March 18, 2017
By Kenneth Shumaker
Episode 004, ‘Blue Donkey Bottle’
Challenge: issue 114
- Contributor (For acknowledgement):
- Brian Hill
- High Prairie
Our story takes place in Kenneth Shumaker’s 5th Galaxy science fiction realm of the Toran sector with the crew of the starship, Star Grean. Her captain is the enigmatic and sly thirty-six-year-old Veran human male, Levan, who is default owner of Flind Exploration Corporation. Levan lives in a society that is dominated by females, ran by corporate political organisations, and obeys the female ran Venkaer religious institution. This is a society where no male is given the opportunity to command or own property. Yet, we find Levan to be Captain of the Star Grean and her crew, even with a Venkaer’s 3rd Purist on board.
In the previous episode 003 on 216:03:21:10:15
Pilot Levan becomes Captain Levan, now owning the Star Grean which is a Class III Exploration Stardrive ship. Levan puts together his crew; during this process, he is assaulted and blackmailed. Levan and his crew resolve the situation, while Levan submits to a Purist to get a lucrative coveted government contract. He is nearly killed by the Black Cat Circle before the crew can get away on their first flight with the Star Grean on their journey to the Tunda system. But where are they now?
We now continue in Episode 004 on 216:04:27:13:05 with:
The command deck alarms are blaring loudly, a mixture of confusing klaxons and alarms, as Captain Levan has the Star Grean flipped in a shift in full deceleration with the Class B Ion engines in over production. All fifteen of the fusion reactor are also on full production output to keep all systems running and powering the three drives. He even has the three solar cell sails deployed to garner as much power as they can supply; he’s trying to get power into the depleted accumulators to charge up their reserves, in case they have need to use the laser again. He has given Kendra orders to keep the weapon charged up at full power, and for the gunner to keep her wits about her with her sharp eyes out for any obstacles or any approaching aggressive craft.
Then a dreaded klaxon sounds as Levan finds his mind is starting to blur and he’s having trouble focusing. Looking over to Talla he asks, slurring his speech, “Is that what I think it is?”
Without answering, Talla awkwardly tries to hurry as he unlatches his seat straps and fumbles and then grabs his standard repair kit. Looking around the command deck, the engineer curses, slurring, “Where are you?”
Then, spotting a warping of the foreceiling panel, he hits an emergency switch on the engineering panel controls, neutralizing the command deck gravitation. Pushing off hard from the deck, he launches himself toward the warped panel in the ceiling with an awkward control as he tumbles. Bracing himself, he quickly pulls free the ceiling panel as he mutters, “There you are.”
Quickly and only somewhat efficiently, he opens his repair kit and haphazardly releases a set of assorted patches from a container. Setting out a three-centimeter plastisteel patch over the hull leak, which is a hole less than half-a-millimetre in size, he seals the puncture which is draining their air and is on the way to killing the command crew.
Only partially relieved, hoping that it’s the only hole, he gathers all his gear and places it carefully back in the repair kit. He returns to his seat and buckles in again, resetting the command deck’s gravity control.
Watching his monitors like a Gaerian hawk hunting its prey, he reports, “That appears to be the only puncture on the command deck. There are two crew quarter cabins voided, with gaping punctures: yours and engineer Lester’s. As well, the engineering deck has two huge holes in the hull. Lester and Tomar have reported, saying they were in space survival suits when the deck voided. They’re busy repairing the hull so that they can get the deck back onto the control network. Fuel tank three took two direct hits, rupturing it. We’ll have to repair the tank as well. But, so far, it has blue bottled with ice stopping the leaking. 3rd Purist Frena, you’re required on the central deck, as we have injured marines.”
Levan sighs, as he’s relieved with the air volume returning to the command deck. It could have been worse; they could be wearing rocks or ice inside the hull. Out of the ten decks of the Star Grean, they only suffered from a few hull ruptures that breached a few sections of three decks. This ship is a true blue bottle donkey.
Turning to Yar, “Where the gods are we, Yar?”
Shaking his head, Yar replies, “Most of the Astronav was knocked offline during that first strike. I’m doing what I can to figure out where we are with the equipment that we still have. It may take ten or more hours to get our bearings so that I can find our location.”
Coughing, Levan is recovering his senses and body control, and his brain is regaining oxygen. Levan looks around and shaking his head, he says in wonder, “We’re alive, and we still have our engines, air, and manoeuvring. We have hope, for now.”
Quickly, 3rd Purist Frena puts on her space survival suit to traverse the ship’s decks. She then rushes through the ship’s decks to reach the central deck – the huge deck four. Arriving at the marine’s muster station, she finds Horrace has a ceiling’s crossbeam resting on his chest. Motioning to the other two marines, she says, “Give me a hand, and when I ask, move the beam off of him.” She picks up the deck’s first aid trauma pack. Kneeling by the marine’s Starfall jump couch, she begins assessing his injuries. Finding it is safe to move the crossbeam, she motions to the other two to remove the plastisteel support structure from his chest, while she looks up at the ceiling and the huge dent where the support should be. She’s surprised that the rock that hit didn’t breach through the duro-ceramic armour and then rupture the hull, voiding this section and killing these men. They were lucky that the support snapped free, but the duro-ceramic deflected the asteroid, and that the duro-ceramic armour held enough to stop the breach of the inner hull.
Heaving hard on the free end of the beam, the two male marines, who are taller than typical males, nearly as large as the humar females, slowly lift and gradually jimmy the end of the beam around and away, past Horrace’s feet. They grunt as they drop the structure with a resounding thud onto the deck’s floor.
Horrace gasps suddenly as the beam is being lifted from his chest, but he remains unconscious. Frena assesses him using her biomed scanner, finding that he has many internal damages and is in desperate need of immediate surgery. She injects the marine with a general tranquillizer to relax him and gives him a shot of biomed stim to begin the healing. She’s trying to stop as much of the internal bleeding as possible.
Standing sharply, Frena orders the two marines to fetch the deck’s med stretcher and to get Horrace over to the surgery while she prepares to perform the surgery.
Triggering the nearby com panel switch to reach the command deck, Frena contacts Levan. “Captain Leven, this is 3rd Purist Frena, our 3rd Grade Spaceman 1st Class Marine private Horrace has had his chest crushed, resulting in some broken ribs, internal lung injuries, artery and vein damages, as well as other damages. I’ll be in surgery for some time; don’t be calling for me.”
Levan signals back. “Understood, do your best. I know we’re not a hospital with biomed tables and the right medbed equipment to heal major injuries with. I know you’re not a highly experienced surgeon, but you are a trained surgeon. I have faith in you 3rd Purist. If he can be saved, you’ll do it.”
With most of the command deck alarms under control, and full air volume returned, Levan can now focus on the Star Grean’s deceleration flight path. He brings up the telescope views on his monitors, aiming ahead of the ship. He scans as far as he can, spotting two planet-size objects; they’re roughly in the path he has set the ship on, aiming for the star, Tunda. The two planets are over forty AU or more away and are in a rough line with the ship’s flight path and the system’s star which is nearly eighty AU away by his estimates through the imaging. The first planet will pass above and to the right of them if they avoid it. Calculating their trajectory and their velocity, as well as their deceleration, Levan determines they’ll pass by the first planet early tomorrow.
Looking around the command deck, Levan wonders what might have happened if they had hit a rock or ice ball head on, instead of glancing off of them? He had managed to keep them going on an even and straight horizon, holding onto a good path, even while having objects bouncing off the ship while moving at velocities at just around twenty AU per hour. Finding it all maddening, he shudders as he tries not to consider their odds. Yeah, they’re alive, but what are the full damages? It is the decimeter thick duro-ceramic hull that saved them. How much repairing will the ship and armour need?
How is his crew going to hold out on this trip? He wonders if they can get back to territory space, as they need the Astronav to find their way back. With the Astronav damaged, they’re stuck out here. Without knowing where they are, they can’t target their communication gear to call for help. What a fine pickle this is turning out to be.
“Yar, you have ten hours to find our location. Talla get the hull patched, and then repair the Astronav,” orders Levan. As Levan stares firmly at his monitor, he’s not feeling as confident as he’s presenting.
As they progress forward, the alarms are being silenced, one by one, with Talla confirming each of their purposes and assessing the rank of the immediacy of each situation, until he’s silences all klaxons and alarms. Then, dressing in his spacesuit, he gathers his gear and proceeds outside with the hull repairs.
Alone on the command deck with the Liorian geobioscientist, Levan brings himself to ask Kni, “How well are you able to read and understand the engineering monitors?”
In the low deck lighting, the dark hair and dark complexion of the Liorian ancestry of Kni makes him hard see, which Levan finds difficult to focus on. Still, Levan notes Kni glance over at the engineering station. With Talla outside patching the hull over Levan’s quarters, the geobioscientist questions his own abilities. He’s only the communications officer when on the command deck, and the team’s geobioscientist when not on the command deck. Levan observes Kni shake his head slowly.
There is little hatred lost between the Liorian-race male and the Veran-race captain. Levan, the green-eyed, blonde-haired, Veran male captain sighs and says, “You wanted to challenge yourself Kni. Against 3rd Purist Frena’s judgement, I took a chance bringing you on with the crew. Don’t make me look bad. Now, move over there and figure out how much air we lost. And, gather whatever information you can that you think could be valuable to me.”
Hesitating several seconds, Kni watches Levan. Then he looks over at the bank of engineering station monitors. Resigned to a new duty, he slowly unbuckles and stumbles over to the engineering post, while saying, “Okay, but don’t ask me to operate anything.”
“Hey, you’ll have to learn. I can show you a few things, like some of the basics, but your best teachers are the engineers, especially Senior Engineer Talla.” Levan rapidly unbuckles and ambles over to stand with Kni at the engineering monitors.
Levan points to each monitor or control, showing Kni the proper operation of the appropriate controls. Levan says as he demonstrates, “These are the deck air monitors, fuel monitors, water monitors, etc. Here is the volume of air remaining, and this is our full capacity indicators. With a quick calculation, it shows us that we’ve lost about thirteen percent of our air volume. We’ll have to replace at least half of that, for the safety of the twelve of us on board. I’d be comfortable with us topping up to at least ninety percent capacity. I’d feel even better with ninety-five percent maximum air volume. By the looks of the sensors on fuel tank three, we lost over one-hundred-and-four litres of fuel. That’s about ten percent of the fuel in that tank. Fortunately, we have eight other tanks with nearly a thousand litres each and one with 566 litres. You see how this all works?”
Impressed by all this knowledge and technology, Kni is still confused. With narrowed lip and brows, Kni turns to Levan, asking, “How do you know all of this? Where do you learn it all?”
Smiling, while tapping Kni’s shoulder, Levan replies. “I spent five Terms in Corporate University studying for my Stardrive command Captain pilot’s license. I was at the top of my class every Term, and in the last two terms, I received the sole System Star Award at the University – an award given for excellence to only the highest calibre of pilots. But because I am a male, the University training and the awards means shit when trying to get a job. I received a big break when grandma Velma was killed in the corporate duel, and then with my receiving the Star Grean, that was a disguised blessing of fates. Though, I think we scratched the paint in this last jump.”
Laughing at Levan’s humour, Kni, with his dark eyes glistening, stares at Levan and tries to draw a clear even breath as he stops laughing. With his watering eyes returning to a narrower focus, Kni stutters, “You earned … the … friggin System Star Award … twice? That’s the highest award a pilot can get, even for practical experienced pilots. You’re shitting me.”
Nodding shallowly, Levan winks, answering. “Yes, Kni, I did … Twice.”
Offering his hand to shake, Kni beams a wide grin, “That is so right. I’ll follow you anywhere. Your flying through those rocks isn’t a mystery now. You could’ve done it blind.”
Laughing tightly, Levan answers with a slight sarcasm, “I basically was doing it blindly. I just had the video system and telescope monitors. The damn radar and scanners were offline.”
Gripping Levan’s hand even tighter, the vigorous handshake with Levan is going overboard. Kni’s grin is stretching the farthest his face can possibly grin.
Finally releasing the handshake, Levan says, “You strive to be as good a geobioscientist and shipmate as I’m a pilot, and I’ll be proud to know you.”
Nodding enigmatically, Kni responds, “Right, I’ll get on it.”
With Talla still trying to fix the hull breach of Levan’s cabin, Levan assigns the two junior engineers, Tomar and Lester, to repair fuel tank three after they finish repairs of the engineering deck and have all the systems back on the network. Levan is glad that he found these two, as they have more Stardrive experience than any ten system ship engineers have on any combination of ships. They’re showing their skills and professionalism, with no obvious anxiety or fear as a result of the bad Starfall jump. They went right to work and had taken the proper precautions for the jump. They had been smart to don space survival suits, which saved both their lives when engineering took a hit so hard that it opened up like a ration can, immediately voiding all its air. The two were strapped in their jump couches, which also saved their lives, and they remained strapped in until Talla gave the all clear that they were safe to move. Then, clearing it with Talla, they started repairs on engineering deck’s hull before doing the internal repairs, getting atmosphere to the deck, to make working on the deck easier. If they were scared, they kept it to themselves. Their repairs are impeccable and their times are unimpeachable. Working together as a team, they could beat any other engineering team’s time.
The two engineers suit up in spacesuits, and taking their repair kits, they walk the hull to access the ice bulge on the outer hull of tank three. They begin the process of welding plastisteel plates in place to patch the two ruptures of the tank, sealing the ice in place on the tank and creating an outer bottle on the tank’s ruptured area. Working diligently, they finish the repairs on fuel tank three at about the same time as Talla begins to fill Levan’s cabin with air.
Levan assesses the results of all these activities and checks the readings on the various engineering sensors. He’s happy, knowing that only Lester’s room remains exposed to the void. Walking briskly to the surgery, Levan finds Frena is making Horrace comfortable on a medcouch. He asks her with curiosity, “How’d it go?”
Yawning, now exhausted after five hours of intense solo surgery, Frena answers, slurring her speech. “I had to open him up to seal ruptured vessels and repair broken bones. I’ve never seen so much damage before. He’ll be out for some time, probably on the medcouch for at least a week, and off duty for about a month. But I need sleep.”
Hugging a bloodied 3rd Purist, Levan answers her in a respectful tone. “Talla says we can sleep in our cabin safely now.”
Walking to the nearest com panel, Levan triggers the mic, broadcasting to all speaker monitors on all decks: “Hey all. Shut down for a four-hour rest shift. Sleep is my suggestion.”
A few cheers erupt, especially from the engineers, which echo through the Star Grean.
Looking at the monitor in front of him, Levan yawns again, harshly rubbing his blurry vision eyes. The velocity reading is just under 6.9 AU per hour, and it’s tough going as he’s desperately trying to figure out what lays ahead of them.
His senior engineer, Talla, sent the junior engineers, Tomar and Lester, to seal Lester’s room so that the engineer can sleep in his own cabin again, and not in the mess hall on the central deck.
After another two hours, the repairs are complete, and the engineers were able to fix the Astronav systems, along with the return of life support to his cabin after sealing Lester’s quarters. The two junior engineers are now making the many smaller necessary repairs.
Sitting firm in his couch on the command deck, looking at the monitors while Frena is sitting in the first mate’s seat, Levan has been muttering for about ten minutes. Finally, he asks in confusion. “Tell me again about the ranks of the church system and about the gods. I must have angered someone somewhere along the line.”
Looking over at Levan, 3rd Purist Frena laughs mirthfully. “If you’ve forgotten, we are the humar people, guided by three gods: the god of air, Irendal; the god of earth, Zorendal; and our space god, Rendfendal. The church is made up of the female priests, the Purists, who are organised in six ranks under our leaders, the Matriarchs, who are organised under the leadership of the three 13th Matriarchs. The six levels of Purists are set with the 6th Purists being the most senior and the lowest, the 1st, being the acolytes. Then, there are the male choirs and the female workers who are known as the Secon of the church. The entire church organisation is known as the Venkaer. Which reminds me that as soon as we can, you have a date with the three 13th Matriarchs, now that you are my companion.”
Closing his eyes and squeezing them tightly shut, Levan pales. Slowly opening his eyes again, he asks, “What do you mean? I have a date with the 13th Matriarchs? For what purpose?”
Winking gleefully, Frena replies all too happy. “Who do you think performs the marriage ceremonies for Purists of rank three or higher?”
Groaning, disheartened, Levan says, “I’ll be owing favours, right!”
Shaking her head in defiance, Frena quickly replies with a firm command, “No, my sweet male, I will be owing favours. They could care less about you. You have no value to the matriarchs.”
Checking their velocity again, Levan notes they’re at 6.2 AU per hour. With the full Astronav system running, he has pinpointed that the planet which is to their lower right is at 14.9 AU away. And, there is a second body 12.1 AU past that above that horizon.
He notes that the fuel leak lost a total 419 L of fuel from tank three, a loss that hopefully is minor for this journey.
Talking with Talla, they agree that their final air readings are 81% remaining of maximum volume. Levan asks Talla, “Can you rig something to convert fuel into air, to help bring us up to ninety percent?”
Calculating, thinking of possible jury rigs, Talla ponders this for a moment and then answers, “Lester and Tomar can rig two fuel converters to make air. It’ll be a slow process using a litre each per hour, producing about 135 cubic decimeters of air per litre of fuel. We need to replace about 140-thousand cubic decimeters of air that was lost.”
Shrugging half-hearted, Levan pats his console as he looks at the command monitors. He chuckles and then energetically amused, he asks, “You’ve heard of the blue bottle donkey, right Talla?”
Talla laughs, amused. “What spacer with experience hasn’t? That ship should have died and scuttled a thousand times before docking. The entire crew should have perished long before returning to her home system. She was attacked by aliens, pirates, and even her own navy, before docking at her home port. She lost half of her engines but none of her crew. They docked planet side, against orders, with barely any fuel or life support left when they arrived at Dempsten docks. The ship was fired on all the way down by planetary defences during its landing. As the story goes, they say that her survival was by dues ex machina. But the city dwellers gave them a heroes greeting anyway when the crew exited the ship. Journalists hounded the lot for years.”
Levan looks at Talla, winking, he says, “Engineer Talla, I think we have a blue bottle donkey here with the Star Grean. I hope not, but we might.”
To be continued in Episode 005 on 216:04:28:06:08
Theoretically safe now, and with the crew somewhat rested, they have to figure out – quietly of course – what to do next, and if they’re alone in this system.
By Kenneth Shumaker
© 2017 by Kenneth Shumaker with Inevitable Unicorn Press
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Following a long break from writing, Kenneth recovered his passion for writing. He is a science fiction and fantasy author with Inevitable Unicorn Press (InUPress). Kenneth has been blogging with the Owerton Challenge and other blogs. He now writes several serial short stories each month. Kenneth’s two businesses, his wife, his two children, and his six grandchildren keep him busy.
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