Lazzaro left the med bay, stopping at a com panel on his way out.
“Bridge; Lazzaro, what the hell was that noise?”
“Not sure sir, we’re showing a hull breech in the cargo hold, but that can’t be right, the olefin team are down there monitoring the methane transfer.”
“I’ll head down that way and take a look,” said Lazzaro, “and see if you can raise ZT, he’s probably puffing on one of those bloody Jamaican Gold things of his, try somewhere in the garden. Lazzaro out.”
Eric Lazzaro was one of the few people who got to call the captain by his given name – the hated “Zachary” – but only when nobody else was listening. Although Toes had relented slightly when Lazzaro shortened it to ZT, (“Zee-tee”) he thought it sounded more military, Eric suspected, like the old soldiers in the captain’s vintage movies who used to call their lieutenants “Lt”.
At that moment, “ZT” was in fact napping peacefully in his cabin, having already enjoyed a very pleasant stroll and relaxing smoke in the gardens after watching the small olefins team start offloading the methane from the tanks in the hold.
Captain Toes liked these ground deliveries, they were safer, cheaper and less complicated than orbital transfers. What with the extra shuttle fuel, twice as many crew members on duty and the sheer logistics involved, moving all that methane while still maintaining a steady orbit was a royal pain in the ass.
This way, they could be finished earlier, all non-essential crew could get some R+R at the spaceport and everyone would re-embark the Alice Marie in good spirits, ready for whatever the next destination had in store for them.
Lazzaro reached the cargo hold just in time to see a young girl in overalls heave a large chunk of metal out of an access hatch, onto the concrete landing dock below.
“I assume that piece wasn’t important,” said Lazarro, “otherwise I’m guessing you would have kept it?”
The girl spun round, a guilty expression on her face.
“Well, umm, I was working in engineering and I heard a noise. I got down here and found this cargo hatch hinge pin lying on the deck. I thought it would interfere with the roboloaders’ mag-tracks, so it seemed a good idea to get rid of it. As there was nobody else around, I thought the best thing would be move it first and ask questions later,” she paused, looking hopefully up at Eric, “if you know what I mean?”
Eric looked around the cargo hold, almost empty since the methane transfer had finished and the dock monkeys hadn’t begun resupplying the ship. He realised she was right though, the magnetic guide strips that the automated loading trucks ran on would easily be shorted out by an errant lump of carbide steel lying unattended on the deck plates.
“Good thinking, but why do you think it was there in the first place?”
She frowned, “That’s what I wondered too sir, so I was about to go and check out the forward hatch cover,” the girl gestured to the darkened front section of the cavernous hold, “then you arrived.”
“Ok,” said Lazarro, “you wait just a minute, I’m going to get the captain down here. You know how protective he is of this old junker, he’ll want to check out any damage himself.” he reached for the nearby com panel, “Captain Toes, please come to the cargo hold. That’s Captain Toes to the hold.” Eric turned back to the young engineer, still looking unsure as to what she should be doing, “So, what’s your name, I don’t think I’ve seen you on board before?”
“It’s Diaz sir, trainee engineer Frankie Diaz, I came aboard at the last Andromeda stopover,” she grinned, “I’ve been stuck down with the ion drives for most of the voyage. I did my basic training at the main GE construction plant and I think I may have found a way to increase their efficiency.”
“Really?” Lazzaro raised his eyebrows and looked at her with interest, “you sound like a useful girl to have around. You’ve been doing all this in your own time?”
“Yes sir,” The cheerful grin returned, “I don’t get out much.”
Lazzaro laughed, “Ha! Tell me about it.”
“Glad you found something amusing to drag me away from my afternoon nap for Eric,” said Toes, as he stepped through the bulkhead door into the hold, “if I’d known there was a floor show, I’d have got here sooner”
“Hey Zeet, sorry to disturb your much needed beauty sleep,” said Lazzaro with mock-seriousness, “but this young lady was just telling me she may be able to get this crate up to speed for a change,” he winked at Diaz, “she also saved us from a wrecked roboloader.”
“Is that right? Well, crewman…?” (Toes didn’t hold much with feminism and treated everyone exactly the same, no matter what sex, age, species or colour, he figured it saved time)
“Diaz, sir.” said Frankie.
“Well crewman Diaz, how about, first of all you tell me what that damn great crash was earlier, then maybe later we can have a chat about your idea?”
They soon discovered the hatch door that had failed, a problem with corrosion on one of the hinge pins, easily fixed by a maintenance team that Lazzaro called.
Toes returned to his cabin after (unnecessarily) supervising the installation of the replacement hinge, Lazzaro dismissed trainee Diaz, left the hold and found himself heading back to med bay.
“Just to check she’s ok,” he told himself, “it is the duty of the first officer to ensure the well-being of his crew.”
Still, he caught himself whistling as he walked along the corridor, and he never whistled.
It might be worth checking out the nightlife on NASA 6 after all, he thought, we may not get a chance to relax again for a while…