Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Chapter Forty-One

I climbed down the ladder from the bridge deck to the mid level and then crossed to the engine room hatch. The iris door was closed, the readout beside it informing me of ample pressure on both sides. I pressed the "open" stud and the duralium petals spun apart. A blast of hot air greeted my face as I stepped through. The computer monitors that surrounded the Arrow's mighty Class 4 Military Engine were in various states of disarray. Overhead, automatic robot arms controlled by the ship's repair system were busy patching leaks in piping, burn marks, and clearing debris.

On the floor were two figures: Sarah Meyer was holding a dazed Mike Taurence in her lap. The older black man's eyes were glazed over and nonsensical moans were emanating from his lips. Sarah was whispering something soothing to him while stroking his face and wiping blood from the corner of his mouth when I entered. She looked up at me, her expression one of forlorn desperation. Mike's left hand was clutching at Sarah's right forearm that was firmly about his shoulders. His right arm was missing below the elbow. Blood was covering the jagged remains of his jumpsuit arm, dripping onto the floor and forming a thick pool beside the couple.

I raced over, knelt down beside them, and in a display of desperate strength, ripped off the right sleeve of my uniform. Common sense dictated that I do everything I could to cover up Mike's stump. Slightly grossed-out, but knowing I had to do something, I pulled up what was left of Mike's sleeve. The man let out a cry and Sarah stroked his short curled hair even faster while whispering to him. Realizing I'd need more cloth than my one sleeve would provide, I tore the left sleeve of my jumpsuit away. Rolled it into something resembling a dark green, cup-shaped pillow, and set the end of the stump into its softness. Then, I began tearing my other sleeve into strips and wound them around the makeshift bandage.

"This might not last too long," I noted grimly. Sarah paused in her care of our patient to look at me, her eyes seeming not to focus properly. I looked back at her when I tied the last knot as tightly as I could.

"We'll need to change this bandage a lot. Heck, it might not even be enough to keep him from bleeding to death," Sarah didn't take this well. Her lower lip quivered and tears ran freely down her face as she continued stroking her lover's hair.

Suddenly, I remembered something, "Doesn't this ship have emergency freezers for this sort of thing?"

Sarah's eyed widened and she nodded, "Yes! They made sure we had enough for all of us!"

Knowing that the engineer would not want to be parted from her boyfriend, I asked, "Where?"

"Um..." she fought to remember, then looked at me and said, "In the lockers in the rec room!"

I stood up quickly, feeling a slight head rush as I made for the door. So that's what those lockers were for, I mused as I stepped across the hallway and into the spinal corridor that led to the crew compartment.

* * * * *

"Well, we're two men short, shot almost to pieces, and drifting around the edge of a lawless star system," I said aloud as the freezer field around Jenny crackled to life. A small light-blue dome of a force shield appeared and filled itself with supercooled gas. The emergency freezers would allow Jenny and Mike to live until a medical expert arrived and thawed them out. Then, it would be up to whatever doctor we found to nurse them back to health.

Knowing how dangerous it was to move an injured person, the four remaining crewmen of the Crimson Arrow had decided to keep our comrades exactly where they were and not bring them to beds. It may have seemed awkward to work in an environment containing severely injured friends, but at least they were in places where we could keep a close eye on them and still perform what duties were necessary to keep the ship going.

Still, Weaver had yet to respond to us. The communication systems on our vessel were still working, so we could only assume that TerraCorp I had, in fact, not arrived yet. The other problem was that we were in no condition to try to hyperspace out of the system. Fortunately, the auto repair system was busy turning the Arrow into a complete ship again and we only needed to wait until our hull integrity had been regained before switching our engines back on.

Terri and I exchanged a long glance and she asked, "So what do we do?"

Feeling the weight of decision on my shoulders again, I sighed and replied, "I don't know." It was the wrong thing to say, but it was all I could think of in my current frame of mind, "I really have no idea."

Steve's hand gave a slap as it fell to his side. His expression was one of irritation, "Well, you're the Commander, Mark!"

I had just about had it. I'd never counted on having to deal with this sort of stress. I was good at taking care of myself and had geared my whole life around that idea. Now, here I was a hundred light years away from my home in a damaged experimental space ship and responsible for the well being of five other people, two of whom may not live to hear my apology for getting them into this mess!

I was going over the short list of options in my mind when the alert siren blared once again. I jumped past the command chair and settled into the pilot's seat. I looked at the scope and my heart sank.

"Guys, we're in trouble," was all I managed to get out. The resignation in my voice had to have been depressing, but when you find yourself staring at three large white blips, each of which represents a vessel that greatly outmasses your own ship, you tend to feel resigned.

I turned toward Steve and said, "Tell them we surrender."

The silence that followed my order seemed to last for a year.

"Surrender?" Steve didn't seem to believe it.

I turned toward the stunned communications tech, trying to keep a mask of calm on my face, "Yes, Steve. We surrender."

After seeing his grim expression and nod of acknowledgement, I returned my attention to the star-studded blackness outside the bridge window. As Steve's footfalls reverberated around the cabin, I let my head fall back and I gazed through the upper window. I had no idea what was going to happen, my heart felt like a lead ingot and a feeling of resignation seemed to pass through every cell in my body. I heard the sighs of my friends on the Arrow's bridge as Steve began manipulating his console.

The vista directly above the ship was actually very pretty: I spent a moment taking in this last scene of freedom. I saw the beautiful yellow-green clouds of the Dumbell Nebula taking up a good deal of the view. The cotton-like phenomenon seemed to shimmer on one side with an odd blue-white effervescence. It was almost mesmorizing.

Something about that shimmering glow awakened something inside me. At the time, I had no idea just what it was, but returning my attention to the forward window brought it all into perspective. A large blue shimmering disc hung in space directly before us.

"MARK!!!"

I was already moving before Terri had shouted. Without even thinking about it, I pushed forward on the steering column and hit the engine switch. There was a shudder that ran through the ship but the repaired engine managed to come back to life. We rocketed away from the hyperspace cloud just as the indescribable bulk of TerraCorp I hurtled out of it and into normal space. Beams of light played from ports on her hull and the distant explosions that followed indicated that she had made very short work of our would-be captors.

A crackle of static sounded from Steve's console and the unmistakable voice of Max Weaver piped through.

"Well, well, well... Looks like I can't leave you jokers alone for a moment, can I?" The smile in his voice was easy to hear.

Steve's reply was a mixture of glee and desperation, "I guess not, sir. If you could spare us a tractor beam, I know at least seven people who'll worship the ground you walk on."

"Oh, really? Well, in that case we'd better bring you aboard! I've never had worshippers before!" The older business owner gave a laugh, muttered something that we couldn't quite make out, then said, "All right, here's your tractor beam. I'll meet you down at the docking hatch."

"Thanks ever so much! We appreciate it! Crimson Arrow out." Steve released the send button and let out a whoop of joy that I did my best to imitate. Then, I let myself relax and watch as the giant factory ship took us under her protective wing.

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-Two

Back to Pritchard Home Page


Copyright © Matthew A. Fossa. All Rights Reserved.