by Katherine Allen
|Table of Contents|
Part 7 and part 8
appear in this issue.
“Greetings my worthy opponents. If you are watching this I am on the planet below... and safe from any retaliation! You are probably curious about my odd behavior lately. Let me explain. I normally find space travel a dull and listless thing. Not so this time! You little whippersnappers made this the funniest trip I’ve ever had. Your little pranks, such as the noisemaker, (yes, I found it) and the itchy laundry made me remember how much fun it is to be a kid. So, in a break from stubborn, crotchetiness, I joined in.
“Hannah, I’m the one who colored your hair (club soda should get it out). And Daniel, I’m the one who stole your clothes from your laundry bag (you have to admit you deserved it, putting itching powder in an old man’s clothes is a dirty trick!).
I’m also the one who glued your shoes to you (glad to see you found it was water-soluble)! I did them all. And enjoyed ever minute of it! Thank you! You reminded an old grump how to be a kid again, a kid just like you. Let me give you some words of advice; if you must get old, never grow up! It’s overrated! Goodbye!”
That night at dinner the room was full of chatter about Mr. Grimes. The twin’s parents had told everyone the story, and let them watch the recording. Everyone agreed, that, even though Mr. Grimes was a grumpy, demanding old gentleman, he had a good sense of humor, and that the twins had deserved everything they got!
There is an old saying, “All good journeys end, whereas the bad ones last forever.” The beginning was manifesting itself in this journey. It was slowly winding itself to a close. Right now the ship was at the last stop before they reached their destination, the stop where the twins would disembark. Even though the twins were mischievous, troublesome little children, they were still going to be missed. I mean, if you have a disease long enough, it is said, when you lose it you will miss it for a while. And, even though nobody really believes that statement, the sentiment was proving to be true.
The twins cried for days before they left, and, after hugging everyone goodbye — from the captain to the cook — they went down the gangplank. There was the audible sound of sniffing from more than just Skoshi. Yes, even though they were The Twins, they would be missed.
At last the ship was heading toward Keltar. The ship, or rather its occupants were getting the scrubbing of their lives, much to Skoshi’s relief. Skoshi was exited about seeing her grandmother again, and Donny was subjected, behind his back of course (or not), great teasing because of the dreamy look that could be seen in his eyes,(undoubtedly thinking about whatever girl he had in this port).
Quite frequently the whole crew seemed lost in their thoughts; often you would see a crewman stop in the middle of welding something and, still holding the lighted torch, stare off into space. The funny part was when, if you coughed, they would jump, turn bright red and mumble something about, “need to get my eyes checked, sir.”
When the ship was a week and a half away from Keltar’s port it received a distress call from a ship. Since Skoshi was the officer of the watch she called the captain and reported it to him.
When he came up to the bridge the crew were in the middle of trying to identify the ship in question, Meanwhile, the captain analyzed the message. “Mitchell,” he said to the navigator of the watch, “how long would it take to get to this ship? Have you found out what it is yet?”
“Yes, sir!” one of the officers said. “It’s a freighter called the Reuben James. It was bound for Keltar after making some drops in the Makkor System.”
“How much damage?”
“Very heavy damage, sir. The hull is breached and weapons are off line. Life support is still working, barely.”
The captain frowned and then repeated his question to the navigator, “Mitchell, how long would it take to reach the Reuben James?”
“If we went at maximum speed we could reach it by the day after tomorrow...”
“Good, set a course.”
“But sir, we only have so much fuel. If we go to maximum speed for over thirty-eight hours, we would use up most if not all of our remaining fuel reserves. We might not have enough to even get back to a main space channel, let alone Keltar. We would only strand ourselves as well.”
“Are there any options? Any way we can help them?”
“Frankly, sir, I don’t know. We are a week and a half away from Keltar, too far to send a message.”
Skoshi’s mind was racing, what could be done? Could anything? Suddenly, it hit her, “Captain, what about that sporty little ship we’ve been hauling around? She uses almost no fuel, and her speed is amazing. She already has some fuel in her; it would take her to the Makkor system and back, let alone a ship a couple of days away. I could fly her sir, I know how.”
“Mr. Hara,” the head of Security, Mr. Palmer said, “that is a four-million dollar skiff, and it belongs to a lawyer! And not just any lawyer, but a lawyer who happens to be the governor of Keltar! If it were damaged in any way, doing anything, the governor would sue the company for all it’s worth! And win, too! Use that old clunker we have.”
“You know as well as I do that the clunker is too slow, sir. Captain, aren’t the lives of a entire crew worth more than a few million dollars?”
“Mr. Hara... if it was my ship...”
“It’s not, Captain!” Mr. Palmer interjected.
“Mr. Palmer, be quiet! Takshi, I can’t use this ship, because doing so would endanger the lives of the ones on it. I can’t use the skiff, because as Mr. Palmer so aptly put it, it isn’t mine. Yes, I think lives are more important than a few million dollars... but... It isn’t my few million dollars! I can’t take the chance of destroying another man’s property, especially without his consent! I’m sorry!”
Skoshi stared at the captain. She didn’t say anything she just looked at him. He looked away, he felt ashamed, he knew that she was right, and, worst of all, in her eyes he could see a battle going on, a battle between respect for her captain, and what she knew was right.
Seeing that the captain could not look her in the eye, she said, “Thank you Captain, I understand, you can’t risk lives... or... profit. Excuse me; I have duties to attend to below decks.”
After the captain dismissed her, Skoshi went down to her cabin. She lay on her bed; she tried to cry, knowing that people would die, innocent people. Tears wouldn’t come. Instead came a conviction, a conviction to go against everything she had ever been taught, obey your elders, men are always right. No, she thought, they aren’t. Skoshi got up from her bed and removed her uniform. She dressed in regular clothes, grabbed a flashlight and headed toward the docking bay.
When she reached the docking bay she looked round to see if anyone was inside, and saw the doctor motioning to her. “Skoshi, I heard about the ship. I also heard about what the captain told you. I decided there was a chance you might come here. I would have.”
“He’s going to leave them. He said, he said that he can’t risk another man’s ‘few million dollars’. Doctor, you know how seldom anyone goes past here? Only a couple of ships a month. By the time the next ship goes by, it will be to late.”
“And you decided to disobey the captain and take that little skiff to see if you could help them?”
“Well, yes. Yes, I am. As a child I was always told that men knew best. And, while I respect the captain... yes, I still do. I don’t think that he’s right. Lives are more important than money, anyone’s money.”
“Well, I would love to go with you, I really would. But, I can’t leave the ship without a doctor. Here are some medical supplies, all I can spare, and a booklet. You know pretty much all you should need for dealing with concussions, or broken limbs, but this covers some other things that you might find.
“I’m duty bound to tell the captain what you are doing. But the manual never says when. I’ll tell him when he asks me. Which should be pretty soon after you leave. Goodbye, Skoshi.”
Skoshi hugged the doctor and then climbed into the skiff. The Doctor moved into the glass room containing the controls. He opened the bay doors and waved as Skoshi carefully steered the skiff, the Marsa, out of the bay and zipped off toward Makkor. He had just turned around as Mr. Palmer, and ten guards ran into the control room. “Ah, Mr. Palmer, hello. How are you this evening? Ten guards sick? All at once? I call that downright careless.”
“What?” Mr. Palmer seemed confused, a fairly common thing for Mr. Palmer. “The guards aren’t sick. We came to apprehend a mutinous officer.”
“Ten guards for one young man who happens to have principles? My, didn’t you think that a strong man like yourself could handle him?”
“Why... why... you were in league with him! Men, arrest... no... escort the doctor to the Captain’s cabin.”
“Careful,” the Doctor cautioned them good-naturedly as they moved to grab him. “Don’t forget that before being allowed to dock everyone on the ship must have an examination, some of you might need shots.”
And so the doctor was escorted, gently, to the Captain’s cabin.
“Doctor,” the Captain began, “Are you all right? Did Mr. Hara harm you?”
“Yes, Captain, Takshi threatened me with a colored marker. With my life thus threatened, how could I not give him all the extra medical supplies I had?
“Mr. Palmer, would you and your men excuse us?” the Doctor said, only a touch sarcastically, and Mr. Palmer, hating every second of it, left.
“Captain, don’t be an idiot. No, I am not hurt; Skoshi would never hurt a flea. And you know it! What do you mean by sending ten guards to arrest a girl? A girl who is only doing what you would if you were half the man I know you are!”
The Captain stood quickly, red with anger, “Doctor! I will not stand for... I... I suppose I deserve that. Yes, I do. You’re right, I was putting money before people’s lives. But... I don’t know. I must be getting old. I know that Skoshi is right. But I allowed myself to be frightened by the thought of what would, or could, happen. I’m doing the smart thing, and Skoshi is doing the right thing. I can’t go and risk the ship in trying to help her. But...”
Suddenly the radio sputtered, “Captain, this is the navigator, Mitchell, I’ve been doing some calculations, and I think that by cutting some power in some areas and using some of that reserve, we could cut our time to Keltar in half.”
“Excellent, Mitchell, set a course for Keltar and get us there as fast as you can. And Mitchell, when we get into radio contact range, have someone send a message that there is a ship in distress, and that one of my ensigns has gone to assist them. Tell them that assistance is probably required and give them all the information we have on that ship.”
“Well,” the doctor said, “that solves a lot of problems, doesn’t it? Skoshi is doing what she needs to do; she won’t be punished... publicly, and she will also be helped. This is turning out to be a uncanny series of coincidences.”
As the Marsa sped through space, Skoshi contemplated what she had to do. Among other things, the doctor had given her a printout of the information they had on the Reuben James, and the analysis wasn’t good: life support almost gone, severe hull damage, the works.
Skoshi thought she might be able to do something about the life support, she at least would be able to get into that area and examine the problem. She looked through the medical supplies that the doctor had given her. Fairly basic stuff, antiseptics, painkillers, as well as some bone sets. She glanced at the booklet the doctor had given her; “The Dim-Witted’s Guide to Emergency Medicine” was its title. Setting the ship on autopilot, Skoshi settled down to read.
* * *
Meanwhile, aboard the Reuben James, a young man sighed and buried his face in his hands. It was a pleasant face to look at, and, even now, covered in worry, one could tell that this was a face that had smiled many times. Hearing a muffled cry he looked up. He reached for some water, and, finding there was none, weaved his way, empty-handed, through the injured men. “Captain,” the young man, said, his warm rich voice tinged with concern, “Are you all right?”
“Fine... uhgg... fine, I’ll be all right. Could I have some water though?”
“I... I’m sorry, Captain, the water’s gone. Almost everything is gone. But here, I have some whiskey. A drop or two should help the pain.” The younger man’s eyes filled with moisture, seeing his captain reduced to this helpless state.
“How are the men, Lieutenant? Are they holding out?”
“Yes, sir, they’ll be okay, if we get help soon. Otherwise...” He trailed off, not wanting to think about the fate that would be theirs unless help came very, very soon.
* * *
“Mr. Mitchell, how are we doing?” The captain of The Journeyman asked impatiently. “How soon will we get there?”
“Sir, she’s going as fast as she can without using up her fuel. We should get to Keltar in about five days; we’ll be in radio contact in four. There is nothing I can do to speed her up.”
* * *
Skoshi woke up to the ship’s alarm chime. Not remembering where she was at first she looked around. She then realized that she had fallen asleep while reading about “Zellerstien syndrome,” a highly infectious disease that arises from touching the slime of a Bavarian Cream slug, indigenous to the planet Garthron.
Looking up, Skoshi could see the Reuben James in the monitor. She scanned it and quickly found that the life support was indeed fading fast. She began the automatic docking procedures and went to put on a pressure suit. As she entered the broken shell, she used one of the Doctor’s medical scanners to find any life.
The scanner found about a hundred and fifty men, squeezed into the shielded inner part of the ship. Skoshi quickly made her way to the life support tube. She closed it off and began working at restoring it. She mentally thanked Mr. Cartwright for drilling into her head all the major and minor components of life support systems, as well as advanced means of repairing them.
After working for a good two and a half hours she finally managed to repair most of the damage, and gain at least a month of fairly operational life support. Skoshi breathed a sigh of relief. Then, she set her stomach, preparing herself for an ugly sight. She then made her way to the inner section of the ship.
* * *
The young man shook his head tiredly; he knew that it was only a matter of days... hours really, before they all succumbed to dehydration. First the weak and injured would die, and then the stronger ones would weaken and, soon after, join their fellows in the dark grave of space.
He slowly got up again and made the rounds to the sick and injured men. He firmly believed that if Mr. Hanson, the Irish engineer (why is it that all engineers are either from Scotland or Ireland?) had not saved his personal supply of Irish whiskey, many of the men would have given up long ago. But whiskey did wonders for boosting morale. Especially when there was a lot of it. And there was.
After giving each man his glass, he sat down on a crate and slowly began to sip his own glass. He nearly spilled the whole thing down the front of his shirt when he heard a knocking at the inner air lock door.
* * *
Skoshi stood in the air lock; she quickly inventoried her supplies, and got up her courage. Then, she raised her hand, and knocked loudly. She waited and in a few minutes she heard the outer door closing and the air lock began filling with air.
When the inner door opened, she stepped through and removed her helmet, looking around to assess the situation. She again mentally thanked the Doctor for giving her those supplies; it looked like she would need them. She turned to the young man closing the door and gasped. It... it was Ethan!
To be continued...
Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Allen