little concern for. The persistent ringing in his ears whistled higher in pitch until he could hear nothing else.
"Anything?" Mason asked,
"Ford? You got anything?" Becca asked, loud enough to attract Ford's attention.
“What?” He snapped, trying his best to ignore the tinnitus.
“Have you got anything?”
"No." His screen was a mess of contradictions. He doubted he’d make sense of it even without the ringing. Ford took a breath and trawled through the event log, right back to the initial alert. There it was, lasting just over a second but it was there, out in the black and coming right at them. He adjusted the ping against their own velocity and trajectory, "Check bearing three-three-zero, mark one-five." he said, putting the data into his own scanner and following the line.
"Still nothing." said Mason and Becca agreed.
"Same here..." Ford mouthed. He stared into his screen, willing the object to reveal itself.
"Maybe it’s a sensor ghost?" Becca asked,
"I think I nearly had a heart attack." Mason replied, hand on his chest for comic effect. As ship's First Officer, Mason wasn't all that bad, too casual at times, especially with Becca. They'd all grown up together on this tin can, so a level of familiarity was to be expected. But his casual nature was a fault for one in command and it was all too eager to reassert itself when they hadn't confirmed an all clear.
Ford licked his lips, sucking at the inside of his cheek. He'd re-calibrated the sensors not two days ago. Addressing Mason he asked, "Have you changed any of the sensor settings?"
"What?" Mason asked, "No, of course not." a little more insulted at Ford's question than he could hide, "Running a diagnostic on them now." he spat, tapping his terminal.
"Bridge, what's going on?" Crudge's voice called over the intercom.
"Stand down Chief." Mason said, "I'll update you when we know more."
"Where is Jo?" Becca asked,
"Running manifest audits."
"Pull her back." said Ford,
Mason pondered on the statement a moment, pensively rubbing the six week old beard he'd cultivated during his duty shift, "Mason to Jo, I need you to drop what you're doing and get back here."
Her reply was immediate, "I'm already on my way, still in pod twelve."
"This isn't right." Ford was speaking to himself now, the world outside his screen a hazy dream.
"Guys..." Becca started to say in urgency. She had no need to finish as Ford saw it too, right along the trajectory he'd calculated.
One solitary object, heading right at them, "Got it." He said, his fingers raced over the screen but too slow to gain a lock on it before it vanished, "What in the hell?"
"Could there be something wrong with the sensors?" Becca asked,
"Diagnostic is running." Mason reminded her,
Without looking up from his screen, Ford replied, "I don't think so. If there was something wrong with the sensors the contact wouldn't be this precise. Sensors have found it, whatever it is, twice already, and both times travelling along the same path." He brought the two points up, lining them up in correlation to their location and sent the image to their stations, "See, it's coming in - and fast."
"So, what you’re saying is, it's cloaked?" Mason asked,
"Don't say that." Becca snapped,
Not one for superstitions, Ford answered "If they’re pirates we'll know soon enough."
“Ford!" Becca’s tone was one he’d heard many times down the years. Scathing and scolding.
Ford was too busy recalibrating the scanners to acknowledge his sister's objection. Saying to himself, if I tweak them back a bit... PING, "Got it.” It was big. Too big for the Seng’s sensors to have let it get so close, but then, as quick as it had appeared, it was gone - something that big just can’t disappear. “Gone.”
“Ford...” Becca said, “What do you mean, gone?”
“Yeah, it’s not like it has anything to hide behind.” Quipped Mason,
“Funny.” Ford complained, just as his sensors pinged, back again old friend. Ford's fingers, ready this time, "Dammit." He yelled as it vanished, "I can't get a lock."
"Can we dodge it?" asked Becca,
"Crudge, give us some more engines." Mason called to engineering,
"You already have everything I've got." Crudge replied,
"What's going on?" asked Jo from her current position.
The Jian Seng was too big a target to miss and the object would hit them in just over one minute. Ford jabbed his controls, running several simulations while running the math in his head. He wasn’t judging the scenario of avoiding the collision, which Mason was hoping for. To Ford, that way of thinking was a waste of precious time. The object was too close to avoid and instead he looked to reduce the incoming damage.
"Jo, we're about to be hit, where are you?" Mason replied,
"Outside cargo pod twelve."
Ford's best possible outcome was to barrel roll the ship. Force the UFO to the underside of the bow, avoiding the antenna stacks along the top of the ship and let it hit the cargo pods. In Ford’s head, the cylindrical warehouses would cushion the blow and break away from the ship; hopefully taking the object with them. Better to lose the payload than the ship... "Wait, where?"
"Outside Pod Twelve." Mason repeated Jo's position.
"She's still in the spine?" replied Ford, the anxiety in his voice clear.
"Yes... I am. Why?" Jo picked up on it,
Crudge was secure in the engineering section at the stern. The bridge along with the crew in stasis, were secure at the ship's bow. Joanne was now stood right in the middle of the spinal corridor, just one tube surrounded by cargo. Ford closed his eyes, cursing under his breath, "Jo, get the hell out of there, quick." He said urgently, while plotting the ship's rotation. He craned his neck around and spoke to Mason. "The best I can do is angle the ship for a glancing blow. It will hit the underside of the bow and the first row of pods." Hopefully, then it will bounce off.
His plan was as solid as he could make it. The belly of the front section was shielded by a maze of corridors and domestic quarters, Ford didn't mind writing off someone's bed as collateral damage. Best case scenario, it would glance off the hull plating and head off into space. Worst case scenario the object wouldn't bounce, but hit the pods at such an angle it would sever the spine. Admittedly, both the engineering section and the front section could act as life boats for up to six months, but they were at least nine months away from the nearest rescue... Realistically, the result of the collision would be somewhere in between. Either way, it was still the best possible solution for survival for everyone except Jo. Ford held his head back, watching Mason arrive at the same conclusion.
"Jo, this is Mason, get out of that corridor now. That’s a direct order. Get to control. Don't hang about.” Then he said, “Ford, get it done."
"It's going to hit section one or two as she gets here." Ford said, swinging back around to his terminal.
Mason, rethinking his last command to Jo said, "Jo, belay my last order - get to engineering."
"Are you sure?" her voice shrill, fear hidden beneath her anger. It was going to be a long run but she could make it. She had to.
“Ford?” Mason asked,
“Jo, head to Crudge.”
Ford keyed in the commands necessary to barrel roll the ship, nearly smashing the panel when he jabbed the execute button. The information went directly to the engines and a copy to Crudge's terminal so he could monitor the progression. Once executed there was nothing to do but wait as hundreds of manoeuvre thrusters ignited in unison across the ship, rolling her anti-clockwise at an achingly slow pace. It was the first time Ford noticed his hands shaking.
"Is this going to work?" Becca asked,
"I hope so." Ford said under his breath, following the data running up his screen. Hope was all they had now. No ifs or buts, this was worst case scenario.
"Where are you now Jo?" Becca asked,
"Coming... up on... twenty-two." She sounded stressed and exhausted; Ford couldn't begin to imagine how scared she must be.
"Keep going, you'll make it." Mason said encouragingly, drawing Ford's eyes off the clock. Jo wasn't making good time. Ford guessed she'd only make it as far as twenty eight before the thing hit. Mason must have known this; meaning his officer training had kicked in. Out of the five of them Mason arguably took this job the least serious. But when he put his mind to it he always got the job done. Even if he leaned on his faith in the Trinity too much. But now, Mason’s voice brought Ford as much comfort as his misguided religion.
"Engineering's secure." Crudge's voice came over the comm, sounding as stalwart as ever. Ford would be hard pressed to find anything that shook the Chief's mettle. "Manoeuvre is exacting as requested."
"Strap yourself in old man." Mason cracked, clicking in his own seatbelt and reminding Ford he'd not yet fastened his own. He pulled the strap across his chest and missed the socket on the first attempt; cursing they'd not upgraded to automatic belts. He used his second hand to stave the first from shaking. Ford’s trembling brought with it the memory of a cold breeze and he instantly recalled the frozen wastes of Otzu. He crouched alongside his squad, rubbing the chill from his gloved hands before Becca shouted, “Ford, strap in!” He snapped back into the pilot’s chair, dismissing the memory and clicked his belt into place. He'd escaped death on Otzu, he wasn’t about to get swatted like a bug on his first outing.
"Ten seconds, hold on to your butts. This is it!" Mason called out his readings, as he tapped his commands into his terminal. One by one, the bridge's terminals lit up with views from the Seng’s exterior sensors. They had front seats to the disaster of the century.
“What is that thing?” asked Becca,
It took Ford a full second to find the object; a foreboding doom given physical form, lumbering toward them from the black. It didn’t look so much a ship, but as a large frozen spear spinning toward them. It shimmered against their flood lights. Stars rippled behind its icy transparency. Ford tapped the terminal's frame, knee jerking up and down. The whistling in his ears had faded. It was a small but significant favour from the ‘verse. But in its place came a whisper of words, spoken in rhyme from behind Ford. A poem begging for forgiveness, Mason had taken refuge in the Trinity's prayer.
Ford envied Mason in his belief that the Trinity were watching over them. But to Ford, the thought of three living Gods sitting in their Cathedral of Glass orbiting Earth gave little relief to their immediate horror. So he looked to himself instead, steadying his knee and stalling his fingers. One eye on the approaching spear, the other on the clock and when it came in range: he fired the deflector turrets.
Becca shouted, "Grab hold of something Jo."
Ford closed his eyes, willing Jo to reach her goal - no matter how impossible it was. But in his heart he knew it was too late and despite hope's best wishes the object was on them.
The deflector volley lit up the spear’s glimmering hull with silent explosions. Short ranged Kren-class Torpedoes, with enough punch to impede the most insistent of space debris were no more destructive to the object than rain hitting a tin roof. Ford tapped his screen again, targeting the remaining turrets. Within a second all of the guns were spent and still the leviathan rolled forward. Mason's prayer whispered in Ford's ear and in that moment something inside Ford died. He'd been lying to himself the deflector turrets would be enough to save them. It was pure folly. They were about to be hit and they still hadn't finished their manoeuvre. They were short by ten degrees.
The giant craft crashed into the underside of the Seng's bow. Astern of the crew quarters. It slammed into the power distribution nodes and several of the sensor feeds instantly went blank. Ford's belt pulled tight across his chest just as a ceiling pipe burst, showering the bridge and its occupants in liquid coolant that appeared purple under the red emergency lamps. The floor bounced again, flipping Ford's stomach. Bile raced up his throat. His mouth opened to vomit, but the foul souring taste of coolant filled it instead.
Ford forced his hands against the g-forces in order to cover his face. The Seng continued to shake, metal screeching against metal and buckling all around him. A sharp thud struck his head and with it came the realisation - he had no idea what was going on.
"Hull breach on E Deck," Mason yelled, "bulk heads dropping."
Ford didn't care. There was no one on E Deck.
His father’s words rang in his ears, ‘One step at a time, that's all you can do’, words Ford tried to live by. Keeping one hand over his brow, he opened the life support controls, cutting the pipe's feed. The purple deluge promptly slowed to a trickle.
A forth collision, followed by a fifth. With each crash, the violent shaking diminished until it was no more than a distant vibration. The remaining cameras showed the object rolling along the spine, bouncing between cargo pods and smashing them free, almost exactly as Ford had predicted. Most of the damage had been buffered by the pods. The ship at least, had a chance. Then, everything went black: lights, cameras, complete inaction.
Ford's heart beat like a drum, a soundtrack to their misfortune. Everything had ceased, vibrations, chatter, the incessant praying, even the sound of breathing was absent. He was alone but for the constant thumping in his chest, ba-bomb, ba-bomb, ba-bomb. Darkness pressed against his face, cold fear pumped in his veins and after what seemed like an eternity in limbo, but in reality only seconds later the emergency lamps returned, bringing with them a fresh hope amongst the carnage.
Part of the ceiling had collapsed onto the right side of the bridge. They were lucky. If anyone had been sat there they'd have been crushed. The debris smothered two terminals. If the rest of the ship had fared as luckily as the bridge had... maybe, just maybe they'd have a chance. Ford shivered, cold lingering in his bones. He had nothing but his adrenaline, ba-bomb, ba-bomb, ba-bomb.
The sound of clapping was unexpected and Ford jumped in his chair, once again pulling his belt tight. Nothing else had broken, nothing else had gone boom. It was Mason, clapping his thanks, "Good work Ford." he said, releasing his belt and walking unsteadily to Ford’s station to rest a hand on his shoulder, "You saved us."
Ford mustered a smile, but refused to tempt fate any more than Mason just had. Right now, congratulations were unfounded and superfluous. They had no idea if Ford had actually saved them or simply delayed the consequences. He tapped Mason's hand, giving him a nod, "How's your heart?" He asked, trying to lighten his mood.
"Nothing a bottle of Kentucky can't remedy." Mason replied, patting Ford's shoulder.
Ford leaned across Mason, checking on his sister. She raised a thumb in his direction, distracted. Her face contorted, brow pitched down, working her terminal. Which if it was anything like Ford's was dead, "I've no communications."
"Most damage was to port, under the bow, the arrays are fine." Ford said, more in hope than knowledge.
She glared at him, "And yet I still don't have any."
"Then get it back." Mason ordered, with more than a degree of irritation in his voice, "Or is there someone better qualified I need to rouse?"
"No, Sir." She spat,
"We need to get a damage report." Ford said, trying to remember the emergency protocols. He knew there was a QWERTY keyboard behind his screen, but a fog of indecision blocked his path to turn the damned thing on. One thing at a time. He unclasped the secondary keyboard. When Mason's hands grabbed hold of his head, Ford flinched.
"Stay still." Mason ordered, "You took a hit."
Ford pulled his head away, bringing his hand up in objection to Mason's amateur medical opinion, "I'm fine."
He brushed Mason away. "It's nothing, the scalp bleeds a lot." He had no idea where he'd picked up that little gem. He touched the growing lump. It stung but otherwise was fine. Besides, they needed the damage report more than he needed medical care. He smiled as he remembered how to activate the keyboard. As the terminal loaded up in safe mode he breathed more easily. Resting the keyboard on his lap, he typed his queries. Jian Seng replied, sending data scrawling up his monochrome screen. The damaged sections were three, five, nine and twelve continuing into the spine before the final collision ended in contact with the engineering section. Unfortunately, that particular collision had rendered the ship's internal sensors inoperable. He'd have to repair damage to the diagnostic system before learning more. Still, at least none of the bow's critical systems were hit.
Static erupted from the speakers and all of the bridge stopped to listen to the distant, alien voice.
"That Crudge?" Mason asked,
His question spurred Becca to her console, pulling a corded microphone to her mouth, "Crudge?" Static, nothing but static blurred over the comms, "Jo, that you?" Yet more static. Becca clicked the microphone, repeating her questions while tapping commands into her own keyboard, "Looks like the internal line was severed somewhere between two and three on the spine."
The pods rotated around the spine in clusters of three, held in place by what was dubbed a cargo pod collar, "There's a breach before the third collar." Ford announced, before relaying the rest of his damage report.
Mason's facade dropped, nostrils flaring as he sucked oxygen into his brain, "Ford, prep a duck for launch. Becca, concentrate on getting the comms up and running. I'll launch a buoy and divert command privileges to Operations and then wake Bounette and the Captain from stasis." A sound plan, Ford agreed. Disaster Recovery dictated the ship's Captain, in this case Ford's father to be woken as a priority - if the emergency systems hadn't automatically done so. Dependant on the situation the ship's Doctor and the rest of the sleeping command crew were also to be roused from stasis.
"You got an omnitool?" asked Becca, crouching next to her console podium.
Ford checked his tool belt, "Here." He passed her the required item, removed his belt and went to stand. It was a mistake. "Woah..." failing, he sat back down with a bump.
"For goodness sake Ford, wait a moment will ya?” Mason said with a sigh of irritation, “On second thoughts, don't move till I tell you to."
"I can walk." Insisted Ford,
"Clearly." Mason replied with sarcasm, "Tell you what. Take five, then go wake your dad and the doctor. You'll need to see Bounette anyway. The ducks can wait until I've launched the buoy."
"Shouldn't we all head up to operations? We can take a look from there. The more information we can give the Captain the better." Ford replied, rubbing his head.
"We will, in time." Mason agreed, "But first we need the ducks ready for launch so we can reach Crudge. Once we have the Captain up and about, then we'll discuss options."
"We don't know how much time we have." Becca slipped in,
"Running head first into this won't help." Mason reminded her, pressing a finger to his lips.
Ford understood his meaning: other than the spine, there wasn't another route to engineering without heading outside. To do that you needed one of the three tug boats, which the crew affectionately called ducks. As a primary tug pilot, it fell to Ford to prep them as initially ordered. But as much as Ford refused to admit, he wasn't up to the task. He couldn't be sure if he'd reach the stasis chambers without stumbling into a wall, "I'll get on it." He said, grasping the chair and fighting the head spin until he found his feet.
"Guys," Mason added, "I don't want any half-baked rescue plans until we know how much of a problem we're dealing with. If you come up against something you can't easily remedy, then report it in. We'll decide what's happening once we have the command crew together."
"What if it can't wait?"
Mason turned to Becca who was back on form and speaking with authority, "I'm not saying don't do anything, I just don't want any of us getting ourselves killed needlessly. I'm sure Jo and Crudge are fine and are waiting for us."
Becca nodded, her big lake blues finding Ford and sharing his understanding. Just keep your wits about you and don't do anything stupid and at least one of those names belonged to a dead person.
This wasn't supposed to be hard, Ford reminded himself, as he stepped into the stasis room and picked up the discarded data pad. Becca hadn't had time to close the file down. To think, just seconds before the alarm went off he was bitching about how boring the shift was. The tick list was still present, just as she'd left it. He pressed close on the pad and set it down on the shelf near the door. He knew he was procrastinating but couldn't help it. Waking the Captain up was one thing, waking his Father was all together something else.
"Hey dad, it's me." He spoke aloud, "Sorry to wake you up early, but I totalled your ship." Our home. He shook his head, cursing his earlier dizzy spell from preventing him from doing what he really should have been doing – prepping Huey for launch. If they managed to survive this catastrophe the insurance his dad had on the Jian Seng would be swallowed up by the courts. If they could cobble half of what the Seng was worth, it would be a miracle. Ironically, if his father was registered devout they would have gotten enough to buy another ship. Actually they would already have a better ship, one that could have avoided the collision in the first place.
But his father was not devout; he was the opposite - a heathen. There would be no funding available to him, not that he would ever ask the Church for a bail out. Captain John Dahl avoided the Church at every opportunity. So no matter how Ford spun the event in his head, it came down to the fact that he had destroyed the family business. A business Ford never wanted in the first place, a fact his father understood all too well.
Opposite his father's bunk was Second Officer Gail Faraday, the bunk he'd been working on when the alarm went off. He crossed the path between them and crouched at its side. The circuit tray was still open and needed securing. He slid it back in and thumbed the lock closed, "Mason should be down here." he grumbled and stood, time to face the music, time to wake the old man. The bunks were usually set to open at the beginning of the shift rotation and their stasis field would switch off two hours before. This allowed the occupant to rouse naturally as the lamps inside the tube gradually brightened, mimicking sunrise. To bring someone up manually was just a matter of overriding this procedure. He typed in the command at the terminal at the bunk's foot.
Strip lights running down either length of the bed flickered to life, revealing his father. Captain John Dahl still slept; the emergency automation protocols had failed to wake him, but Ford knew that even before he’d entered the room. John had a thick head of auburn hair, with more than a few grey streaks and an almost entirely grey beard. His hands rested on his hairy stomach, he wore nothing but his jockey shorts and the plethora of tattoos he'd picked up over the years.
Ford pressed his thumb and index finger together and checked the time stamp that appeared on his omni-glove, even with the overrides there were still protocols which needed to be adhered to. Many of the drugs pumped into the body during stasis bore similarities to hallucinogens, helping to maintain a dream like state whilst sleeping. Coming up early meant the drugs needed to be flushed out first or risk waking to a psychedelic morning from hell. Ford keyed in the necessary command and then headed to the Chief Surgeon's bunk, repeating the process.
Jake Bounette was smooth; not a mole or a birth mark as far as Ford cared to investigate. He didn't know the doctor all that well as the man had joined the crew during Ford's sabbatical. Ford had worked one shift with the man, but in that short time he had known him, he'd found Bounette quite fun to talk to. Bounette had a penchant for pot stirring which was fun to watch (there wasn’t much in the ways of entertainment when you're stuck on an overgrown tin can for months on end). Crudge's daughter Natalie had liked him enough to take his name. Also, he wasn't a spacer. He hadn’t been born in space, which the majority of the crew had been. He was a landlubber, planet-born. He'd told Ford where he’d grown up, some little town in the south of France which Ford had quickly forgotten. Earth; being a core planet to the Holy Trinity still had conscription. Bounette had joined the Church Militant’s medical service. Ford related to that, being the only other on board to have served, albeit not in the same military.
A hissing sound from behind; turned Ford around. The magnetic seal on his father's bunk disengaged and the lid lifted. Ford walked tentatively over, not wanting to attract any premature attention before he could run the report through his head one last time. His father's eyes blinked as they adjusted to the bunk's lighting. He breathed a deep, waking breath followed by a loud cough. "What's going on, what’s the emergency?" John Dahl had been Captain of this vessel for the entirety of Ford's life and knew the procedures better than he cooked breakfast. So, the direct and to the point question came as no surprise to Ford. His father pulled the tubes from his arms, searching Ford's face for answers, "Boy, don't make me ask twice."
"We've been hit."
Before his Captain’s instincts clicked in his fatherly dispositions took precedence, "Are you okay? Is Becca?"
"I am, we're both okay." As soon as he'd confirmed this information, John Dahl’s facial muscles relaxed. Ford grimaced; he was relieved to know his father's first concerns were to his children. It was a side of his father he'd rarely seen growing up and not at all since his mother passed. Hearing your ship had been hit was a lot to take in without having it thrust upon you straight from stasis, so Ford remained quiet, waiting for the inevitable questions.
John sat on the edge of his stasis bed and asked quietly and calmly, "How bad?"
In way of an apology for any misinformation, Ford pointed out he'd taken a hit to the head before reporting the damage as best he could remember; it wasn't quite verbatim. John listened without reaction, not even when he learned of Ford’s injury. This was the cold, stoic man Ford had expected to wake. Even after Ford finished, the Captain said nothing, taking his time to digest the information.
After a few sloth paced moments, John asked, "What exactly happened?"
Ford gave him the abridged version of events as his father stood up, limiting his own role in events. He informed John that he was at the helm and that there was no chance of avoiding the collision. He knew Mason would give him a full report when he had the chance. There was little point in giving excuses now, not when they were against the clock.
"I take it Becca is working comms?"
"Yes Sir, she is the comms officer."
His father produced the sharp, disapproving look which Ford knew so well and said “Don’t be flippant, boy.” He then shook his head; what he was thinking at that precise moment Ford could only guess at. And what he guessed wasn’t complimentary. "Hand me a robe." John said.
Ford grabbed one from the wall’s inset wardrobe, returning passed it to him.
His father nodded in thanks, "Is everyone else okay?"
"Mason's launching a buoy. We've not had contact with Crudge or Jo since the collision, everyone in stasis checked out fine. I'm also thawing out Bounette."
John fastened the robe's belt around his waist, "Crudge was in engineering?"
Ford nodded his head, "Jo was in the spine." seeing his own fears reflected in his father's brown eyes.
"Okay." John said, "Any indication of foul play?"
Of course there is. The chances of a collision were astronomical and his father knew that or he wouldn't have asked. John had once told Ford ‘never feed fear to your crew, necessary or otherwise’, on some level that sentiment could have been responsible for the superstition of never saying, ‘pirate’, "It has to be considered, Sir. But there is no evidence either way.”
“No evidence?” John scoffed, “You know the odds of two ships crashing into one another out here?”
“Sensors couldn't tell what it was that hit us. I saw it for a split second on the cameras. It was a massive ship, maybe, but I couldn't tell you for certain if it was being steered or not." That latter piece of information was irrelevant, for something to hit with such precision it was foolish not to consider intent.
"Okay." His father said, "Come here."
Ford obeyed, unsure whether to raise his arms for a hug or not. His father placed a hand on Ford’s shoulder, slipping up behind his neck before splaying flat against the back of Ford's head and pulled it forward. His father's other hand rubbing softly over the bump, "It's not that bad."
"No." Ford confirmed, "Just a small one."
His father released him, "Okay, at ease." the authority of Captain in his voice beginning to return, "Mason is launching a buoy, you say?"
"Good." His father scratched his beard, "If we can't contact Crudge, we need Sharon." Ford nodded in agreement, she was the Second Engineer and someone Ford selfishly wanted to be part of the team.
"Jake should be waking up anytime now." Ford added, tilting his head in the direction of the Doctor's bunk.
"Good, get Natalie up and about too. We'll need someone who knows life support."
Ford nodded, trying to remember in which of the stasis chambers he could find Natalie's Bunk. Then deciding it would be far better to allow Jake Bounette wake her instead.
"I'm going to get dressed." His father stated, "Inform everyone to meet in Ops in fifteen minutes."
John grabbed Ford’s shoulder again, "It's going to be alright."
"I know dad." Ford said, unable to match the confidence in his father’s delivery.
"What time is it by the way?" John asked, dropping his arm.
Ford checked the back of his hand and pressed his finger and thumb together, "Oh-Four-Twenty-Four."
"Make sure Mason has a full report with him."
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