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Space Rescue One
*** *** *** Inside a temporary shelter of hull plating, crew woman Bowun cringed each time she felt the vibration of an asteroid pinging off the hull or the meager protection hurriedly put together for her benefit. More importantly, she was running out of oxygen. If someone didn't get to her soon, the shelter would house a corpse. Inside the Excelsior, Daniel Brump watched through a porthole. He spotted the sleeve-shaped rescue ship matching course. Suddenly, he realized that the ship he was on was in more trouble than the captain had indicated earlier. Impatient and angry, he left the porthole and made his way toward the bridge. *** Captain Newman said, "I'm not certain how much oxygen Bowun has left . . ." *** *** "Captain Shortner, I'm sorry for the sudden near collision. One of our passengers entered the bridge without authorization and had to be forced out. There was a little bit of a struggle and he activated some controls. We're getting them back in order now." *** *** The light over the airlock hatch on Space Rescue One changed from green to red to double red. The hatch opened permitting a solitary space suited person to exit. Glancing around, he shoved off in Laumer's direction without a safety line. As he left the ship, small jet thrusters shot out for a few moments, adjusting his trajectory and increasing his speed. *** "Fire in the hole!" *** Richard stared out at Shelly as she tumbled wildly. He spotted the large asteroid heading her way. If he judged the distances and angles correctly, it was going to hit her. He was her only chance. Without thinking of his own safety, he activated his suit thrusters once more, increasing his speed and correcting his course to reach Shelly before it was too late. *** "Come on! Hurry up and get her inside. She's passed out. We don't have much time," Dickson said.
You need shipmates if you're to survive. . .
All it took was one moment. Just long enough for a nozzle to fail. On board the interplanetary cruise ship Excelsior, the engine rooms were unattended for just one moment. A flash in Engine Room Two produced enough heat to melt through crucial circuits and a portion of the outer bulkhead. Sensors and lights reacted. The sensors picked up the sudden critical condition of the engine and shut it off leaving the remaining engines to provide power to the ship. The sensors also picked up on the loss of atmosphere from the afflicted engine room. Those soon signaled the emergency throughout the ship and activated bulkhead hatches to automatically shut, protecting people who were wandering about in their ordinary clothes. The lighting went to an emergency state as additional lights went on to show precisely where emergency equipment was located for the benefit of those on board. The bridge crew observed the sensor readings and responded immediately with corrective action.
"Captain, we've got a loss of atmosphere in Engine Room Two."
"Call the Chief Engineer, get his report. Find out if he can verify the emergency," the Captain responded.
Moments later, Chief Engineer Williams reported back. "Captain, we have a definite loss of atmosphere in Engine Room Two. The engine is down and we have an opening in the hull where we experienced a melt-through. We're suiting up now to go in and make repairs."
"How long will it take?" asked Captain Newman.
"I believe we can seal up the hull in two hours. The engine could take days to fix, sir, though I doubt that we can do it out here," the Chief replied.
"Keep me advised on the progress. Are the passengers in any danger that you know of?"
"Not that I can see right now, sir. We've got the bulkheads secured between the engine rooms and the passenger sections. They should be quite safe, sir."
"Very well. I'll let you get to your tasks."
The First Officer asked, "Do you want a distress signal sent out, sir?"
Captain Newman answered, "No."
Chief Engineer Williams directed the engine crew on the tasks to be performed. Already, they were all suited up to enter Engine Room Two. Several crew members went outside onto the hull to work from there. Other crew members went into Engine Room Two to do their tasks from the inside of the hull. Once they sealed the hull, then work could begin on the engine itself.
For an hour, all went well. Then the load on engine three began to tell. Overheated, it suddenly flared and melted out through its hull into space. Outside the ship, crew member Jane Bowun was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The molten metal pushed outward through the hull covering engine three to harden moments later in the absolute cold of space, snaring her as she made her way with another plate to be patched over the opening leading to Engine Room Two. She felt the heat momentarily through her suit where it was touched by the hardening metal. Then she realized that she couldn't move.
"Chief! I'm stuck! I can't move!" Jane called.
"Not now, Jane! Wait! Shut down that engine!" the Chief was shouting over his radio. "Captain Newman, we just had a melt-through on the number three engine. We may have to shut down the rest of them or they'll all go."
Captain Newman was already looking at the sensors for the new emergency. He didn't much like having two of his six engines out.
"Captain! Do you want me to send out the distress now?" the First Officer asked.
"No, but have it ready to send," Captain Newman answered. Taking the microphone in his hand, Captain Newman said, "Go ahead Chief. Tell me how we stand."
"Sir, we've just lost engine three. The load we're drawing is too great for the rest to stand. We're going to have to shut them all down or lose them all," Chief Williams replied.
"How soon can you get them back online?" Newman asked.
"I don't know. I'm still trying to find out what's going on here. Just a moment, our emergency lights are here now," the Chief answered.
Moments passed before anything more was said.
"Captain, we've got real problems. Crew member Bowun is fused to the outer hull. We can't seal the opening in Engine Room Three until she's out of the way. We can't fix the engine in Engine Room Three until the hull is sealed," the Chief said.
"Fused? How do you mean fused?" Captain Newman asked.
"The metal from the melt-through opening was liquid long enough to reach her before it cooled and hardened. Her suit is attached by the soles of her boots to the hull of the ship. She can't move from where she is unless we can find a way to get her detached without exposing her to space. I'm going inside to see what she's under. Maybe we can cut away that section of the hull and free her," the Chief answered.
"Captain! Asteroids coming our way!"
The First Officer went over to the sensor monitor and looked at the readings. He said, "Captain, we've got asteroids on a collision course with us."
"Chief, our instruments show asteroids coming at us now. Can we use the engines to dodge them?" Captain Newman asked.
"I don't advise it, sir. We'll probably go spinning off course and lose all the engines," the Chief replied.
"In that case, get your crew inside for the time being since we can't avoid this. First Officer, send that prepared distress message. Advise them of our situation," Captain Newman instructed.
Chief Williams asked, "Sir, what about Bowun? We can't just leave her! She's got no protection from those asteroids!"
"How long before those asteroids get to us?" Captain Newman asked.
"I calculate two hours at the most. We're probably not picking up any small ones leading the field on our instruments. I'd plan on not more than an hour, sir," the First Officer said.
"Chief, you've got one hour to do what you can for Bowun. Maybe you can place some plating around her as protection until we can get back to her," Captain Newman said.
"Yes sir," the Chief responded.
On board the space station orbiting Earth, the alert signal blared through the corridors. From all directions, men and women hurried toward one location, the connecting corridor to their ship, Space Rescue One. Only a few had to do so for most of the ship's crew was already aboard in accordance with their own procedures of remaining ready on a perpetual basis. Within minutes of being notified, they broke their connection with the space station. The ship jetted far enough away with small thrusters to start their main engines without endangering the station. As the ship sped outward for the location of the Excelsior, Captain Shortner briefed his officers and crew on the mission.
"The Excelsior has experienced failure in two engines. Each resulted in a melt-through condition. Their other engines are in danger of being overloaded because of the cumulative damage. They have a crew woman trapped outside on the hull. She was working outside the hull when one of the engines did its melt-through. She's now fused to the hull. Now here's the kicker. They're doing their best to construct a shelter for her because they're about to have an asteroid field cross by them. So far, no one is hurt. We're going to have to go in and help them free the woman from the hull, then most likely we'll collar ourselves on them so that we can change their course and send them on to a port before we leave them. It'll be up to the port authority to handle them then. They'll have the necessary tugs on hand to reel them in."
Captain Shortner spoke over the intercom, "Attention all hands. We're coming up in range of the Excelsior. The Excelsior is in danger of sustaining heavy damage from the asteroids. Man your gun stations to protect the Excelsior from being hit. Fire at will at any asteroid that you judge to be a menace to it or our ship. All other crew members report to your stations for docking with the Excelsior."
Within moments, several gun stations on board Space Rescue One began firing as they busied themselves with protecting the Excelsior from being damaged by large asteroids.
Daniel Brump interrupted, "Captain! I demand to speak with you!"
Newman glanced at Brump and ordered, "Not now. Get him off the bridge."
Two crewmen attempted to take hold of Brump. Brump ducked and kicked off the bulkhead. Another crewman grabbed for him, catching an arm. Brump swung around in the weightless atmosphere, one of his feet smashing into an instrument panel. A maneuvering thruster activated by his foot sent the Excelsior toward Space Rescue One.
On board Space Rescue One an alarm sounded, "Collision imminent."
"Evasive maneuvers!" Captain Shortner exclaimed.
"Already doing it, sir."
"Good," Shortner replied.
"Very well, Captain Newman. Now what were you telling me before?"
"Crew woman Bowun is nearly out of oxygen. We're still trying to cut her loose from inside, but there's too much slag to cut through."
"Understood. We'll move into a blocking position then so an outside crew can work to free her."
"Captain Shortner, I don't think that will do any good. I had to promise the universe just to get some of my crew to work from inside while we're in this asteroid field. I don't think I can find anyone willing to go out now."
"Understood. We'll send out someone then. Just keep your ship steady and unauthorized personnel away from your controls then."
"Affirmative. Good luck to your people, Captain Shortner."
The Team Leader bellowed, "Heavy armor for outside rescue. Team One, suit up!"
Richard Saber entered the Ready Room with the rest of Team One. He opened his locker to suit up.
"Not you, Richard Cranium. We don't need any slushes outside. I'd rather work short-handed than have you out there," Chief Dickson, the Team Leader, said.
Richard glared at Chief Dickson while ignoring the insults. "I'm still a member of this team. No one's removed me yet. I'm going."
Chief Dickson replied, "You're not going, so just forget about suiting up. I don't want you out there. I don't need you."
Shelly Laumer said, "Maybe next time, Richard," as she suited up.
Richard looked at Shelly's cool green eyes. He shrugged, ashamed that there was only sympathy in them for him. With a sigh, he replied, "All right, I'll stay."
The intercom blared, "Ship is in blocking position. Team One may exit when ready."
The team members finished suiting up procedures, then filed into the airlock behind the Team Leader. Moments later, the hatch clanged shut and locked. A light over the hatch changed to red as air left the chamber. Only a few seconds later, a second red light came on over the hatch indicating that the outer hatch was open.
As the team left the ship, they linked up with a cable much like mountain climbers might do. The Team Leader shoved off, using his feet to propel himself rather than use his suit thrusters. Those he would conserve as a precaution. The other team members followed him at intervals, watching for marks on the cable so they would know when to jump. If anyone jumped too late, the whole team could go into a lopsided spin. Then using the suit thrusters would become necessary. However, like a well-oiled machine, the team members jumped at the right intervals and stretched out toward the Excelsior like cut-out paper dolls.
"Is she still alive?" Chief Dickson asked.
"I can't tell yet. She's covered by the hull shielding they erected to protect her. I think we'll have to take the whole thing apart. No, I'm sure of it. We can't collar the Excelsior with this in the way."
"Chief, are we going to collar the Excelsior?"
"From the looks of those two engines, I would say we will. Grabbing hold," Chief Dickson said.
Chief Dickson grabbed onto the Excelsior, then activated an electromagnet to lock himself in place. The rest of the team soon followed him onto the cruise ship's hull. "Get that Quik-Cut in place. Laumer, break into that shielding and see if the crew woman is still alive."
Technician Laumer took her Space Jaws and attacked the seam of the temporary shelter. Moments later, she had a small crevice open, enough to peer inside to see that the woman was still alive. "She's still alive."
"Good. I'd hate to do this for nothing," Dickson remarked. "Try to put in an Air Link to her. She's probably running low on air."
Technician Laumer slipped in a hose with a special fitting on the end. If the woman inside could grab it and had enough room to reach her own tank, she could extend her oxygen supply out of the danger range. That would give the team more time to do the rescue safely.
"Has she got it yet?" Dickson asked.
"I can't tell. The hose is in the way. I'm going to open up another part of the shielding to find out," Laumer replied.
"Ready to cut!"
"Heads up! Fire in the hole!" Dickson called out.
He activated the Quik-Cut. Laumer was locked onto part of the shielding as she pried it farther apart. The Quik-Cut broke through to a previous cut made from the inside of the ship. Without warning, Laumer spun off into space. Unbalanced suddenly, Laumer turned off the Space Jaws just as the sharp edges of the shielding cut through her safety cable. The Air Link hose snapped when it reached the breaking point between the trapped crew woman and the air tank Laumer carried. Without a controlling nozzle, the air shot out, complicating the trajectory Laumer was on. She and the loose hull plate began spinning wildly out into the asteroid field away from the protection given by the hull of Space Rescue One.
"Chief! Laumer's line broke. She's out of control!"
"Get back to working on the victim. Laumer knows what to do. She has suit thrusters to return on," Dickson said.
Shelly grabbed for the Air Link hose. Catching hold of it, she fought for control as it whipped around past her hands. Thinking quickly, she tied it in a knot to shut off the air flow. Before she succeeded, her suit thrusters and radio were hit by the hose.
"Laumer, you all right?" Dickson asked.
Shelly finished cutting off the escaping air from the broken Air Link hose. She reached down for her thruster controls. She pressed on them without any reaction. Her outward spinning action continued without abatement.
"Chief! I think Shelly's in trouble."
Dickson replied, "No time now! We're all needed here to get this woman into the ship. Everyone take your place. Synchronize thrusters to mine."
Shelly felt the tiny asteroids pinging against her armored space suit. She knew it wouldn't be long before something large enough to be lethal came her way. She hoped it would be quick and relatively painless.
"Hold it, Chief! We're still attached. We need another Quik-Cut before she's free."
"Chief, let me go after Shelly while you all work here."
"No. Stay put. We're short-handed. None of us can be spared to go after Shelly," Dickson said.
The Quik-Cut burned brightly, cutting through the last of the slag.
"She's free, Chief."
"Everyone take hold. Synchronize your thrusters. Activate!" Dickson said.
As he neared, he recognized that if he missed her, there wouldn't be enough time to try a second time. If he missed, Shelly was as good as dead. Richard stretched his arms wide, opening his fingers as if that would make his reach wider. His body approached Shelly's faster and faster. She became larger and larger as the distance narrowed.
Too late! Richard could see that he was going to miss. He was less than a single degree off course when he started his pursuit. It grew to just a few millimeters too far apart for him to reach her as he caught up to her. He sensed himself going past, his fingertips clawing out for her, wanting desperately to save her. Gripped in agony over his failure, Richard cried to himself while hanging his head within his helmet. His fists clenched as he closed his eyes to suffer his defeat and the pain of his loss. Without thinking twice about it, he decided to continue on into space to die alongside the woman he secretly loved.
Then he felt the jerk!
Richard opened his eyes and glanced at his left hand, amazed to see that he somehow snagged Shelly's broken life line in his clenched armored fist. Until it returned him back to reality, he didn't even know he had anything. Quickly, he pulled Shelly hand over hand to himself so that he could jet them both out of danger. Moments later, Shelly's hands hugged him. Then his own hands activated his suit thrusters once more, sending them away from imminent danger.
Shelly pressed her helmet against Richard's. "Richard! I'm glad to see you. My radio is broken. So are my thrusters."
"I'm almost out of thruster power. I might only be prolonging your life rather than saving it."
"At least you tried. Thank you, Richard. I owe you."
"Chief Dickson. I'm with Shelly. Her radio and suit thrusters are broken. I'm almost out of propellant. I doubt if I can get us both back."
"Hellfire, Richard! Why the hell did you disobey my instructions?" Dickson replied.
"Can't we forget that for now, Chief? Shelly needs help. Now are you going to help her or would you rather waste everyone's time chewing me out publicly?"
"Yeah, I guess chewing on you can wait. Are you two together?"
"Affirmative. I'm using what propellant I have left to dodge asteroids," Richard said.
"Very well. I'll see what we can do from this end," Dickson said.
"Chief! I'll go after them."
"No way, Clarke," Dickson replied.
"Chief Dickson, is your team aboard?" Captain Shortner asked.
"All except Laumer and Saber," Dickson replied.
"That's what I'm asking. Stand by for maneuvers. Be ready to bring them in as soon as we're in position," Shortner said.
"Yes, sir," Dickson replied.
Inside a temporary shelter of hull plating, crew woman Bowun cringed each time she felt the vibration of an asteroid pinging off the hull or the meager protection hurriedly put together for her benefit. More importantly, she was running out of oxygen. If someone didn't get to her soon, the shelter would house a corpse.
Inside the Excelsior, Daniel Brump watched through a porthole. He spotted the sleeve-shaped rescue ship matching course. Suddenly, he realized that the ship he was on was in more trouble than the captain had indicated earlier. Impatient and angry, he left the porthole and made his way toward the bridge.
Captain Newman said, "I'm not certain how much oxygen Bowun has left . . ."
"Captain Shortner, I'm sorry for the sudden near collision. One of our passengers entered the bridge without authorization and had to be forced out. There was a little bit of a struggle and he activated some controls. We're getting them back in order now."
The light over the airlock hatch on Space Rescue One changed from green to red to double red. The hatch opened permitting a solitary space suited person to exit. Glancing around, he shoved off in Laumer's direction without a safety line. As he left the ship, small jet thrusters shot out for a few moments, adjusting his trajectory and increasing his speed.
"Fire in the hole!"
Richard stared out at Shelly as she tumbled wildly. He spotted the large asteroid heading her way. If he judged the distances and angles correctly, it was going to hit her. He was her only chance. Without thinking of his own safety, he activated his suit thrusters once more, increasing his speed and correcting his course to reach Shelly before it was too late.
"Come on! Hurry up and get her inside. She's passed out. We don't have much time," Dickson said.
END OF SAMPLE
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