Distress

Story day is upon us again! I’d call this a Sci-Fi horror. Got inspiration for it from Event Horizon and Sunshine, which are both really great films. Anyway, it’s a long one at about 24,400 words. Oops! Might have got carried away again, but it could have been longer. I cut some bits out from the outline because I didn’t think they fit with the flow of the actual story when I was writing it. That’s enough from me now though. Let’s get on with, Distress.

Linda Jimenez, Captain of the recovery vessel Prowler, steps over the threshold of the open doorway from her personal quarters and into the corridor that links the various sections of her ship together. She is dressed in standard Command issue fatigues. They are grey in colour with bars around the collar to denote her rank. Her shoulder length black hair is tied back in a ponytail. The style is purely for function as it keeps her hair out of her face. There is nothing she hates more than ending up eating her own hair or being unable to see because it insists on covering, at least a part of, her vision. Usually that happens at the worst possible time, when she is most in need of concentrating.

Still, that makes no difference to her current issue, which is that according to Command leave for her and her crew has been cancelled. It sounds worse than it is. Not because the crew don’t deserve some rest and relaxation, they do. But it sounds worse because cancelling leave in Command terms actually means postponement until the latest mission, which she has just been issued with, is concluded.

Linda has to admit she is not sure how she is going to break the news to her crew. She reflexively hits the button to the left of her door, if she was looking at it, to cycle it closed. A second later is obliges and emits a low hiss that sees the metal slab slide over the opening and then lock. It’s a system that exists throughout the ship. Most doors, bar those of crew members’ personal quarters, stay open at all times. After all, the automatic pressure doors are really there to ensure that if there is a hull breach it is possible to seal that section off and not lose the entire ship and its crew.

Linda can’t delay however. The mission Command has tasked the Prowler with has been designated of high priority, which is no surprise seeing as leave has been postponed as a result. And though she is plodding, slowly, the four metre stretch of corridor to the bridge it isn’t far enough for her to have any hope of discerning what she is going to say. After all, she can already imagine what the response is going to be. Seven months without leave and Linda can in no way blame them for the response she is surely going to be met with.

In fact, their reaction to the news will likely be much like her own reaction was as she spoke to one of the Majors; she can’t remember his name, who issued her with the order. He hadn’t been sympathetic even before she made her impassioned pleas that her crew really deserve this R&R after so long out in the cold depths of space. Her words had, unsurprisingly, fallen on deaf ears. The Major simply reminded her who was in-charge and then without warning cut the transmission. He didn’t even wait for the data to finish sending, which is the norm.

If only severing the comms link had also severed the data transfer, she thinks. It doesn’t, unfortunately.

However, as Linda closes on the open rectangular shaped hole in the bulkhead that is the doorway between the corridor and the bridge, she hears her crew chatting.

“So what you got planned once we dock Ville?” Francesca Guletto, one of the two security personnel on the Prowler, asks from the far left side of the triangular shaped bridge.

Though Linda cannot see the woman she imagines that the junior security officer is stood on her feet, arms braced against her console. She rarely sits, except during jumps and that’s only because she has no choice in the matter. Unless she wants to be thrown off her feet and slammed into the deck, head first.

“I don’t know, sleep for a month maybe.” Is the partially sarcastic reply that Ville Welch, pilot, fires back in reply from his usual seat at the front facing tip of the bridges angular shape. His back turned to Francesca not because he needs to concentrate on the viewscreen that is relaying the image of space from the hull mounted camera, but because it’s just how Ville operates. He has dedication to his job. Perhaps too much at times, but even he, Linda is sure, will balk at this development. But orders are orders and it’s not like they were given much choice. After all, it’s the price you pay being a crew under the intergalactic spanning defensive arm of the Unified Governments. They don’t call themselves a military, but that is not to say that many of their ships aren’t armed, they are. The Prowler however is not one of those vessels. It is a recovery ship, plain and simple. If it had weapons, well half the crew wouldn’t be serving on it. They aren’t soldiers, after all.

“You do know we’ll only get a couple weeks at best off.” Hector Liu, medic of the Prowler, remarks with a furrowed brow as he stands in what he has made his current spot of choice. He doesn’t have a place, per say, on the bridge of the Prowler. Instead, he just hangs around. But right now he has his left hip pressed up against a protruding support arm on the far right side of the bridge.

At that moment Linda crosses the threshold and steps into the confines of the bridge. It isn’t remarkable in any way. No recovery vessel is. But this one is hers and though there is very little to look at, seeing as most of the walls are comprised of electrical panels, pipes and supports, she couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. As a sixteen year veteran of space traversal she still has many years left before any talk of retirement will come her way. She’s pleased about that, but not about what she’s going to have to say. She isn’t even sure what she is going to say, or who she is going to go about jumping into this conversation to then start.

That is why she is relieved when Iain Francis, the other member of the ships security detail, announces, “Captain on the bridge.”

An instant later the crew stop their chatter, stand at attention and deliver stern salutes. Linda replies with a quick, half arsed one of her own and then utters, “At ease.”

After all, there is no reason to stay on ceremony when it is just them. She knows they all mean well and have pride in being a part of Command. But that doesn’t mean she has any intention of being one of those commanding officers who forces her people to stick to the rules, however redundant they might be at times, while it is only them. If you try things like that then you are going down the sure fire route of becoming one of the most despised CO’s in the whole galaxy. She served under a man like that once. It was miserable. That is why she swore she would never be the same once she got a captaincy of her own, and thus far she’s succeeded.

During the next few seconds Linda debates whether to just get on with it or first take a seat. Her conclusion is the latter. According to procedures that will then allow her crew to do the same and she’d much rather they be seated while she gives them this news.

So she quickly steps around her centrally placed captains’ chair and then lowers her average frame between the uncomfortable metal arm rests until her backside is perched carefully on the thinly cushioned seat. It’s a reminder as to why Francesca insists on standing as much as she does and Linda can’t blame her. Though, it still makes her wonder how Ville gets away with it. He’s always sitting, except when he has to stand at attention. His backside must be made of steel, is the thought that goes through the Captain’s head in the moments before she clears her throat in preparation to speak.

All eyes are on Captain Jimenez. They haven’t a clue, any of the other five crew members what she is about to say. Linda has made sure that her expression and body language give away nothing.  As no matter how downbeat she is about her orders she has to keep her crew on task. They get to show their disappointment, as a captain, she does not. At least not in front of them she doesn’t. In private, or while alone, is another story altogether.

“There’s been news from Command.” Linda announces unsure of how else she can begin.

Though, at seeing the faces of her crew drop in the seconds that follow her having finished her opening line she realises that her choice of words leave a lot to be desired. They might not know the reason but it seems they can guess what the next words out of their captains’ mouth will be. Still, Linda has to say it. She can’t leave it like this. It might not be as bad as they think it is, it is but they don’t know that until she explains.

“Command has issued us with new orders. We are to rendezvous with a ship named Namora. It went missing four months ago while on a routine transport run, but has suddenly reappeared signalling distress.”

Linda hasn’t expressly said that leave is ‘cancelled’ as had been the wording put to her by the Major who issued her with the orders, but it is implied. And everyone in the room is more than capable enough to work it out for themselves because of what she is not saying.

That is why Hector quickly asks, “And what are our orders Captain?”

The medic with his short black hair and brown eyes makes sure to keep it professional. He usually does, but sometimes he comes across as a little rigid as a result. Perhaps Linda shouldn’t be surprised. He is the newest member of the crew. He probably, even after nearly nine months, still feels it to. Still, she wishes he would be less mechanical with his replies, except for right now. Right now it helps. At any other time, it leaves him open to mocking.

“Command wants us to dock, rescue if necessary, assess and secure.” Is Linda’s honest and concise reply to the question that Hector might have asked but that was on everybody’s minds.

She casts her gaze around the room to study each of the faces of her crew. Their expressions are what she’d expect, disappointment barely concealed by duty. It’s why she soon asks, “Any questions?”

There is a pause. It’s uncomfortable and awkward. And during it glances are exchanged. Yet, it seems no one wants to ask the one question that is on their minds. That is until Francesca, seeing no other option, decides to take the plunge and query, “Is leave cancelled Captain?”

Linda has to resist the urge to smile. She can always count on Francesca not only to be the outspoken one but to also always come at something from the angle of worst case scenario.

Some people would think that makes the junior security officer a pessimist, but Linda instead believes the younger woman with brown hair cut into a bob and green eyes is simply coming at it from a direction that of: if she considers worst case then anything not that worst case is then a welcome surprise that softens the initial blow of what she considered was going to be the outcome.

Still, Linda has to advise, “No Francesca, leave is not cancelled. Command has delayed it. Once this mission is done, we dock with Alpha Station for three weeks of uninterrupted leave.”

The response to her assurance is much what Linda would expect, split. She can’t blame them. After all, there is no way of knowing whether Command will, once this mission is done, simply make another demand that further delays their much needed downtime. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened, even to her own crew. Though, the last time it did Linda had not been a captain. But that particular tour had lasted nearly thirteen months.

No further questions are uttered following that, so Linda orders, “Places people.”

With that her crew quickly shuffle about, resuming their positions. Except for Hector who lingers about as is normal for the one member of the crew who doesn’t have a position up here. If Linda were a different kind of captain, stricter with procedure, then she’d probably order him back to the med bay. But she isn’t and so doesn’t. Instead, she advises, “Tasha, sending you cords now.”

“Ready Captain.” Is the simply reply from the auburn haired navigator of the Prowler in the seconds before she gets the coordinates and then busily settles into working on them to calculate the required trajectories for the jump that will need to be made to the apparent location of the previously lost Namora transport ship.

Tasha Portnoy’s green eyes scanning back and forth as she double and then triple checks the data. Once the woman is satisfied that is done, she transfers it over to Ville. He offers no reply once in possession of the data. His hands gliding over the digitised controls of the console before him, double checking what Tasha has relayed to him. It’s a habit the pilot has had since his days in the academy. One he can’t get out of. Tasha had originally believed he didn’t trust her, but everyone made sure to make her aware that Ville does it with everyone. In truth, he knows Tasha’s calculations will be spot on. In all the years they’ve been crew mates, four, she has never once made a mistake. At least not one he was able to detect.

With the trajectories having briefly been checked by Ville, he injects the code into the flight system. He then watches the system like a hawk, his blue eyes staring intently until finally the code takes and rapidly builds to a correct completion. Following that he informs, “Ready for jump Captain.”

His voice is calm, monotone yet rich as he speaks. His blond hair remains rigidly in place due to how short he keeps it trimmed. He didn’t turn in his seat to look at Linda as he spoke. Because of that alone the captain of the Prowler has to suppress a smile. Any other captain would have long since issued him with a reprimand for such things and when he’d first came to serve under her he had in fact got four. Linda hadn’t, until that point, known that you could have more than three reprimands on your record at one time, but somehow Ville had managed it. His former CO had even said that he should have been ejected from the agency but wasn’t because of his exceptional piloting skills.

“Let’s get this done.” Linda says succinctly.

It’s her way of ordering the jump to be made. Not at all according to procedure, but it works as evidenced when Ville, less than a second later, initiates the jump that sends the Prowler leaping into hyperspace, heading for the last known coordinates of the Namora’s distress sequence. There is a chance that the transport vessel may have drifted since the triangulation of its coordinates, especially as Command did not give any information as to how long ago the data was received. But that is just a chance that the crew of the Prowler will have to take and they all know it as they settle into their positions, while they run continuous scans and routine checks of not just the onboard ship systems but also of their surroundings. They won’t be able to determine much in hyperspace, but Command operating protocols dictate that such sweeps must be made. And all so that all data documentation quotas are maintained encase an anomalous reading is detected.

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