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Last Day Aboard Ship - chapter 8

This chapter is an epilogue covering events after his last day aboard ship.

In five seconds, the boosters shut down, the computer and console went dark, the artificial gravity disappeared, and the main lighting deactivated. Within moments, the pair of emergency lights providing dim illumination flickered and quit. At the same time, I felt a tingling sensation moving along my skin, I became nauseated, and I saw lights flashing where no lights existed.

I heard Loflin exclaim, “EMP!”

Then our little craft lurched and whirled, and there were two loud almost simultaneous reports. The lifepod was spinning; it felt like three gees of centrifugal force. Between the tumbling of the vessel and the previous weightlessness, I felt my stomach flip. Keenly aware of both the sound and sour, putrid smell of vomit, I retched too, leaving my stomach’s contents to my side.

I heard a whistling sound that any spacefarer knows is the voice of death; we were venting atmosphere. I knew what to expect. I heard the small pop as the lowering of pressure activated the ejection of hundreds of ultra-lightweight plasticene balls about as big around as a baby’s little pinky. Like miniature balloons, they would quickly float to a hole and cover it. The pressure would cause each ball to rupture, leaving a small amount of cold-activated sealant. Several would eventually fill the hole, attracted to the small perforations and fissures. Their sealant would expand and harden like metal. Within seconds, the hissing quieted and then stopped as the holes leaking oxygen were plugged.

We were still spinning and pinned to the bulkhead. The lifepod is rectangular. I can barely stand up in a lifepod without hitting my head, and if I stretch out my arms, I can almost touch both sides of the compartment. The airlock is on one end and the controls on the other end of the four-meter compartment.

We were plastered against the airlock hatch and bulkhead. Fortunately, Loflin had placed the emergency kits on the far end or they would have crashed onto us.

There was vomit everywhere, on the bulkheads and us. Combined with the spinning, the overwhelming stench, and the pain radiating from my damaged limb, my stomach was on the verge of another unwanted barf-fest.

It was extremely difficult to move in the three gees of force created by the spinning. I moved my hands to find what was around me. I felt Erickson to my side and Carmen on my other side pressed painfully against my arm with a leg across my knees. I didn’t know where Loflin was.

The heavy metal lip of the airlock was digging painfully into my lower back and damaged shoulder. I tried calling to the others, but received no reply. All I could hear was labored breathing on both sides. I have no idea how long our plight lasted, but it felt like eternity.

When power finally returned, I felt the stabilization engines compensate for our spin. The lights and gravity returned. The gravity is only a quarter gee in our lifepods.

Cal and Carmen collapsed to the deck along with Loflin. A large part of Loflin’s head was missing. Blood and brains spilled from his open skull. The blood was forming a puddle at my feet and dripping down the bulkhead next to the airlock hatch from the small sealed hole in the bulkhead where his head used to be. Whatever debris had penetrated the hull had passed through the left side of his skull.

I carried Cal and Carmen away from Loflin’s dead body and the expanding pool of blood. After strapping them into pull-down sleeping racks, I cleaned them up and checked them as well I could.

Cal’s condition seemed the most pressing. His breathing and respiration were good, but his left pupil was blown. I cleaned, stapled and bandaged the large laceration above his eye and added a cold compact to relieve the swelling. He had a knot the size of a snooker ball. I couldn’t deal with the serious possibility of brain damage now. After applying a standard slow drip IV, I moved to Carmen.

Her problem was obvious, but complicated too. The conduit had gone through one lung. I’m not sure if it might have penetrated anything else vital. Normally I would have packed the wound around the metal intruder, but we couldn’t expect rescue any earlier than two weeks. I couldn’t leave the conduit in her that long. I packed it for now and setup an IV for her, as she lay on her side. I included anti-infection medication and one of our four regeneration packets. I needed to do some research in the medical databanks before deciding on any further courses of action.

I fashioned a sling for my arm so that I could rest my damaged shoulder as much as practical, and took only a small dosage of pain medication in order to keep a clear head.

The next task was one I dreaded: cleanup. The fluids, blood and vomit would be relatively easy to clean, but the meatier parts from Loflin’s death wouldn’t be. First, I had to remove the corpse. We possessed nothing like a body bag or refrigeration unit. There was no storage area or airtight locker to store the remains. We did have the airlock, but it was barely large enough to allow a single individual to stand erect.

After checking my injured shipmates to ensure they were secured to the racks, I de-energized the gravity. This allowed me to move Loflin into the airlock easily in an upright position. I secured the airlock hatch and opened the outer hatch, ejecting the body into the airlessness and extreme cold of space.

I attached an extension to the urine collection system, commonly called the piss-tube. The system uses air suction the move the liquids into a storage area, like a vacuum cleaner, which is recycled to create fresh water similar to the ship’s recycling system. The lack of gravity causes liquids to form into droplets due to surface tension. Blood, being thicker, forms larger and sloppier spheres. In zero-gees, the cleanup was quick and simple.

Then after restoring gravity, I spent two hours cleaning the compartment’s interior of stains and solid matter. I periodically checked Cal and Carmen’s condition. I put the bag of solid waste in the garbage disposal where it would be compacted and incinerated.

My attention turned next to the control panel. I needed to know what our situation was and what had happened to the BharatBenz, the other lifepods, and our attacker.

The lifepod is equipped with a small Mark II PNP drive, which travels just over the speed of light. The instrumentation showed that the FTL system wasn’t engaged. Our velocity was very high, actually faster than the ship could safely travel, but still less than a tenth of a percent of the speed of light. It would take us hundreds of years to reach the nearest stellar body.

I tried to access the controls to activate the PNP drive, but I was locked out. None of the overrides would operate. All of the control systems were inaccessible. This made no sense.

Checking the command protocol controls, I found the problem. There was a lockout of all command functions. The lifepod was being controlled by the computer. I attempted to access the command controls but was denied. It required a level four clearance to override the preset programming, and I only had level three.

But then I thought, maybe I did have a level four clearance, and quickly tried the passwords the Captain had given me to access the anti-missile console. That did it; I had complete system access. Needing to know as much about our circumstances as possible, I began digging through all of the data.

Before changing anything, I needed information. The lifepod was under the computer’s command for emergency EA protocol alpha-five-stopgap, a protocol that was entirely unfamiliar to me. I started reading.

Alpha-five-stopgap, clearance for command personnel only.

So only the old man and Denton would have had knowledge of this procedure.

Standard procedures for first contact with hostile alien race. Preventing access to technology and information is top priority. All assets are expendable. If there is any possibility of capture or partial destruction of the vessel, complete destruction is required. The ship’s reactors will be activated to a full-power critical overload. Five seconds prior to self-destruction, all critical information and equipment will be destroyed by preset charges controlled by the computer in HAL mode. If the self-destruction is interrupted by unauthorized personnel, HAL mode will immediately terminate all ship’s functions and detonate the preset explosives.

Capture of personnel is prohibited. Surrender is not a viable option. Lifepod self-destruct mechanisms will be activated if unauthorized access is attempted.

So, the Captain believed our bandit was actually from a hostile alien race. Humankind had been looking for other life since before we could fly. There have been documented UFO sightings since about 200 BC. Twenty-four centuries without discovering real evidence. Were these aliens?

The computer had a complete record of the entire engagement. I scanned through the information. There would be time for a closer inspection of the data later. I read the recorded events as they had happened.

- The BharatBenz dropped out of FTL. We picked up the contact approaching at high FTL speed. It left FTL at about five hundred kilometers and closed quickly upon our position. Gunny futilely opened fire with our shipboard turrets. Two missiles were launched from the attacker and I destroyed them both at the last moment.

- The attacker slowed its approach. It fired what appeared to be a particle beam weapon that disabled the starboard PNP drive. The topside turret burned out. The attacker fired three more times with it beam weapon, taking out the forward turret, the other PNP drive, and a hit amidships, which probable destroyed our primary communications bay. Four hyper-speed FTL distress drones were launched in various directions, but three were eliminated before they could activate their FTL drives. Then the attacker fired three missiles that completely obliterated the forward quarter of the ship, including the bridge. Well, at least one distress pod made it away.

- Five lifepods launched in different directions and then blasted away at maximum burn. There were two missiles fired that destroyed lifepods, then a prolonged burst from two particle beams that literally cut the BharatBenz in half amidships.

- That’s when a missile came from the opposite side of the BharatBenz. I guess Romero got his shot, but two high-speed rockets from the attacker destroyed it before it was half way to its target. Frak!

- A sixth lifepod was ejected, that was us. All the remaining lifepods made an erratic course change and then the electromagnetic pulse went off. That must have crinkled their targeting systems.

The recorders stop registering when the EMP fried the receivers. The damage we took was undoubtedly from the self-destruct explosion of the reactors. I tried to relocate the BharatBenz, but there were no signals from that direction. I didn’t dare try to transmit actively.

Checking the lifepod for problems, I discovered the explosion had crippled the primary transceiver array and the one small through-and-through penetration that had killed Loflin. Unfortunately, that fragment also damaged the water recycling system. It was repairable, but only temporarily. There was no spare for the damaged part. I had to MacGyver a replacement that was operating under twice its normal power load. I didn’t know how long it would last. If it stopped working, which was likely, we would only have two weeks of water, if that, remaining for the three of us.

I used the onboard computer to find the appropriate procedure for removing the conduit from Carmen. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be particularly dangerous, but I had no real experience in this and only possessed a med-kit. If only I had that heavy med-kit Rolo had gotten, but I couldn’t carry Carmen and the kit. Sticks could have handled this procedure, but she didn’t make it.

Rolo must have activated the micro-fusion reactors. He did a very courageous thing. It proves that even asshole stoneheads can be brave. I wished he were here. I certainly needed another pair of hands.

I thoroughly familiarized myself with the procedures for Carmen’s operation, but understanding something from reading the instructions is not the same as really knowing it. Experience is where true knowledge originates.

Checking the time, I realized that it had been more than twenty-seven hours since I had awakened, spooning Carmen in my sleeping quarters. Hungry and tired, I knew that before I even attempted any procedure on Carmen, I needed rest and food. I checked my shipmates, ate an energy slab, and lay down on one of the racks. I was worried that I was too hyped-up to sleep, but I wasn’t.

One day after the attack. 

I was awakened by loud noises. Someone was calling me. I looked over at Carmen and Cal as I jumped from my bunk. Ouch, my fraking head. I remember now, we’re in a lifepod at a quarter gee. Jumping is a stupid thing to do, stonehead.

“Ricky, are you all right?” Carmen yelled.

“I’m OK, just stupid. How are you feeling?” I asked.

“I’m fantastic!” she said sarcastically. “How do you think I feel with a metal pipe stuck through my body? It fraking hurts!”

“I’m going to fix that problem in a few hours,” I said, trying to be cheerful and confident.

“You?” she said with obvious disdain. “I wouldn’t trust you to put a bandage on a hangnail.”

She grabbed at her chest and groaned in pain. My heart sank. It was finally hitting me. Carmen was in bad shape and I had no experience in even minor injuries, so how was I going to handle a major trauma?

I checked the time. I had been asleep for six hours. That would do for now. I went to Carmen and quieted her. I took her hand and kissed her cheek.

As I held her and brushed my hand through her hair, I told her what had to be done. I had to sever the conduit as close as possible to her, and then withdraw it from the direction it had entered, her back. It was going to be painful and messy. I didn’t dare use any type of general anesthetic. After the metal intruder was removed, I’d bandage it. I just had to hope there was no damage that the regeneration medication couldn't handle and that I didn’t cause more damage removing it.

I checked Cal. He didn’t seem any better, but hadn’t worsened either. I decided to use the regen-meds on him even though they aren’t as effective with neural tissue.

As I was changing his dressings, he moved. He tried to rise, but the belts kept him immobile. His left eye was open and his pupil was moving erratically.

“Cal, be still. This is Ricky. Stop moving around. Can you hear me Cal?” I said.

“Ricky? Is that you Ricky?” Cal asked weakly.

“Yes Cal, It’s me, Ricky. How do you feel?”

Cal turned his head towards me and questioned, “Where’s Cricket?”

I responded, “Who is Cricket?”

“Why isn’t Cricket here? Ask Emily? She’ll know where she is. Ricky, I don’t feel so good.”

He threw up and began to shake. Frak, convulsions. I held him securely without hurting him. After thirty seconds, his seizure stopped. He was unconscious again.

This was not good. I added an anticonvulsant medication to his IV.

As I was cleaning him up, Carmen asked, “Is he going to be OK?”

I answered her, “He’s in bad shape. It looks like he has a comminuted depressed skull fracture, which has a high possibility of a subdural hematoma. If he is bleeding into his brain, he needs brain surgery. There is no way I could even attempt that.”

“Poor Cal. Ricky, what are we going to do?”

“You’re going to rest while I do some more reading in the medical programs, and then I’m going to extract that pipe from you,” I said.

We kissed and then I went over the procedure again. After an hour of review, I gave Carmen a local anesthetic and pumped her IV with as much trimorpic painkiller as I dared. The procedure went well, but it was hard to get the bleeding stopped. She must have lost almost a liter of blood. I had eight units of blood substitute. I gave her two.

I moved her to another bed. The place was a mess. It took hours to get everything cleaned and put away. Cal was still out, but his blood pressure and pulse were steady. Carmen wanted some food, but I didn’t want her to have any for a while. She could sip water. I had something to eat and starting reading through the detailed information and the emergency procedures we were supposed to be following.

The procedures recommended not using FTL flight because of the ease and simplicity of its detection. Using the information we had gathered about the alien spacecraft, I made my best guess of their detection ranges. I tried to be very conservative in my estimates.

My guesstimation was that we needed to travel at relativistic sub-light speeds for eight weeks before initiating FTL flight. Four weeks would probably be enough, but I was going to be very cautious. Arriving a month later would make very little difference in the big scheme of things.

After activating the PNP drive, it would still take at least two weeks and as many as five to be rescued. We had enough food on limited rations for eleven weeks for the three of us. Food wouldn’t be a problem. When the water recycling crinkled, we would be deep in the turd.

Everything was going well enough for two days, and then the walls came tumbling down.

Three days after the attack. 

The first check of my injured shipmates showed problems. Cal was showing signs of serious neurological problems. I suspected bleeding between the dura mater, which adheres to the skull, and the arachnoid mater, which envelops the brain. His intracranial pressure proved me right. He could have only hours to live, but no more than a few days at best.

Carmen had indications of internal bleeding. It had to be a slow leak because it took two days for early symptoms to appear. I gave her a unit of blood substitute and another regen-med dose. It seemed to help initially.

I tried to find a way to relieve the pressure on Cal’s brain. I found a procedure referred to as trepanning. By boring a hole through his skull, I could reduce the pressure. I couldn’t believe I was even considering it, but if I did nothing Cal would die. I read the procedure until I understood what I had to do and how it should be accomplished. Before I finished my preparations, Cal died.

I turned off the artificial gravity, placed Cal's remains in the airlock, and blew his body into the deep black. Now it was only Carmen and me.

I stayed with Carmen for a while as we cried. We cried for Cal, Loflin and all of our shipmates. We comforted each other. I had never before felt so lost, yet so close to a person. We had confessed our love to one another, but sharing these soul-wrenching burdens had brought us closer together.

If that wasn’t enough, as we were about through with our cry-fest, an alarm went off. It was what I dreaded would happen. The water recycler had failed.

After I verified the recycler was useless, I looked at Carmen and said, “Well that’s it sweetie. No more hot showers for you.”

Carman sniffed at me and screwed up her face like she smelled a skunk saying, “I’m not the one that really needs a shower. I’ve smelled month old dirty laundry that smelled better than you.”

“Hey, listen here. I’ve been busting my ass getting everything done while you lie back and relax,” I replied in mock anger.

She said, “It should be that way. I have the brains and you have the muscle. Have I mentioned that the accommodations are two-star at best?”

“Let me say…” Then I squeezed my abdominal muscles and released a loud, protracted and undoubtedly combustible cloud of noxious intestinal gas.

Carmen pinched her nose and ardently said, “Frak Ricky! Are you trying to crinkle the air recycler too with your nauseating bull moose mating call, you turd munching frak?”

Then we laughed. We laughed hysterically for five minutes. You can only cry so long and then you have to laugh or you wouldn’t be able to survive the fraked-up mess that the universe throws at you. We felt better, but that wasn’t going to make our three week supply of water last longer.

For the next two days, things did not change. Carmen wasn’t improving. We passed the time talking and holding hands. If Carmen wasn’t so hurt, we would have had much more delightful activities to entertain us, but that didn’t matter. My fear for her was growing. I tried to hide it, but that was impossible. She knew and I knew she knew. We played our game of ‘everything will be alright,’ but it wasn’t.

Six days after the attack. 

I gave Carmen another transfusion. Her belly was tender and rigid. Carmen was slowly bleeding to death inside. I used the last regen-med packet and hoped that it would save her.

When Loflin had grabbed those survival kits, one had several halo-novels inside. We had been watching them. It was getting more difficult to maintain an air of optimism and cheerfulness.

There was a romance that made us cry entitled ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’ It had a line that made me feel so happy and cheated at the same time. It was, “I've never felt that before. I'm just exactly where I want to be.”

We had a poetry reading of twenty first century poets. One writer liked filthy drinks with olives. He made us happy and sad. Another was Dreamcatcher Larry. He was so insightful. Another had this awful poem about baseball. We didn’t watch any more of that Roland guy’s stuff.

There was another halo-novel based on one of the greatest visual medium shows, it was referred to as television, of the late twentieth century. It was called Power Rangers. It was so inspirational.

There were others, but the one I remember most was a good outer space adventure about a young woman captured by aliens. She was mutilated and put into slavery working in a mine. We couldn’t finish that one. It hit too close to our present fears. Those Solarite aliens were horrible.

One week after the attack. 

Carmen’s condition continued to worsen. I had to increase her pain medication. During the times she was awake, I held her hand and tried to comfort her. When she was asleep, I sat at the console and felt a piece of me tearing away.

Ten days after the attack.

One week after Cal died, I lost my love. I didn't know if I would ever be the same.

I cut my water rations back. My four weeks of water needed to last six weeks. I would travel four more weeks and then activate my PNP drive. I would have to hope I was rescued quickly. I wondered, am I the last crewman of the BharatBenz?

Time crawled. I was damaged—not physically, but after losing Carmen and all my friends and shipmates, I didn’t want to continue. For hours, I would just lie on my rack and stare at the ceiling, remembering the short time I had with Carmen.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't give up. I had to survive. I had to let people know about the acts of bravery and self-sacrifice I had witnessed. They weren’t looking for recognition when they gave their lives for others, but they deserved to have their story told.

I had nothing left in my life. I knew it would pass. Over time, things would get better. I would love again and have new friends.

I did have one thing left for me, revenge.

I wanted to survive and become the harbinger of death to those creatures who had done this.

Four weeks after the attack.

I’d been spending more and more time sleeping. The four weeks passed as if it were four years. I activated the PNP drive and began my FTL race to rescue. After a day, I stopped and tried to contact someone with my back-up transmitter, but got no response. I launched one of my three marker buoys and returned to FTL flight.

Two and then four days later I repeated my stop and call for assistance.

Forty-six days after the attack, eighteen days after going to FTL.

I drank the last of my water. I knew I had only a couple of days to live.

The dehydration began taking its toll. After two days, I had a headache like a bad hangover. I was lightheaded. Moving too quickly caused dizziness. I was so tired.

Forty-nine days after the attack, three weeks after going to FTL.

It was becoming challenging to remain awake and I was having problems concentrating. What if I passed out? How would the lifepod leave FTL when a rescuer arrived if I were unconscious? I programmed the lifepod to leave FTL if any contacts came within transmission range.

I was nearing the end. My tongue had begun to swell and I could barely move around and stay awake. If I fell to sleep now, I would never wake up.

Then it hit me! How could I have been so stupid? I still had seven units of IV fluids left. I set up an IV for myself. Within an hour, I was feeling better. I used one IV bag every other day. It barely kept me going.

Fifty-five days after the attack, twenty-seven days after going to FTL.

With only one unit of the IV fluids left, I knew that after it was gone, the dehydration would begin again. It would go more quickly this time because of my condition.

Fifty-nine days after the attack, thirty-one days after going to FTL.

Three days after I used the last of the IV fluids, I lost consciousness. At least dying of thirst was fast and painless compared to starving. My last thought was of Carmen.

Sixty-two days after the attack, thirty-four days after going to FTL.

I opened my eyes. I was bathed in bright light and couldn’t see anything.

Then there was an angelic voice, “You’re going to be alright.”

It was Carmen!

“Carmen!” I shouted, but only a murmur came out.

My eyes began to focus and I saw a beautiful woman, but it wasn’t Carmen.

She had long, flowing dark hair that was complemented by striking hazel eyes and full lips, and her build was very athletic. She was short and very feminine. She was wearing an EA force lieutenant’s uniform.

She spoke softly to me, “Stay calm. We found you forty hours ago. You’re onboard the destroyer EAS Witwer. I’m Lieutenant Kari Sandborn.”

A sigh escaped my lips and I said, “Ma’am, we are not alone. They are out there.”

She looked at me and her smile disappeared as she said, “We know.”

I had made it.

One year, five months and eleven days after the attack.


I received my first assignment as an ensign in the EA military flying single pilot fighter spacecraft. Now they will pay.

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