In our last episode, the crew of the Galactic Space Destroyer, Pickett, began to set up in the shadow of their ruined ship on the mysterious, Planet X. The crew watched as the two coffins from the fatalities at the landing were escorted away by odd-looking sea creatures.
Captain Jake Evans stood at the beach looking out over the ocean. The sun was setting. Gunny Johansen was handing out watch assignment for the night. Evans was not on any watch, but was to be first notified if anything “unusual” were to happen. The sound of poles being driven into the land, affixed with lights drowned out the sound of the waves striking the beach.
Evans felt a hand on his shoulder. Startled, he turned. It was Chief Engineering Irene “Smitty” Smithson.
“Hi,” he said feeling a little stupid for jumping.
“Jake, it has been a long day for us all. I have nothing to do until morning. Burroughs is monitoring everything. He’ll let me know if a problem comes up.”
“Fine Irene, take the night off. We will need you rested in the am. I imagine there will a lot to accomplish.”
“I had Burroughs set up my tent near the water, Jake. He placed two sleeping pads inside”
“Irene, we’ve been through all this,” Evans said exasperated. “We agreed no to tell anyone about us until we’re reassigned.”
“Jake, we’ve been locked in that little tube for seven and a half months. We have been crawling over thirty-nine people. We have no secrets.”
“It’s thirty-seven now, Irene.”
“Jake, you say that like you’re responsible. You know as well as I do if people obeyed your orders all thirty-nine of us would still be here.”
“I am responsible, Irene. These people expect me to make decisions that will keep them alive. I’ve ruined my ship and killed two people.”
“Jake, when you get tired you get whiny and self-pitying. I know your crew knows it. They came to me and asked me to make sure you got some sleep. They need you to function tomorrow.”
Jake turned and looked towards the ship. All eyes were on him and Smithson. A couple of crewmembers had sheepish smiles, the rest turned away in embarrassment.
Jake felt he face turn red. A vein stood put in his neck.
“Jake!” Irene said sharply. “You need rest. You know it, they know it.”
“That doesn’t mean you plot behind my back. Next thing you know, you all will be planning a mutiny.”
Irene laughed, “Did I say paranoid. You seriously get paranoid when you’re tired too.”
Jake felt her eyes bore in on him. “This crew deserves the best captain in the fleet. A captain who makes poor decisions because he’s too pig-headed to rest should be locked in the brig. You’ve been up, what, thirty-six hours straight? Do I need Dr. Norton to give you something?”
“Fine!” Evans spat. “Where is this tent?”
Irene held out her hand and led Evans to the tent. The crew erupted in cheering.
Evans awoke while it was still dark. He reached over and found Irene’s pad was empty. There was enough light from the ship that he could make out the release strip in the door. The fabric fell open, Evans climbed out as the fabric resealed itself. He walked to the ship.
Johanssen was the first to meet him.
“Good morning, Captain. How are you doing?”
“Been better, Gunny. And I’ve been worse.”
“Ah, that is well said, Captain. But as you see, the new day is about to begin. Let us hope that it will bring us a little closer to home.” Gunny pointed west.
The darkness was getter lighter towards the west.
“I feel all backwards when the sun comes up that way,” Evans remarked.
“Aye sir, but with everything else this planet is, that just makes sense.”
Evans chuckled and headed to the ship. He found his XO Putchin huddled in conversation with his Science Officer Leonard.
“Gentlemen,” Evans spoke. “I trust the two of you grabbed some shut-eye.”
“Yes, sir,” Putchin replied. “I’ve had about six hours, Leonard about eight. I needed him rested for today, sir. We need to make a lot of observations about this place.”
“Is that what you’re planning?” Evans asked.
“No sir,” Leonard chimed in. “We planning on getting the rest of the array out. It seems if we fully extended this arm, the ship may roll slightly allowing us to extend the other, sir. That will allow us full power to most systems.”
“Most, Commander Leonard?”
“Well sir, it may not fully charge our armaments.”
“So, the two of you want to restart the reactor, I presume?”
“Yes sir, that is our goal,” Putchin replied.
“What does Smitty think?”
“She stated that once we had full solar power it would take about four hours to run a diagnostic on the system. Then a full start up would take twenty to twenty-four hours.”
“Our first priority, gentlemen, is making sure we have an operating communication system. That is going to be our lifeline with the fleet. We will worry about armaments later.”
“Yes, sir,” Putchin and Leonard responded in unison.
The conversation lasted long enough to allow the first tendrils of light to break across the sky. He heard the voice of Smitty barking out orders. He went to investigate.
She had a crew shoveling sand under the hull of the ship. They looked like they were at it for some time. There was a large accumulation of sand against the hull.
“What’s going on here, Smitty?” Evans asked.
Irene approached Evans. “When we extend this array further, sir, we expect the weight of the array to turn the ship. We are trying to minimize this some the array doesn’t smash against the ground. We’ll dig out some of the sand and level it once both arrays are extended.”
“Sounds like a great plan. I hear you’re thinking of restarting the reactor.”
Irene laughed. “You must have run across Putchin and Leonard. They are bugging me about getting it going. It has been a few days since we had it on. As you know it’s SOP to do a complete shutdown before anticipated battle – which is always a little backwards to me. If you take a hit there, you’re toast whether it’s on or off.”
“I let them know that communication channels are our first priority. We need to patch into the fleet.”
“Sounds like wisdom to me, sir.”
The sun began to touch the solar panels.
“If you can excuse me, Captain, it’s almost show time.”
Irene walked to the array. She barked a few commands into her communicator, which Evans assumed was linked to Burroughs. After several minutes of back and forth, Irene ordered everyone clear of the ship.
Evans watched as she made sure all was clear. He heard her bark a clear “Go!” into her communicator. The deployment motor kicked in.
The array, which was so hard to extend the night before, came out effortlessly. Each section connected well with each other. The weight of the panels and lightness of the frame caused a bend, which never would have happened in a zero gravity environment.
Irene climbed to the top of the ship. She had her crew remove some of the sand. The ship began to turn, with the weight of the array. She also yelled to clear away the opposite side of the ship. She yelled and “All clear” to Burroughs and climbed into an open airlock.
A muffled blast indicated another panel blown off the ship’s hull. Irene inspected the new opening. She once again told Burroughs “Go!” and the opposite array played out.
She yelled to Evans, “Give it about four hours, sir and the batteries will be charged. I will send full power to the comm room now.”
“Thanks, Smitty,” Evans replied.
Evans climbed aboard the ship and headed to the bridge.
All the systems were lit up. All the alarm bells warning of hull breaches and atmospheric anomalies were silenced. The red lights still blinked as a reminder of the situation.
JR sat at the comm station. The bridge crew rotated through the night. A higher level of power meant a further range. There was now a radio lock with both orbiting buoys.
JR was checking all the different bands. He switched to one channel.
“…of the GSF Beauregard. Repeat, this is ensign Atwater of the GSF Beauregard. Do you read Pickett? Repeat, do you read?”
JR looked shocked and punched the send button. “Harv, is that you? This is JR.”
“JR. Damn! You’re alive! Where are you?”
“We’re at Planet X, liked we planned. Where are you?”
“Close enough JR. We’ll be there soon!”