Captain Sumner woke from a short and unsatisfying sleep in her quarters and fumbled for the datapad bleeping away at her. She clawed it into range and squinted at it. It was a text message from one of the 4L engineers, telling her more bad news. For a moment, she lay on her back and contemplated throwing the pad across the room. That self-indulgence weighed up, then dismissed, she got up and stumbled into the bathroom to piss.
Her eyes were more yellowed than bloodshot now, which was something - everyone had burst vessels in their eyes during the crash and had spent the last couple of days wandering around looking like monsters from a cheap horror digital. She still couldn't breathe without her ribs screaming at her, though. The straps from the co-pilots chair had left her black with bruises from her shoulders to her thighs.
She opened the medicine cabinet and remembered for the second day in a row that she'd given the medic all the painkillers. She slammed the cabinet shut and leaned against the sink.
Anyway, it was time to give everyone the news.
Most of the Qentiga was under emergency lighting, making for gloomy travel through its innards. They kept the launch lounge brightly lit and it was where everyone congregated. It was the largest area on the ship - save the cargo deck, which they'd de-pressurised after putting the bodies of the dead in there, tied down with netting in one corner. Both of the other executives were dead - thrown to death by the impact. If she'd taken the drunk back a pressure chair... but she hadn't. Sumner had contemplated jettisoning Casey's body, not liking the idea of the traitor technician lying next to people she'd been responsible for killing, but Dawud had talked her out of it. He insisted the dead did not mind and she needed Dawud to stay focused, so she acquiesced. Besides, jettison would have been a waste of air.
When she entered the lounge, everyone was already there, waiting and quiet. She'd put her pressure suit and her officer's face back on and she moved to the front of the lounge to address them. Expectant gazes all fixed upon her.
Clasping her hands behind her back, Sumner said, "I know most of you are waiting upon news of the rescue ships. I regret to inform you that I do not believe a rescue is coming."
She left a pause for anger and denials, but no one said anything - not even the one remaining executive. She took a deep breath, "We appear to have crashed under a communications security blanket. Our transponder has burned out, despite being isolated from the controller. We do not yet know how that happened, or when it occurred, since the controller cannot be relied upon to have reported accurate data at any stage during our flight. Furthermore, shortly before launch, our pilot received a course change authorised by L.T.C. Given the extent of the sabotage, which certainly required more than one person to achieve, it seems probable that the authorisation was counterfeit."
A few people looked suspiciously towards Dawud, who was sitting hunched forward in a launch chair, cradling his broken arm in its very makeshift splint and sling.
Captain Sumner continued, "As far as we can ascertain, no-one but the saboteurs know where we are. We have no means of communicating outside the security blanket. Our engines are severely damaged, we are low on fuel, the controller is destroyed and we are not equipped with supplies for more than a short flight. Even with recycling and severe rationing, we cannot sustain ourselves for as long as a month. We cannot just wait to be found."
One of the heavy machine operators asked with a peculiar flatness of tone, "Are you telling us we're going to die here?"
"No. We're under the security blanket - that means we can still transmit and receive across the terrain," she pointed to the 'senior' engineer, only Cyan class, but due a promotion in Sumner's opinion, "Mrs. Ward and her assistant have worked wonders with our LADAR. We've picked up a facility just under two miles away at thirty degrees west of north. This ship has five pressure suits - only three of which are rated for outside work. Two have been jury rigged with extra heating and Fomeseal - they should serve, if they're used with care. I intend to lead a team to the facility and see if we can find a way to punch through the security blanket to contact L.T.C."
Fresh life rippled through the onlookers and there were a chorus of volunteers and questions. Sumner waited until they had most of it out of their systems before she raised a hand for quiet, "I will lead. I need an engineer and a technician, if Mrs. Ward and Mister Trane will oblige?"
Both Ward and Trane gave their assent.
Sumner said, "That only leaves the two jury rigged suits, which I will only risk upon people who have suit certifications of five or above."
Raised hands dropped. Most of the staff being transferred were low classification. There was something of a collective sigh of disappointment. One hand was still raised, however.
"I think I can still just about squeeze myself into a suit, if it's sized for a man," said Nick, "I'm rated seven - had to do a whole three month course on FastNews's ticket for a story they ended up shelving."
Captain Sumner gave him a long, hard look, "And what assistance will you bring to the expedition, Mister Mitcham?"
He rolled a shrug, "Communications. I've covered stories in places without feeds more than once, some of which had some very tricky state or corporate security blankets. I know how to make my voice heard, Captain. It's kept me alive more than once."
Sumner wanted to say no - but she realised that this was a purely emotional response. She didn't like the man. This wasn't the time to let personality clashes made decisions and after weighing up how she felt, versus what evidence she had, she decided he was as trustworthy - or untrustworthy - as everyone else on this ship. Given what Casey had done, she couldn't be sure of anyone. Not even Dawud.
"Very well, Mister Mitcham, if your rating checks out, you may join us. You are aware of the dangers of using a jury rigged suit."
It was not a question and Nick merely nodded.
Sumner said, "While I am out of the ship, pilot Dawud El Amin will be your point of contact for all matters concerning the ship and will have final say on what work is approved upon Qentiga. Executive Courtenay will of course remain in charge of all non-Qentiga matters for four el staff."
Executive Courtenay stood up, "I need to go with you."
Sumner raised an eyebrow and watched Courtenay rubbing her hands together. A curiously fraught gesture that Sumner did not care for.
Courtenay said, "You might need my classification to get you into the facility. There is something else I need to discuss with you, Captain. Privately."
Sumner nodded, "Very well, we will discuss it. Ward and Trane, if you go to the airlock you will find the pressure suits you will be using in the lockers. Please observe the safety checklists on the locker doors. Dawud, confirm that Mister Mitcham's qualifications are sufficient."
While Ward and Trane made their way out, Nick got up and moved over to Dawud's chair, offering up his datapad. Captain Sumner gestured for Executive Courtenay to follow her. When people tried to stop Sumner to ask her questions she just shook her head and pointed towards Dawud. She might not be sure of anyone after Casey, but the rest of them didn't need to know that and she hoped that any remaining saboteurs aboard Qentiga had just as much interest in staying alive as she did.
They went to Courtenay's executive suite and as soon as the door was closed behind them, Sumner asked, "What's the problem, Miz Courtenay?"
Courtenay exhaled, going to her locker and getting out a bottle of wine. She shook the bottle, remarking, "Thank god for plastisteel - would you like some?"
"No - and if you expect to get into a suit and go to the facility, you'll put that right back where you found it."
Courtenay shrugged, putting the bottle back in the locker.
"You're not rated at all for pressure suits, are you?"
Shaking her head, Courtenay brought a secure-looking metal case out of the locker and said, "How much do you know about Heppa, Captain?"
"Hnh. It's four el's investment protection for its staff and it carries benefits tailored to the specialisations of the staff - that's about all I know."
"Investment protection, yes."
Courtenay used her thumbscan to unlock the metal case. Inside, nestled in tight foam cubbies, was a selection of small red capsules. Two of the foam holes were empty. She held this out for Sumner to see.
"I have twelve days supply left. Twenty four if I use half rations, but that would be very uncomfortable - I would not be able to function well. Once I run out, I will go into withdrawal. The more investment that has been put into an employee's training, the more unbreakable the bond between them and their corporation - it's saved us hundreds of thousands in potential lost assets over the years. Probably millions, actually."
Sumner folded her arms, leaning against a wall, "Spell it out for me. How does this affect our situation?"
Courtenay ran a finger over the ruby vials in loving caress, "Once an employee accepts promotion to Blue classification, or above, severe withdrawal can become life threatening. Not all of them will be carrying a two week supply - this was supposed to be a five hour flight."
"So you're telling me I might lose more of my remaining passengers and the rest are going to turn into squirrelly junkies gagging for their fix in the next few days?"
Courtenay frowned, snapping her Heppa case closed, "This isn't a joke."
"I'm not remotely amused," Captain Sumner pushed herself away from the wall, ignoring the bolts of pain this drew from her ribs, "Can the medic do anything?"
Courtenay put the Heppa case back in the locker, slotting it into a mesh pocket, "She's only Green, she'll be alright once the worst of it is passed, but she's not cleared for cessation management, let alone full withdrawal."
Sumner paced the width of the suite, "Will there be Heppa in the facility?"
"I don't know. If it's unstaffed, maybe not ... either way you do need my clearance to get through security and I think we both agree that the faster we can procure a rescue, the better."
"What's your suit rating?"
Courtenay spread her hands.
Sumner exhaled, "You'll have to use my suit - I'll use the other jury-rigged one," she put words into action straight away, unhooking her helmet from her belt and breaking the seals on her suit, telling Courtenay, "Get that skirt and those ridiculous shoes off, you can wear the rest of your clothes under it. Hurry up."
After a moment's hesitation, Executive Courtenay twitched into action, hooking a finger behind her heel to pop off her power shoes.