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Drop Out

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of the downloadable magazine.

Part 3

Minutes after receiving the estimated travel time Insystem, Captain Fyyg got in contact with Nordic’s System Control, and reported an Emergency, as required; expecting a quick response. The far-away voice that was System Control replied, “It will be duly noted in the log book, Captain Fyyg. We’ve double-checked our homing beacon and activated the floods out at the landing field.”

The Captain was stunned. “Aside from duly noting our Emergency in your cursed log book,” the Captain growled, “might you be scrambling your Rescue Boats? …Our Emergency?”

“Yes, you’ve already reported it. Yes, I’ve noted it in the log. We have no boats, Captain. Our facilities consist of a landing field and small terminal building. We’re able to sell you fuel, should you arrive…and snacks.” the voice replied.

“Yes, yes…snacks make everything fine and dandy, don’t they?!” Fygg yelled.

“We’re a Frontier Installation, Captain,” the Controller went on, “a simple lay-over. We have what we need and little else. Hell, to be frank with you Captain, I’d be surprised if we’d warrant a mention in the latest edition of Crowley’s Charted Space, or even the TAS Guidebook.”

Fygg made a solemn promise to himself not to go anywhere he hadn’t been before, and to tear the relevant pages from both Crowley’s and the Guidebook, should this dump have actually merited mention.

“Should you make it in by the 24th”, which was only twelve days off, “we’ll have the Nordic Community Players’ in the terminal performing Oklahoma. It’s quite a—”

Fyyg cut the comm, “We are on our own…” the lanky Captain told his empty suite.

One hour forty seven minutes after travel time had been determined, the Captain called all Officers to a staff meeting in the Crew Lounge.

In the Passenger Lounge on the deck above, members of the Purser’s Department served drinks and salty appetizers to the passengers. Even Doc Billings was on hand, offering passengers who might be too agitated to sleep otherwise, a mild sedative.

As the small line that made up the Waffles’ Officer’s corps filed into the Crew Lounge, most thought Captain Nordel Fygg would be making his customary “appearance” over the comm, from his stateroom, as usual. But there he was, tall, freshly shaven, and in full dress uniform.

“People, people…Good to see you all.” he said cordially, shaking hands here and there. After a few minutes small talk, he prompted the crew to sit. “Yes, anywhere is fine.“ he assured them. Then, “To business, shall we?”

There was the slight smell of ozone and a crackling in the air, and then , there it was. A large, three dimensional image of their ship, the Chicken and Waffles, hovering a half meter above the big table’s surface.

“The Waffles, here,” Fygg nodded almost imperceptibly, “began her life as one of one hundred and sixty two Auspicious Venture-Class Merchanteers produced at the Van Ness Shipyards at Luna one hundred and thirteen years ago.” The Captain looked at the assembled, his left index finger raised as if he were about to make some vital point. He made a small circular motion with his finger. “Luna, as you may know, orbits Olde Earth, yes?” he smiled briefly, imagining the drum-roll in his head.

“Weight, dimensions. You can even read the architects’ names on the bronze plaque on the port bulkhead in the cargo bay!“ he waved a hand forward toward the cargo bay. “But the old girl, we know a bit more about her than her manufacturers had chosen to tell. Like each of us, she is flawed, people. And by those flaws might we be saved.”

“Gibraltar.” Fygg said before sitting down. Unlike the Captain, Gibby didn’t rise for his presentation; merely squaring his shoulders and clearing his throat before going on.

“The big girl here runs on a pair of Garabaldi-Singh A2 Fusion reactors. Each unit masses six hundred fifty eight point three metric tons. Together they produce a rated fifteen hundred and sixty Megawatts of energy. In an emergency I can get her up to eighteen seventy two. With design-specified fuel-mass of eighty four metric tons, the A2s are rated to run for 30 Standard Days. With battery power we’d have two more weeks, if needed. That’s 44 Standard Days of Life Support in toto.”

Gibby took a large coffee from a battered, old Servebot and took a sip of the dark, bitter stuff. “The last Transit took 11 days, dropping us out with 32 Standard Days left.”

“And that with actual hot food being served for only 11 more Standard Days, before we’ll have to go to rations.” Interjected the Captain’s No.2, Ilsa Freilander, who frowned at the idea of eating any sort of rations.

“However, as Captain Fygg said, the Waffles is flawed,” continued the Engineer.. “Instead of eighty four tons, our ship actually has one hundred and twelve metric tons of fuel for the powerplant. This provides 59 Standard Days life support. Though, as Ilsa pointed out, we’ll be on rations soon enough.”

The discussion went round and round and round, with everyone chiming in. Soon it began to feel like the old logic puzzle where the man in the boat has to move the wolf, the sheep and the box of cabbage to the other side of the lake.

One thing that was agreed on was the passengers. Twenty two amongst the 10 Large Staterooms, and seven in Steerage. No one wanted to have to hassle with them; particularly not on a projected eighty one day voyage.

The ever-nervous Doc Billings, who’d been listening via comm from the Passenger Lounge joined in when the passengers’ welfare was brought up; whispering “There are, after all, only two Cyro berths aboard Waffles. The most you might hope is to put a family inside—two adults and possibly a pair, or even a trio of children, if they’re small enough. That would still leave you more than twenty passengers to deal with.”

Someone at the table started “Meta—”.

“Metabolics?” Doc Billings’ raspy voice hissed. “You mean those so called Fast Drugs, I’m sure. No. I have only three doses in the Med Bay, and that’s where they stay until needed.” One could almost hear the Doctor’s eyes rolling.

“My thanks for your insights, Herr Doktor.” Fygg replied before cutting the doctor out of the loop.

Taking a minute, Captain Fygg quietly removed a silver case from inside his coat. The noise in the Crew Lounge dropped off appreciably as Fyyg went through his ritual. Opening the case, Fygg removed a long, elegant smoke; a bit of blue-green foliage sticking from the end of the gold-trimmed, saffron-colored paper.

“Number two.” the Captain nodded. The image of the Waffles disappeared, to be replaced by the massive disc of the Nordic system; an image synthesized both from provided charts and Waffles’ gathered sensor data. A small green pyramid winked into existence at what looked to be some sixty million kilometers from the Nordic system’s Oort Cloud. Looking close, one could see the pyramid with its identifying label providing both the ship’s registration number and name.

“I have already been in contact with Nordic System Control, and they are little more than a glorified liquor store’s parking lot! I think,” the lean Captain said; the cigarette clutched between his teeth, “that our only alternative to doping our passengers for a trip Insystem which none of us will likely survive anyway, is to go about refueling the Waffles out here.” He nodded toward the stern, and the Oort Cloud.