Final Duty -- The Speculative Fiction Anthology

Final Duty

Thrown from her bunk, Lieutenant Amy Palmer awoke as she hit the deck and rolled across the small compartment.  Coming to a sudden stop against the bulkhead she tried to understand what happened.  An explosion? 

With a single emergency light to guide her, she jumped up only to hear the gravity alarm sound.

A computer voice announced, “Gravity failure all decks.”

Amy shot towards the overhead with barely time to put her arms out and break her upward flight.  Many of her belongings, now weightless, danced in the air, the pillow from the bunk, pens, papers, and a framed picture of her father from the nightstand.

Are we under attack?  Her heart raced.  Why hasn’t general quarters been called?

Releasing her grip on the overhead conduit she gently pushed off, grabbed her pants and shoes as they drifted by and, spinning like an ice skater, dressed in midair. 

She pulled the flashlight from her belt and floated out the cabin door into the passageway, illuminated only by emergency lights.  Bracing her feet against the bulkhead she pulled her cabin door shut to trap her floating personal effects inside.  Pushing away, like a swimmer off the side of a pool she glided along the corridor.

“Lieutenant, do you know what happened?” a crewman asked.

“No, but go to your battle station,” she ordered as she slid past in midair.

Other crewmembers floated into the area.

“Go to your battle stations,” she commanded.

Reaching the main passageway, she turned, her long auburn hair streaming in front of her eyes and, she was sure, in all other directions.  Brushing it back with her hands, she shoved off again with her legs.  As she raced down the passageway like a bullet, the alarm sounded again.

“Gravity is being restored on all decks,” the computer advised.

As a safety precaution, gravity was restored slowly.  She arched her back up, stalled and touched down on the deck.  Weighing mere grams, she was careful not to leap off the deck as she hurried down the passageway her weight increased with each step.

“General quarters, general quarters!  All hands man your battle stations!”

It was almost a relief to hear the expected announcement and the klaxon.

As she stepped onto the bridge, she heard a technician inform the Captain, “Gravity has been restored to normal.”

Captain Harris nodded.

Amy paused a second to scan the holographic projection at the far end of the bridge.  It showed the Altair star and several planets in the system but no enemy ships. Moving to the side, she passed the unmanned engineering station and took up her position as environmental systems officer. 

Normally the intelligence officer, Lieutenant Marcus Ralston, would be alongside her but she didn’t see him.  Only after ensuring all her systems were functioning and her people were alive and on station did she again look around the bridge.  She found Marcus bent over data screens with the sensor tech, his uniform dripping wet, his brown hair a mess.  What happened to him?

“Brad!  What’s the situation down there?” the Captain called over the commlink to the executive officer.

The image of a compartment lit only by emergency lights appeared on various vid screens.  “I’m in power relay room one, sir.  Are we under attack?”

“No,” Captain Harris said, but then turned to Marcus.

Marcus shook his head. “It was a mine.”

“No.  We don’t see any Hex ships in the area.  How much damage did we suffer?”

“Explosive decompression destroyed the fusion control room.  Commander Chou and Connors are dead, along with the techs.  

Amy shook her head slowly in disbelief.  Both engineering officers, along with the technicians in the control—all of them, sucked out of the ship by the explosion.  They died quickly in the vacuum of space, but it would have been in agony. 

The Executive Officer continued.  “The reactor appears to have done a controlled shutdown.”

“Yes, we’re on batteries.  Can you get out of there?”  The captain asked.

“No sir, the airtight doors are sealed.  But I can hear the damage control team working on the other side of the bulkhead.”

Moments later everyone on the bridge watched over the video link as the damage control team opened the airtight door, entered and sealed it behind them.  Brad quickly advised them the compartment was venting atmosphere and they went to find the leak.

“Can you get into the fusion control room?”  Captain Harris asked over the commlink.  “The Bias drive is down and we may be in a minefield.”

“No sir, the hole is way too big for the automatic sealing system but,” he said walking over to the hatch, “I can see into there through the portal.  Captain,” he paused, there isn’t much left of the control…”  The video went black.  Over the commlink came a short electronic whining sound, then silence.

“Captain, power relay room one has suffered explosive decompression,” the damage control officer reported solemnly.  “They’re gone.”

Amy shuddered.  The executive officer was dead and everyone on the damage control team.  All of them hurtled into the vacuum of space.

“Understood,” the captain said closing his eyes.  Slowly he said, “Secure that part of the ship.”

“Yes sir,” the damage control officer replied.  Pressing his commlink he dispatched a new team to the stricken portion of the ship.

As Amy scanned the now somber bridge, she noticed Marcus wipe his brow with his still moist sleeve.  Looking back over her systems, she concluded all were still functioning normally but, the ship could only remain on battery power for an hour.

“Two mines on approach vectors.” Marcus called out.

“Damn,” Captain Harris cursed softly.  “Rig for stealth.”

“Aye sir.” Over the commlink, the Petty Officer of the Watch announced, “Rig for Stealth.”

Amy pressed her commlink and told technicians to retract the radiators dissipating heat from the ship into space.  She adjusted cooling systems so some heat would radiate into unoccupied compartments but gradually the ship would become sweltering.

“Engineering,” the Captain called over the commlink, “I need the backup reactor online!”

“Both mines have weapons lock and are accelerating on approach vectors,” Marcus called out.

“We’re bringing power up now,” the engineering chief replied.

“Evasive maneuvers—maximum thrust,” the captain ordered.  “Can we get a lock on them yet?”

“Yes sir, we’re attempting…”

“Do it and fire!”

“Brace for impact,” Marcus announced.

“Lock,” The fire control officer shouted.  “And firing.”

Two fireballs lit up the holo projection on the bridge.