Episode 508: Into the Frying Pan
Episode basically done, Special Features page in progress. Like the last ep, it was an action heavy episode, not so much with the talking. Suspenseful, though. Yikes!--Maer
Air Date: 08 Mar 2011
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, Andy, and Bobby
Thursday, 19 Mar 2522
Durance class, Equinox
En route to Paquin
We’ve flown to Ghost and loaded the cargo and we’re turning around for Red Sun. Once we deliver the cargo to Paquin and get paid—with a hefty bonus if we get there early—we will fly on to Greenleaf to take Lanie home. We have twenty souls on our ship and fifteen of them are partying like there’s no tomorrow, joy overflowing in their freedom from sexual bondage. The passenger deck is like Mardi Gras and for the most part we leave them to it, glad ourselves that they are happy with their lot. For the initial three days of our journey, everything is A-OK, give or take a few bumps.
Beglan, for one, seems uneasy with all the women aboard our ship and though he’s polite, he turns down the women’s offers for a little fun time in the sack. One can’t quite tell if it’s virginal jitters or something else that makes him blush and walk away. It’s not something we can quiz our crewmember about and the women do not persist, not when it becomes clear that Arden is quite willing to take up the slack left by Beglan.
Arden offers medical care, flirts, plays cards, hangs out drinking and dancing—and at the end of the third day, he gets lucky. The following morning, he comes to on his bed in med bay with various bits of women’s underclothes strewn over him and the floor.
Day Four, Monday, 23 Mar 2522
While Arden is administering Joshua’s dose of Flomoxipan, he notices that his medical cabinet looks a little light in its inventory. Inspecting the contents he finds that several drugs useful for recreational purposes are missing, including 5 of his standard medical units and 7 doses of Flomoxipan. At the rate Joshua’s been taking it, that missing Flomoxipan represents three weeks’ worth of treatment. His getting lucky the night before takes on a different dimension and he suspects that maybe the girls were after more than just sex. Arden informs the Captain and the XO of the theft.
Nika looks askance at the hijinks that led to Arden waking up in such a bamboozled state but Joshua shrugs off the loss of the Flomoxipan. He’s been weaning himself off the drug by taking it every third day and by his reckoning, we’re already 3 days into a two-week journey. By the time his 3 remaining doses run out in 9 days, we’ll be a day out from Paquin and right on schedule to buy more. So, no problem. Smooth sailing.
Rina discovers we have a problem with our heat sink loop. We’re not dumping heat from our systems and the temps are rising. She and Beglan start looking for the glitch, which involves a lot of tracing of conduits and pathways underneath the deck plates. Equinox is a bigger ship than Summer’s Gift and what would have been a relatively simple job on our former ship is a more challenging job on our current one. Rina is grateful Beglan is part of our crew. Had she been forced to maintain Equinox on her own, something would have gone critical by now and we’d be in a world of hurt.
At the moment things are still manageable, if a little warm like a summer’s day, and she and Beglan continue hunting down the problem in the loop.
Day Six, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2522
Our HVAC goes out. Our temp regulator can no longer handle the load. It starts to heat up inside. We have to determine where that damage was incurred and since we’ve done everything we can on the inside of our ship we have to examine her hull outside. That requires an EVA and that means Rina’s going to have to get in a suit and take a look. And THAT means we have to come to a full stop—there is no way anyone can survive going EVA at pulse.
We come to a full stop, Rina and Kiera suit up and go onto the hull of our ship. They find the two hits we took from the ANS goons. Thanks to the armor plating on our hull, the damage is merely cosmetic and not the cause of our current trouble. The two women press on. As they make their the way to the ASREV impact site, Rina spies something odd on our hull, near the reserve fuel tank. It’s cleverly done but someone has added something to our hull sometime in the past and painted over the welds. It’s virtually invisible to a casual observer but the missile impacts have jimmied some of the hull plates off true and the paint job has flaked off the hidden welds. Comparing the both sides of the ship by eye, Rina can see where the addition has been put on, a spot on the hull that has been ‘bricked over’, like the Poe tale, “The Cask of Amontillado”. Rina can also see that this, whatever it really is, is not the source of our problem and she has to leave off inspecting it to find the ASREV hit.
She finds it and it’s situated somewhat where our problem lies. The vac suits are about out of air and not wanting a repeat of what happened on our trip to Miranda, she reluctantly returns inside. After a bit more thinking, she and Beglan try an idea: using explosives on our hull to do a sonic reading on the systems damage we can’t see, like seismic radar. Rina takes apart the grenades we’ve got in our weapons lockers, makes some charges out of them and plants them on the hull and we blow them up. We have our sensors trained on that spot and … we get nothing conclusive. We have no more weapons to spare for Rina to make more charges and try again. Beglan offers up another solution—cleaning out our coolant lines with some solvent. Perhaps the impact jarred loose the natural build-up in the lines and it’s bottlenecked somewhere in the system. Running solvents through it might clean it out.
We give that a try and it seems to work. Our temps go down and we power up and get going again. We’ve lost half a day on this hunt and peck method of repairs but we can still make the deadline.
After 6 hours the temps climb up back toward the red. Arden and Rina put their heads together and with their combined knowledge of science and plumbing, they estimate that if we can maintain an internal temperature of 120° F, we can continue on our way without stopping. Not bad for machines made of metal. Not at all good for the people running them. Arden looks at medical interventions to keep all of us from slipping into heat stroke.
After working flat out for two and a half hours to put in the latest repairs, we start our engines and get going again.
Day 7, Thursday, 26 Mar 2522
To cut down on the heat production we shut off power to all non-essential systems and we also reroute some 100 tons of our liquid rocket fuel—liquid hydrogen at -423.17° F—via a honking big pipe along our main corridor on the crew deck. All the passengers are relocated to the crew deck where it’s cooler and we continue with the repairs. Over the course of the day, however, we start taking stun damage from the heat. If this keeps up, we’ll start losing our ability to function normally, our reflexes and our thought processes slowing down critically. Left unchecked, we could finally make a fatal mistake and kill ourselves. We work on, hoping to find the fix before we suffer that fate.
Our repairs so far have done little to help and Beglan tells us to power down again. On the bridge, the evidence supports it—we’re going at pulse and hard burn to make that cargo deadline but we’ve lost so much power due to our coolant problems that not going as fast as we should. We’re using fuel as if we were, but we’re not actually covering the distance. Without pulse, we’d be going at only 1/60th the normal speed for the distances traveled. The distance we have left to travel is still too great. Without pulse, our journey will take months instead of days. Nika makes a command decision and keeps going on pulse and dials back on the hard burn.
As to our fix, it’s gone dicey and the temps are rising again. We’re all uncomfortable and the stun damage accumulates.
Day 8, Friday, 27 Mar 2522
We’re running with everything in the red but we’re halfway to our destination. Even so, the hard burn causes our engine safeties to kick in, forcing us to decelerate. Rina works a hack-around and we continue with our hard burn.
The heat is getting to everyone. Our reflexes are slowing down. We need cooler temps and to that end, we put people in Lagniappe with our shuttle’s AC running. Our shuttle has no problem keeping its interior cool and we devise a schedule to rotate everyone through in shifts. Most try to do their sleeping in the coolness and our overall condition improves while we’re in the colder air, enabling us to endure the heat when we rotate out.
Even so, we have to find ways to reduce the strain on our ship’s systems. Given the interconnectedness of a ship’s anatomy, everything depends on everything else running properly. When one system develops a glitch, the other systems have to pick up the slack. With the heat, all our shipboard systems are taxed and as a result things aren’t running as smoothly as they should. Moving all the people to one deck isn’t working as well as we’d hoped, even with closing off the lower two decks, the strain on the systems is causing problems. Venting the atmo on the lower decks is doing little to cool down the interior. If we can reduce the strain on things like water reclamation, atmo scrubbing, the galley and to forth, we may be able to reduce the heat produced as well. The easiest way to take the strain off is to reduce the weight of the souls providing the strain. We have to find a way to make our passengers less of a burden.
Arden and Kiera work out a solution—putting as many passengers as possible in a medically induced coma and putting them in the life pods we have aboard. The life pods are programmed to automatically put their occupants into a suspended animation mode if it detects the occupants are functioning at a low capacity … like a coma. It will be cooler in the life pods and the women will be unaware of the passage of time. When we arrive at Paquin, we can wake them up and they will have missed the hardship of the remainder of the journey.
Assuming the crew survives to get us there. If we are unable to fix the heat problem, we’re all going to die from it. At least while comatose, the women will not suffer when the life pod batteries finally fail and the suspension tapers off. They’ll just fade away.
Of course, this isn’t the sort of thing anyone wants to hear. The women are reluctant to go under but are ultimately convinced to try it. With ten of the women thus removed from the equation, the ship systems get a modicum of relief and the benefits get passed on to the rest of the passengers and crew. At this point we’re putting up half the crew and all the passengers in Lagniappe around the clock. Beglan and Rina split up, each one staying on duty while the other seeks relief in the shuttle’s AC. By this method we have an engineer on hand 24/7 to keep an eye on the ship’s systems. By tweaking and hack-arounds, the two of them manage to keep anything from blowing up or melting down and we continue toward Paquin.
Day 9, 28 Mar 2522
Despite our hours in Lagniappe’s AC, we’re still taking stun from the heat. Rina’s tough as nails but even the heat is wearing her down. She’s finding it hard to react, it’s hard to think, and doing her job is overall harder to do. Joshua’s not as hardy as Rina and the rest of the crew, skirting heat stroke even now. Arden orders him to stay aboard Lagniappe 24/7 when he administers him his Flomoxipan.
Our engines are unable to take the strain of hard burn coupled with pulse and we turn the hard burn off. We still have pulse—we still cannot afford to go at 1/60th speed to our destination. With pulse, we’re still moving and while we move we still have hope we’ll make it through.
Day 10, 29 Mar 2522
We endure the heat and everyone is struggling to carry out their duties. Rina and Beglan try their best but there’s no getting to the damaged section of our heat sink loop without being in dry dock. The problem area is buried too deep in our ship’s innards to access from the inside. From here out, we’re stuck with maintaining an even strain.
For herself, Nika logs in as much time as she can in the pilot’s chair. Kiera has made everyone little spray bottles of water to spritz ourselves with, using the ambient heat to evaporate it and cool us down. It’s minimal relief but anything’s better than nothing at this point. Everyone strips down as best as they can. The men go bare to the waist and the remaining passengers have a variety of skimpy clothing for their comfort. Rina has not shorts, unlike the other women, and compromises by unzipping her coveralls and tying the sleeves around her waist.
Day 11, 30 Mar 2522
The heat mounts and Nika announces she’s rocky. She’s keeping our ship on course and since there’s nothing wrong with our avionics, that’s a job that requires little in the way of adjustments. At this point, Nika’s more interested in manning the sensors, watching for either obstacles she needs to avoid or signs of any passing ships that come within hailing distance so we can ask for assistance. Arden warns her if she persists with her current bridge duty, she’ll pass out. She refuses to leave the Chair and he promises if he has to, he’ll stim-patch her to keep her going.
Even though we’re still too far out, we decide to broadcast a distress call. It’s a very slim chance that someone passing nearby on the space lanes will hear us and come to our aid, but we’d be insane not to try. We’ll need to keep someone on duty to man the sensors and the comms but since it involves little more than sitting, it’s light enough duty to bear in the heat.
Day 12, 31 Mar 2522
We wake up surprised that we’re still alive and still flying. We’re getting signs of civilization. Our sensors are picking up trace signals from comms—nothing intelligible as yet, but it’s definitely identifiable as comms traffic. We’re getting close. It’s a welcome good news in the middle of our misery. We suck it up and fly on, with the renewed hope we’ll make it through.
On a brief break from the chair, Nika’s returning from grabbing water from the galley when she realizes she hasn’t seen Beglan lately. She looks for him and upon entering his quarters she finds him on the floor with one of our passengers. There’s an instant of oh-my-god-I’m-sorry from Nika and at Beglan’s reassurance she hasn’t barged in on anything embarrassing, she looks up and realizes he and the passenger are praying over the Bible. Nika didn’t even realize he owned a bible and after making sure that everything truly is all right, she ducks out to leave them to it. Solace, in any form, is welcome and not begrudged anyone.
Rina is sleeping out her shift in the coolness of Lagniappe when her comm buzzes her awake. It’s Beglan and he’s calling her down to engineering: Um, there’s a slight emergency. Could use a hand. Rina’s out of there like a shot and she’s greeted in the aft corridor with loud hissing and clouds of steam pouring out the engine room door.
Colored steam. Coolant leak!
Beglan’s penchant for understatement is staggering—we have a major coolant leak from and he calls it a slight emergency? All the numbers are seriously off the charts. Rina doesn’t waste another second. Coughing on the fumes, she hits the kill switch on the reactor and everything comes to a complete and utter stop. She fixes the leak as fast as she can and drags Beglan out of there so Arden can look him over. Rina was only in the crap for a little while but Beglan has breathed more the noxious stuff in. Arden doses him up heavily with meds to counteract the toxins. Rina gets dosed, too, though she resists at first. Common sense wins out, however, and she takes what Arden gives her.
We’re one engineer down and our ability to fix and maintain things is reduced by half.
Only now we have a bigger problem. Rina’s decision to hit the kill switch as removed our ability to pulse. The fuel cost to start up from cold, plus the pulse expenditure, exceeds the fuel we have on hand. By some weird paradox of fuel consumption, it takes less fuel to maintain pulse than start up from scratch and once we reach that sweet spot in our inertia, it takes even less. The farther we go, the lower the fuel consumption after the initial payout. Our stopping and starting with the repairs has used up our fuel cushion. We still have fuel to run at regular speed but without pulse, our travel time increases. One day without pulse will equate to 40 days of travel at non-pulse speed, even with hard burn. Given our new travel time, dying of heat is no longer a worry. Starvation take us in the end as we use up the last of our supplies before we arrive. The distance is simply too great.
It’s clear now that we have nothing left. We consider our options and the choice is made. We’ll boost our distress call by linking it to Lagniappe and sending our shuttle farther ahead. Joshua and Kiera are chosen to go—cruel as it sounds, they are the most expendable. We need Nika and Rina as pilot and engineer to keep Equinox together and Arden is needed to keep Nika and Rina together. We can continue on regular burn but we will have only 4 days before our ship will run out of fuel and we will be dead in space, on the drift. Going by our calculations based on the comm traffic, Lagniappe needs only to go 2 days ahead of us for our call to get picked up. 2 days out and 2 days back. It’s a razor thin chance and there’s excruciatingly little margin for error.
Craptastic odds but we take them.
Joshua Borrows the comms skills he needs from Rina directly out of her head. A last minute decision is made and Arden puts our ship’s cat, Jahn, on the shuttle. The crew doesn’t say anything where our passengers will hear it but it’s an implicit surrender—no one left behind is going to get off alive. When everything is ready, Rina powers up our engines one last time to open the flight deck doors so Lagniappe can leave.
Day 13, 01 Apr 2522
On Lagniappe, Kiera takes the chair and maintains their course for Paquin. She’s edgy, worried that they will fail and the others will die before they can get help. Calm, Joshua says soothingly. Stay calm. Kiera’s not buying it. But--! Joshua maintains his mantra: Calm. Stay calm. It will work out all right.
Back on Equinox, the rest of the crew is looking for any way to reduce the heat and take the strain off our systems. We’re running on batteries now, but they won’t last. To keep the lights on and our comms running, everything else is declared non-essential and is taken offline. Even our atmo is turned off. What air we had when we threw the switch is all we’ve got left. Rina finds suitable chemicals and such substances as she can break down for their O2 in a bid to make more atmo. It’s a paltry addition but it’s better than nothing.
Arden suggests putting the four remaining passengers into medical comas to reduce the amount of atmo consumed, eking it out just a little longer to buy Lagniappe time to get help and send it our way while we’re still alive. Two of the passengers break down when they hear this and run for the stairs to the lower decks. Nika has to run after them before they can open the pressure door midway down—the passenger and the cargo decks are vented to reduce the heat and if they open that door, we’ll decompress into the vacuum. So what? the passengers yell back. We’re all going to die anyway! Keeping her voice as calm and firm as possible, Nika manages to talk the women off the ledge and lead them back upstairs.
We come up with a compromise: we’ll put everyone in a vac suit and after hooking the suits up to our ship’s life support system, we’ll turn it back on and close everything else down. Reduced to making only enough atmo to keep nine suits viable instead of over two thousand square feet of living space, life support won’t strain our systems and we can make our battery power last until Lagniappe returns. We’ll even let the passengers stay awake the entire time. No scary medically induced comas. We promise. Our passengers agree to the compromise and we get them suited up and hooked in and as comfortable as possible. The crew suits up next and we all settle for the wait.
With the suits on, we’re better protected from the heat. As such we can turn our engines on and off to recharge the batteries to keep life support going. We do this several times over the course of the day and the boredom convinces the women to take the medical option and go comatose. Their bodies slow down and their temperatures drop and they stay cooler.
The crew stays awake and sleeps in shifts, keeping someone on the bridge and the sensors at all times. The day drags on and we survive.
Day 14, 02 Apr 2522
Joshua and Kiera travel onward. Joshua’s down to one dose of Flomoxipan and he sketches to pass the time. They are down to 20 hours of air now. When they’re down to the last hour, Kiera puts Lagniappe on autopilot. Joshua rigs up the distress signal to broadcast without them and they prep to induce medical comas in their vac suits. Even the cat gets bundled into a suit and dosed. By this measure they can stay alive for another two days on their suits’ air supply, buying two more days for the Universe to throw us the bone that will save us all. The atmo runs out, they inject the meds for their comas and close up their helmets. They fall unconscious and Lagniappe flies on.
On Equinox, our fuel finally runs out and our engines won’t turn over. Whatever our batteries have left is our only source of power. We shut down everything but life support to the suits and our signal broadcast. The heat is still with us—the vacuum of space, though incredibly cold, is still an efficient insulator and the coefficient of cooling isn’t fast enough to spare us the heat. First Belgan, then Arden and Nika pass out in turn. They get closed up in their suits by those still conscious until only Rina remains. She makes her way to the bridge to make one last log entry. If they aren’t rescued in time, at least a record of their fate will survive them. She keys the log on, incredibly weary, and her accent is thick as she speaks.
Is April second. Power is gone … Batteries won’t last. Passengers in coma … in life pods. Crew in … suits. I am … engineer. I am only one left conscious… She breathes deep. Gathers her thoughts. It’s important to get this right. It’s so freaking hard to speak. With God’s blessing … this will not be last entry in Equinox log, but in case it is …we have our shuttle … Lagniappe … at … She struggles and manages to recite the shuttle’s heading and trajectory. If it is too late to save us, save them. They are broadcasting on frequency … She pauses, drags it from memory, and states it. God have mercy on our souls. That is all.
Rina turns off the log, closes her helmet, and turns on her suit … and slumps in the pilot’s chair to wait. Her Russian stamina falters, then finally gives out and the stars outside the windows are the last thing she sees.
Day Unknown; Date Unknown
Arden opens his eyes to light, to air, and to blessed, blessed coolness.
Heaven. He’s died and gone to Heaven.
He blinks and the world returns. He’s in a med bay. It is not his. He shifts his head. Looks. Sees. It a Naval med bay, on a Naval ship. Alliance Navy. The IAV Aceso. Aceso, his mind whispers from memory. Daughter of the Greek God of Healing, Asclepias.
It takes a little time but the crew revives and we get the news: everyone on Equinox and Lagniappe has been rescued alive. We’ve survived to live another day, given another lease on life. Even our cat—though how many of his nine lives were spent to reach this day is a number known only to him.
And though we still have our ship and our shuttle, we are not sure what lies ahead. We have no fuel to fly. We haven’t the cash to effect repairs and we have less in the way of prospects. We still have cargo to deliver to Paquin but given the extreme heat suffered we do not know if it has survived. We still have Lanie to deliver to her parents in Greenleaf, though her reception is still uncertain and we cannot hope for monetary reward.
Even so, we are all alive. And for now, it’s enough.
Equinox and Lagniappe float through space and we see they are moored to a Naval brigantine hospital ship. The linked ships pass us by and we can see that the IAV Aceso is not alone but part of a large Alliance fleet, made of many many ships. It fills the frame from side to side and we fade to black.
Arden:(voice over) Can you put us back in the coma please?