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Spiraling In

by Mark Bonica

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Chapter 3: FPP Year 820

“Dr. Driscoll, you must wake up now.”

Dreams of his mother. Somewhere she is banging the pans next to his room again. Something is burning on the stove.

“You must wake up now.”

Loud siren. Fire engine going by the house.

“Dr. Driscoll, we have suffered a breach and the oxygen generators have ignited. I have sealed your sleep chamber and the cargo hold temporarily, but to ensure the fire does not spread, I need you to clear this area and report to the airlock now. Now, Dr. Driscoll. In approximately six minutes the damage to the generators will be so great that I believe it will be irreparable.”

The light dazzled and blinded him as he opened his eyes. When he tried to raise his arms to shield his eyes, his muscles screamed. Suddenly it seemed, the alarms broke through his unconsciousness and he recognized the deep sleep bed he was lying in.

Somewhere in dreamspace he hears the lecture on deep sleep and the droning medical officer describing the effects of atrophy on all the muscles of the body, including the heart, after weeks or months of deep sleep.

Automassage is capable of preventing only what were once known as bed sores. We have some electrical stimulation as well, but there is just no way to compensate for this length of inactivity. Deep sleep is not suspended animation. You are simply going to be put into a state of deep, undreaming sleep for this period.

You will be awakened once the ship is safely on the ground and the flight crew has completed the initial preparations. It’s really better than trying to support two more of you in cramped quarters for weeks or possibly months. Prepare yourself...

“Prepare yourself.”

“Huh?” he responded, realizing the last statement was not part of the dream at all. “For wha...?” His mouth refused to form the words he commanded it to.

A moment later he felt a sting in his arm that made him think of wasps. As he reached reflexively to swat at it, he felt the pain travel up the rest of his arm and spread across his chest. He thought his heart would explode and he felt his lungs expand, sucking in the air as he arched his back and his mouth and his eyes snapped wide open. Just as he thought every fiber of his body was contracting, tearing him apart as they tried to move in all directions at once, the feeling was gone. He sat up. Everything was vibrantly clear.

“Dr. Driscoll, please excuse my using this stimulant on you.” said the computer’s neutral voice. “You are in grave danger. Please get out of the sleep bed and go to the rear airlock now.”

“Computer, what the hell is going on?”

“We have crash landed on Planet R-O five. There is a fire in the forward cabins which is threatening the oxygen—”

“Okay, I’m going,” he said, swinging his legs over the lowered edge of the sleep bed, looking around the room. The emergency lighting was on. The other sleep bed was open. Carl Fisher was still lying in it.

“Carl! Get up! There’s a fire!” he tried to shout, the words coming out all slurred. The muscles in his jaw were sluggish. He tried to stand. His legs wobbled and he stumbled to the compartment door. “Carl!”

“Dr. Fisher has expired. Please make your way to the rear airlock now. I need to depressurize these compartments in order to contain the fire.”

Driscoll paused at the door. It was cold to the touch. His knees felt as if they were lined with sandpaper and his thighs were tied in knots as he tried to remain standing. He looked at Fisher, who appeared to still be in deep sleep.

“We have to get Fisher. He’s asleep.”

“He is dead, Dr. Driscoll. So are the other three members of the crew. You are the only survivor. If you do not move quickly, you will die as well. Please move to the airlock now, Dr. Driscoll.”

With his back to the door, still staring at Fisher’s body, he pushed the release. The door receded with a swish and he fell through it into the narrow hall. He landed hard on his buttocks, the back of his head slamming into the impact-strength plastic wall behind him.

To his left was the door to the main crew compartment. Through that was Navigation. Reinforced pressure locks had been applied to this door. Three meters to his right was the door to the primary cargo hold. Through that was the rear airlock. The entire hold could be opened and depressurized. The pressure locks were not applied to this door.

As he studied it, the door to the sleep compartment closed. Pressure locks slid out and sealed the door. It was like someone closing a casket. He felt himself cringe and press up against the wall behind him.

“Dr. Driscoll, you must get yourself to the rear airlock now. You have less than four minutes before the oxygen generators are destroyed beyond our collective repair skills.”

“What are you trying to do to me?” he screamed, huddled on the floor.

He waited for a response.

“Dr. Driscoll?” came the disembodied voice again.

“Leave me alone,” he cried, hiding his head.

There was a long pause as Driscoll clamped his head between his knees and covered himself with his hands.

“Dr. Driscoll, I was incorrect. Lieutenant Commander Johnson has made it outside of the ship. He has sustained life-threatening injuries and requires your aid. If you do not provide him immediate assistance, he will not survive for more than ten minutes by my best estimates. I cannot provide him assistance until I am able to extinguish this fire. Aid your associate, Doctor.”

Driscoll looked up, looked at the two sealed doors, then began to crawl toward the cargo compartment. As he approached, the door slid open. He turned his head away, closing his eyes against the impending drop in pressure that he was certain he would follow.

Nothing happened. He opened his eyes and saw the hard plastic transport containers that contained the field instruments he was supposed to use. At the rear of the fifteen-meter bay he could see the rear airlock. He stood and ran.

And crashed into the first stack of cases and cargo netting as his legs gave way.

“The ship is listed six degrees. Please move as quickly as you can, but exercise caution,” came the disembodied voice of the ship’s computer again. Driscoll pushed himself to his feet, grabbing hold of the cargo netting across the narrow aisle. “There is a med-kit in the airlock already. You will need to take one of the pressure suits from inside the cargo hold.”

Driscoll struggled to the locker that contained the pressure suits. His head hurt. Everything seemed brilliantly lit. He grabbed a pressure suit and plunged through the airlock. It sealed shut behind him.

“Don the pressure suit as quickly as possible. Commander Johnson appears to be unconscious. His pressure suit may be damaged.”

Driscoll’s fingers felt hot and leaden as he tried to manipulate the various seals on the suit. Finally he pulled the helmet over his head and pressurized.

“Depressurizing now. Please attach your safety harness to the wall by the door as per standard operating procedure.”

The small green light next to the door suddenly blinked off and the red one below it illuminated.

“Computer, where is the med-kit?”

“You do not need a med-kit, Dr. Driscoll. Please try to relax. I am depressurizing the interior of the ship and attempting to extinguish the remainder of the fire. The external atmosphere is thin enough that the fire will get little fuel from it.”

“But Commander Johnson needs my help! Damn it, let me out!” Driscoll shouted, pressing the external door release. Nothing happened.

“Commander Johnson was killed on impact, along with Lieutenant Geller. The navigation compartment was completely destroyed when we crashed. I am sorry.”

Driscoll slumped to the floor, his back against the external door, his right hand clutching his safety wire. “What are you trying to do to me?”

The calm voice responded: “Saving your life by any means necessary.”

Proceed to Chapter 4...

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Bonica

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