Episode 606: Fireworks

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Air date: 16 Aug 2011
Present: Andy, Kim, Maer, and Terri

Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Special Features.

Saturday, 21 Nov 2522
Durance class Equinox
En Route to Sho Je Downs
Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) system
1130hrs, ships time

We've spent the last three days in space dock at Beylix repairing the damage done to us on Puck. Rina, Joshua, Beglan, and Kiera have all taken damage in the form of wounds, concussions, cuts, bruises, and burns. In Joshua's case, he's recovering from breathing fluorine-tainted atmo; in Beglan's, a life-threatening leg wound. As for Rina, she's working as much as she can get away with against doctor's orders, as usual. Equinox is a big ship and she's already down one engineer. There isn't much room for goldbricking.

It's a two day journey from Beylix to Sho Je Downs and while we’re still en route we encounter a public service alert off the nav buoys.

PSA:Travel Advisory—Sho Je Downs is under threat of terrorist violence. Use caution. Travel to Sho Je Downs is not recommended.

Nika: (eyeroll) Whatever.)
Joshua: I'd be worried if the terrorist alert included ship names. Like: "Known terrorists on the Equinox may be traveling to that vicinity …"
Kiera: I like the Captain's response: Yeah, terrorists. Whatever.
Nika: (dry) We are the terrorists, the last time I looked.
Joshua: It depends on who you're talking to. You can fly us out of the way of any terrorists. I trust that.

We laugh, note the alert, and fly on. We really haven't much choice.

Monday, 23 Nov 2522
15 hours out from Sho Je Downs

Rina and Joshua are standing bridge duty with Nika when they pick up a distress call on the emergency channels. Rina’s crawls out from under a console she’s repairing and they listen to the message. It’s the Rob Roy , an Independent merchant, declaring a medical and mechanical emergency.

Normally we’d drop out of pulse to help however we can as dictated by the spacer’s code. But we’re so broke, we actually have to weigh the fuel cost of starting up again against stopping to render aid. Do we have enough fuel? Nika inquires of Joshua, Joshua does the calculations and he answers: yes, but barely. Make it count.

Nika drops us out of pulse as close to Rob Roy as she can while Rina mans the sensors. The readings tell her that the ship is a mid-bulk freighter, possibly a Firefly. We’re close enough to get video so we answer their hail. The bridge screens flicker and then go steady on the image of a rotund red-headed man with a Quaker-style beard. His voice is heavily accented Scots.

Man: (desperately) Hullo, d’ye hear me? This is Cap’n MacGregor of th’ Rob Roy . Is there someone there?
Nika: Captain MacGregor, this is Captain Earhart of the Equinox. How can we assist?
MacGregor: Equinox. Ye have a doctor?
Nika: We do, actually.
MacGregor: Ye have any spare supplies?
Nika: Not much. What do you need? What kind of problems are you havin’?
MacGregor: We could use some plate solder—.
Nika: Have you taken damage?
MacGregor: Aye.
Nika: From what?
MacGregor: Dun’t know. Think it might be a mine.
Nika: Oh bloody hell.
MacGregor: Ye might want to be careful out there, too.
Nika: All right. We’re going to maneuver in close to you and synch up.
MacGregor: Would ye mind—well, would ye hurry up? We got some injured, but also would ye take a look at the dorsal side of my ship? I’m not sure but we’ve taken some kind of strange damage. I’m not sure if I can explain it all. Some kind of corrosive.
Nika: Oh, brilliant. All right, we’ll try to come in from that angle. Sit tight.

Rina’s already plastered against the bridge windows, hoping to see the ship. Sure enough, she can see it’s a series four Firefly. They’re larger than the ’threes, with more carrying capacity. Nika draws around and instead of a shiny new hull—this series only being about 5 or 6 years old—we see the ship is speckled with miniature craters like a moon. Rina also spies what looks like tiny mushrooms sprouting up along the plating and she knows that it’s the breach sealant filling the interstitial space between the inner and outer hulls.

Rina: Yebani v’rot. They got stop-leak.
Nika: How bad does it look?
Rina: Bad. No atmo-burn bad.

There’s no way for Rob Roy to land dirtside for repairs. Breach sealant is not normally recommended for a trip through atmo and given the amount of mushrooming, Rob Roy will very likely suffer burn-through and break up on reentry.

Nika: Can we tell what he ran into? He said it was some kind of mine.

Nope. Not easy to tell at all. There’s no sign of shrapnel or shrapnel scarring. Just the mushrooms and the cratering of the hull.

Rina: (grim) I think I know what it is.
Joshua: Of course you do.
Rina: It’s an IED with burn jell. Proximity alarm sets it off and the charges—
Nika: (annoyed) Are you done? Stop givin’ the Universe ideas.

The dorsal surface of Rob Roy is too damaged to attempt a docking. The sides are less so and Nika pulls alongside the hull with the least amount of damage. She hails MacGregor, warning him to get ready to seal the airlocks so we can come aboard. He affirms the warning and Nika comms med bay next.

Nika: Arden. Kiera. Grab medical bags. We’re assisting with a damaged vessel. They have injured.
Arden: What kind of injured?
Nika: I don’t know. Best guess, I’d say burns and some explosive decompression possibly.
Kiera: Aye, Captain.

Kiera and Arden start gathering supplies. On the bridge, Rina gathers up the tools she’s been using then takes up the comms.

Rina: With your permission, Captain, I’d like to see if I can help them with repairs.
Nika: Go on ahead.
Rina: Captain MacGregor, this is Equinox.
MacGregor: Aye.
Rina: Is your engineer uninjured? Or do you need help with repairs?
MacGregor: One of my engineers is injured. The other one’s all right.
Rina: All right. Expect me shortly. What sort of supplies do you need beyond the plate solder?
MacGregor: Say again?
Rina: Expect me shortly. I need to know. What else do you need besides plate solder for repairs?
MacGregor: Uhnn, talk to my engineer.
Rina: All right.

Nika eases Equinox nose to nose with Rob Roy and there’s a bump and a clank as the cargo airlocks mate and seal via umbilical. Aware that there might still be some of that mystery corrosive in the area, Nika orders Joshua to monitor the sensors while Rina hustles to the airlock. There’s the fwshhhh! of atmo rushing when the airlock door opens to the other ship and Rina winces. The sound of atmo rushing always makes a spacer cringe—it almost always means hull breach.

Kiera and Arden join her and striding aboard, they enter the Firefly’s cargo hold and sees four people laid out on the deck. Three people are trying to help them with varying degrees of success. There are two that seem particularly bad off, as if they’ve been hit by debris. There are bruises, cuts, scrapes, and lacerations. They all seem to have suffered hypoxia and decompression damage. One of the people laid out on the deck seems to be Rob Roy ’s doctor—so it’s just down to Arden and Kiera for medical help. Arden immediately does triage.

One patient is suffering from hypoxia and probably broken ribs, lacerations and blunt force trauma. It also appears he has a concussion. Another is suffering hypoxia, lacerations, and vacuum burns. He doesn’t look as bad off as the other three. The third patient is the doctor, if her white coat is any indication, and she’s taken mostly injuries from debris falling on her. She’s got cuts on her shoulders and collarbone. The last patient doesn’t have a lot of visible symptoms but going by pupil dilation, Arden suspects hypoxia. MacGregor’s First Mate, by name of Sylvia, says this last patient has been suffering seizures as well.

Arden goes to work on the first patient with the blunt force trauma. Kiera puts an oxy mask on the last hypoxia victim and takes on the second worst off patient. All the patients should have oxy masks and the Firefly doesn’t have enough to go around. Kiera asks for rebreathers as a substitute and someone runs to get them. Once Kiera and Arden’s patients are stabilized they go on to the remaining two, stabilizing them as well.

The last of the injured, the one suffering from seizures, bottoms out on Kiera and she calls for Arden’s help. They do everything they know to stabilize and bring the man’s vitals up but nothing works. Further examination of the patient shows he’s gotten hit by whatever the corrosive stuff was that damaged the hull. It’s inside his body and they have to get him into surgery to remove it. Kiera and Rina carry the man to Equinox’s med bay and Arden stays behind to tend the other three.

Rina’s thinking as she helps Kiera carry her patient, wondering if burn jell could be responsible for the man’s injury. Not exactly but it might be a derivative of burn jell. She’s no doctor, however, and she doesn’t distract Kiera with her speculations.

Nika walks aboard Rob Roy , hoping to find MacGregor to talk to him about what happened to his ship, figure out what he needs. She finds him in the cargo hold watching his crew being tended to worriedly.

MacGregor: You took one of my men. I take it he was the worst off but he didn’t seem so bad. The rest of them were a lot worse off. He just had two small wounds.
Nika: Well, he must have had something worse than was evident, else she wouldn’t have taken him over to our ship. Can you tell me what happened?
MacGregor: Well, we was makin’ our way like there was nothin’ to worry about and just before we started having … It’s hard to explain. There was a brief blip on our sensors and then a very mild impact. Then all of a sudden, systems started failing all over. We had a hull breach. Lost atmo to the cargo area. That was where the …
Nika: That’s where you were first hit?
MacGregor: We were hit on both sides. Turned out—we think it was worse on the dorsal side, but a side blow hit the cargo area and had explosive decompression. But not pretty explosive decompression. As ye can see our ship is still intact.
Nika: How long have you been out here? Adrift after this?
MacGregor: Only a couple hours.
Nika: With your permission Captain, I’m going to see if I can take my people out and see what we can pull together.
MacGregor: Appreciate it. My people can help as well. We were able t’locate some of the damage. I’ve never seen anything like it, though.
Nika: Is there enough interior damage that you can show me?
MacGregor: Yeah.

He walks her through it. He shows her first the damage on the side, already welded over with plates.

MacGregor: Behind there. There’s some corrosion there, but I can show you the stuff on the top deck.

He takes her to the upper deck next and sure enough, the damage is pretty easy to spot. It looks like some giant had dribbled acid on the deck, dissolved it like sugar. It’s a bone-chilling sight to a spacer, seeing solid metal eaten away so easily. Looking up, she sees the acid had eaten through the top hull before entering the corridor and sure enough, she sees the tell-tale mushroom of hull sealant. Were it not for that foam, she and MacGregor would not be alive and standing here. A scattering of fine holes and pits mar the metal above and below, as if the acid sprayed from the point of ingress, covering a larger area than a simple dribble would have.

Nika: Is that acid?
MacGregor: Don’t know of an acid that could burn through ship hull. It’s ceramic. But sure looks like it.
Nika: Well, I’m not chemist but that sure looks like an acid to me. Wow. (undertone) What the bloody hell did you run into out here?
MacGregor: Yeah, but a free-floating mass is going to be in such a dilute state that—
Nika: No I was thinking you mentioned it was a mine and I was wondering if—
MacGregor: Well, that’s just my guess.
Nika: Yeah, but it seems like a really reasonable guess for something like that. (a beat) How many of your crew are actually in functioning form, here?
MacGregor: The rest of them are fine. There’s six of us. Gotta cook. A couple of hands that are still in good shape.
Nika: You might want to send a couple of hands to take a look at the exterior damage in general and we’ll see if we can at least get you to a point where you can pull out.
MacGregor: They’re a bit shy going EVA under these conditions, what with the … (gestures outside)
Nika: I can’t blame them.
MacGregor: It could burn through a hull, but … We haven’t seen any more burns lately.
Nika: After the first impact, did you have a lot of additional corrosive damage?
MacGregor: It seemed to go right through, so it didn’t linger much.
Nika: So it was just like the first explosion did the corrosive damage and it wasn’t like you’ve been sitting here and it’s continuing to do damage to your ship?
MacGregor: No.
Nika: Okay.

Meanwhile, Kiera is prepping for surgery in med bay. Arden joins her. Rina watches a moment. Then:

Rina: (serious) Kiera. You need me?
Kiera: No. Get out.

Rina gets out and hustles back to Rob Roy . Kiera realizes that whatever the acid’s intended function was, on a human it’s just eating right through the tissue. There’s some cauterization but only some, leaving mostly a bleeding mess in its wake. There isn’t a whole lot of medical precedent for dealing with volatile elements eating through a living body. They’re going to have to go in and find whatever corrosive is left and get it out of the patient before it does any more damage. For all they know, it will drop right through the patient and start eating a hole through OUR deck on its way out of our ship.

Best get crackin’. On an idea, Kiera pauses and comms Rina.

Kiera: Does anybody have any idea if it’s really an acid? If it’s an acid, I’m washing him out with base. That’ll neutralize it. If it’s a caustic, I’ll have to use acid.
Arden: (breaking in) I wasn’t going to make any assumptions. I was going to use water.
Kiera: Yeah but I don’t know if water will dilute it.
Rina: If it’s potassium or sodium, it’s going to burn under water.
Kiera: Does anybody have any idea what this is?
Rina: I—
Arden: Sterile water. Can’t go wrong.
Rina: I have a few conjectures but no proof.
Kiera: We need to break out your chemistry set. All right. Kiera out.

She slaps the wall comm off with her elbow and starts on the patient. He’s vitals are falling and she and Arden will have to work quickly. The water goes in first and it doesn’t even seem to slow the crap—whatever it is—down. The options for treatment are few: go in and manually find the corrosive, move the patient around hoping to dislodge the corrosive, or scan the patient. Arden’s for scanning but Kiera cuts him off, saying they don’t have time. The patient is flatlining as they speak, sporting a scattering of holes across his chest and torso. They’re going to have to go in with both hands and find the insidious stuff before it kills him. Kiera slices one of the holes wider to gain access to the patient’s insides and starts hunting.

She doesn’t immediately see anything but there’s some sort of chemical reaction going on—there’s bubbling. Kiera calls out for baking soda. She needs a base. Arden gets some sodium bicarb and she sprinkles it into the patient’s bubbling wound.

It doesn’t fountain up with foam. This is no grade school volcano science project. However, there is some reaction and it appears to be neutralizing the nasty shit at least a little. And a little might be all they need to gain the upper hand. Kiera has Arden make up a sodium bicarb solution and she sluices the patient’s gut with it. Vitals continue to fall and Kiera announces she’s going in.

Arden sluices her hands down, she slips her fingers into the patient’s gut and she quickly finds the corrosive. It’s a nugget of some kind and it’s actually burning through her gloves.

Kiera: Ow! What the hell?!

She reflexively withdraws—holding that damned nugget tight—and throws it into a metal pan. Arden sluices her down again, saving her fingers but it’s already too late to save her gloves. They’re hanging in melted shreds off her hands and Kiera’s got a nasty spot-burn on one of them. Arden treats her injury while Kiera swears.

Kiera: Holy jīxíng de gāisǐ de gǒupì!

The nugget sizzles in the pan and starts eating away at it. Arden slides a plate of glass under it and the nugget goes quiescent. The patient flatlines on the table. Arden grabs the epinephrine and injects it right into the man’s heart. The EKG drones then beeps … and beeps again.


Of course, he’s not out of the woods yet. He’s incredibly wounded internally from the corrosive. Kiera takes care of the anesthesia and Arden takes over as surgeon. Five hours later, they peel their gloves off and step back from their patient. Kiera and Arden have already put in a day’s work on top of the surgery and now they are thoroughly tired and sore. Arden makes one last check of the patient’s vitals and announces he’s going to bed. Kiera’s in not much better shape but even so, the mystery of the corrosive tugs at her, demanding to be solved.

Kiera comms Rina again. She tells the engineer of their discovery of the corrosive nugget, its properties and the fact that it responded somewhat to a sodium bicarb solution. Oh, and they have it on glass, cuz … damn.

Rina: Okay, so it’s not an alkali …

Kiera: You know … do we jettison it out into space?

Should we? God knows, it’s already caused enough chaos out there already.

Meanwhile, Rina’s offered her services as ship’s engineer to help the Rob Roy crew and has spent the last five hours doing internal repairs. She was actually in the middle of suiting up to go outside when Kiera’s query over the comms interrupted her. Rina signs off with Kiera and gets back to suiting up. Joshua checks her seals, fretting. In case Rina hasn’t noticed, it’s dangerous out there.

Rina: Yes, I’m going EVA but not without a lifeline.
Joshua: And somebody else.
Nika: And she’s not going alone. Would you chill?
Joshua: All right. I’m not freaking out. I just want to know if she’s going out with somebody else.
Nika: And there will be days when she can’t. When somebody else can’t go.
Rina: (to Nika) Usually you’re telling me not to be his butt-buddy.
Nika: Now I’m telling him not to be your butt-buddy. Jesus Christ, give each other a little breathing room, willya?
Rina: Awww…
Joshua: Yes, Captain. I … Sorry. Next time I won’t be concerned for her safety.
Rina: “Yeah. Bye. See ya. If you die, I’ll cry.”

Grinning, Rina kisses Joshua lightly on the cheek and seals her helmet up. Kiera comms Nika to tell them she and Arden are going to bed. Coming as it does right after her reprimand of Joshua, Nika’s head goes down a certain path and arrives at a destination that makes her do a double take.

Nika: What?!
Kiera: (comms) Arden and I are going to bed.
Arden: (ditto) Not together.
Kiera: Sure. Whatever. As long as I get to sleep, I don’t care where.

Nika gives the comms The Look and cuts the channel dead. She nails Rina with a gimlet stare.

Nika: And for God’s sake, don’t touch any of the stuff.

Rina and Rob Roy ’s Engineer Rice and Second Mate Calhoun walk out of the airlock for a little EVA. As they hand-over-hand from the airlock to the top hull, Calhoun speaks up.

Calhoun: I haven’t ruled out that it wasn’t a small comet that we hit. Some of them have unusual compositions.
Rina: That is very odd. You’d think you’d see it coming.

And despite the damage done, the impact site itself isn’t very big. It looks like the hull was splashed on or rained on. Rina gets closer to the impact site, walking around it, poking into the pitted surface with a carbon rod. She’s able to determine that there really was an explosion, going by the spatter evidence and angles of burn through. She extrapolates that whatever it was, it exploded about five meters away from the hull and then rained down from multiple directions. It is very much as if a bomb went off.

Rina: That can’t be a comet. Comets don’t do that. Well … (thinks) … The grav envelope around the ship probably set it off.

It’s possible the grav envelope might have caused something to explode out here but space is really really big and not that cluttered. The odds of hitting a comet and making it explode are pretty … well … astronomically against it. What Rina can confidently lay odds on is it’s going to be a real bitch to get Rob Roy repaired again. It’s safe enough to fly in the Black but taking it through atmo is a virtual death sentence. The crew would have to go through atmo in a shuttle if they want to survive the trip.

Rina: Does this ship have side docking shuttles like the Aught-Three?

No. No shuttles. It’s a cargo hauler and its space is dedicated to cargo. It has removable cargo pods. They might be able to use the cargo pods for scrap plating for the hull.

Rina: Are the cargo pods occupied?

Yes. Crap. No cutting the pods down for repair plating, then. And she already knows Equinox doesn’t have enough scrap in storage to repair something this big, either. Otherwise she’d already be dragging out her torch and tools. If Rob Roy hopes to get repaired, it would have to be at a space dock. Turning back for the airlock, Rina spies something glimmering out of the corner of her eye, off to starboard and above their position. Rina hails Equinox on her suit comm.

Rina: Is anyone on sensors? I see something to starb’rd.

Joshua is manning sensors on the bridge because Nika heeded MacGregor’s suspicion of mines being in the area. If there are more of these mystery mines out there, Nika’s going to want to know where they are and how many are still out there. While Joshua checks the sensors, Rina taps Calhoun on his suited shoulder and points starboard.

Rina: Did you see that?
Calhoun: (looks) No …
Rina: I say we get inside. Now.
Rice: Hey, wait. I think I see it.

There’s a brief flash. Sparkly bits glitter and gleam and shoot toward the ship. Several of the bright things hit Calhoun and Rice, instantly holing their suits, and the men stagger and choke as they decompress.

Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Special Features.

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