A warning alarm caught Sh’Aqba’s attention while she and Tarlazzi were repairing one of the plasma manifolds. She instructed Tarlazzi to finish the repair work and crawled out of a Jeffries tube and into a nearby junction to check what triggered that alarm. She activated a status monitor and what she found out left her speechless.
An emergency forcefield was failing, threatening to decompress the entire deck. One of the emergency bulkheads would not close. If the bulkhead could not be closed, the breach would widen and spread to other decks once the forcefield failed completely.
“We have a new problem,” she called to Erhlich. “Unless we close one of the bulkheads, the hull breach will widen and decompress this whole deck. Finish up here while I close the bulkhead manually.”
Tarlazzi’s focus was completely on the circuit housing. He was only able to catch a break after sh’Aqba hurriedly sped down an adjoining tube. “What?!” he shouted. “Why don’t I do that and you fix the manifold?” He dove out into the junction and shouted down the other Jeffries tube. “If the thinning atmosphere doesn’t kill you, the radiation will!” he continued, even though he knew she probably couldn’t hear him.
Without even acknowledging him, sh’Aqba opened the hatch at the other end and went into the corridor. Tarlazzi thumped the wall in frustration, as all he could do now was hope this wasn’t the last time he saw Shinar sh’Aqba alive.
“Warning, radiation levels at two hundred fifty millirads per minute and rising,” sh’Aqba heard the computer warn, while she was plugging jumper cables into doorframe of the open bulkhead. “Lethal exposure in ten minutes.”
With the jumper cables, the bulkhead lowered halfway down. That wasn’t enough. The forcefield continued to periodically wink out. She began repeatedly yanking the manual release lever to lower the bulkhead the rest of the way. She became increasingly lightheaded as the radiation levels increased and the air thinned.
Don’t think, just act.
Sh’Aqba kept reminding herself that as she continued manically tugging at the lever. With each passing second, she became more and more convinced that she would not get to see her homeworld again. She would not live to raise her child. That seemed far from significant at this moment. If that bulkhead didn’t close, she and her unborn child would not be the only casualties.
Eventually, the forcefield shorted out completely and air was blowing out into space. She grabbed the wall firmly with her left hand while continuing to pull the lever until the bulkhead locked into place. On the verge of passing out, she dove into the panel across the corridor to engage an emergency air supply. Finally, she slid down the wall and lost consciousness, certain she would never wake up.
Huckaby returned to the ops station at the same moment the computer warned oflethal radiation exposure in two minutes.
is ready to proceed,” he informed Limis. “Engineering has made some progress in getting the secondary hull’s impulse engines in better shape. They’re not promising anything.”
Limis sat in the command chair while staring pensively at the viewscreen. “Be ready to throw as much auxiliary power into those engines at a moment’s notice,” she instructed with a quick glance at the young man at ops. She tapped a control on the chair’s side panel to hail the other ship. “Commander Selek. We’re in position as well.”
“Initiating first towing,”
The dorsal module of the Epimetheus
swooped in front of the Lambda Paz
and engaged its tractor beam. The other two modules lined up to port and starboard next to the Luna
-class ship. Both ships neared the edge of the asteroid field when the beam shorted out. The upper module veered aside to allow the central module to lock its tractor beam. When that tractor beam winked out, it was the ventral module’s turn. That towing beam was rather sluggish, as if it would short out within a second of its activation.
Ensign Bronak, a Ktarian male manning the helm, was becoming a bit anxious. “We might not make it out,” he said grimly.
“Let’s hope we do,” Limis replied just as nervously. “Route every last bit of auxiliary power to the impulse engines.”
The tractor beam shorted out while both the Lambda Paz
and the Epimetheus
were still inside the asteroid field. A few seconds later, though, everyone on the bridge could feel the ship speeding up. On the viewscreen, the asteroids become fewer and farther between until there were none up ahead.
“We’re clear of any radiation danger,” Bronak reported.
Limis breathed a sigh of relief. “Set a course to rendezvous at our fallback position.” While issuing that order, she glanced over at Kozar, who was at the tactical alongside a Benzite male ensign. And she was reminded of the downside of surviving this ordeal. Kozar would probably still file a protest over the decision that got the ship in that predicament in the first place.