21. Coming Home


Tori couldn’t believe she was stranded AGAIN. It was like deja vu; for her and the rest of the Zapp family, it brought back the feelings of helplessness and isolation of their experiences in the escape pods. At least this time, they had the crew of the crippled ship, The Three Zees, to keep them company and they could all wait in the dim light together and hope for rescue. They were into their third day since the explosion now and talk amongst the crew about possible damage to the ship and of their hopes and dreams for the future had given way to more practical matters. Like how to stay warm and conserve their rapidly dwindling air supply, and what the probable chances of rescue actually were. After the early realization that three crew members had been outside the ship during the accident, there was no further discussion of them, but the thought was there in the back of everyone’s mind. Along with that spark of hope that SOMEBODY was coming to take them home

John Miles watched the IGV Alice Marie until the pink glow of its ion engines faded into the distance and turned back once more to the awe-inspiring view of the nearby star he had from the rear of the bridge on his giant salvage vessel. He took a moment to appreciate the sheer power and majesty of the swirls and eruptions on the boiling surface below, before a slight vibration beneath his feet nudged him back to reality. He felt a second faint shudder through the deck plates, as a freighter unloaded material and supplies destined for the Three Zees and he checked his nav/comm console and saw that the damaged ship should now be on the horizon. John released the tug drones; they headed for the target vessel and would gain control and return with it to the main salvage ship. He had no stores on board and very little space, but he had to get the rescued crew into some breathable air and he was conscious of the fact that this wasn’t just another job. He had salvaged many ships, but not those with surviving crew members, still on board and certainly not ones staffed by people he knew, so John was much relieved when the tug console started displaying active status.

John sighed with relief as he entered the coordinates of his location and commanded the tugs to come home. Within a hour The Three Zees was strapped into the carriage and the survivors were transferred to the now loaded freighter.

Tori was the first to hear a scraping on the Three Zees hull and she motioned for the others to be quiet a few seconds before a loud metallic CLANG alerted them to the arrival of the automated tugs. A weary cheer went up from the assembled passengers and crew, now that they knew they were finally going home.


19. Save Thyself


Pentaethymethalyne-metalliod, commonly called “liquid hell” because of it’s extremely hot and explosive reaction with oxygen, non-reactive with nearly all chemicals and compounds, the stuff hates oxygen. One single molecule of oxygen will spell disaster every time. Therefore, after a short life as a weapon of mass destruction Pentaethymethalyne-metalliod was banned from Earth. It was quickly accepted as a rocket fuel, but it took several deadly explosions to finally isolate it from oxygen. The only safe exposure was in the combustion chamber. Very little oxygen was needed which was ideal in deep space and speeds of near-hyper could be reached. Also special fuel tanks were created to direct any explosions away from the ship structure. Legal tanks had a “rip seam” and extra plating on the vessel-side of the tank. Luckily the The Three Zees had such tanks and only one blew up, leaving them with a engine and fuel.

There was a ruptured oxygen line spraying liquid into space. That, in itself, could cause problems but there was a fuel leak caused by a out-of-spec line which froze and burst. This set off alarms and the techs left the equipment room to don suits to go out and fix the leak. That saved their lives. The force of the explosion drove the tanks’ shock-absorbing struts through the hull and ripping the equipment room in half. The life support systems saved the ship from total loss of atmosphere by slamming bulkheads closed and isolating the suited techs. They quickly rednecked a connection to an air line but were helpless to help the crew.

Tori and Cindi were slammed hard into a wall, knocking Cindi out leaving Tori with a broken arm. The gravity gyro was destroyed as well as the primary power cell, so they were floating in almost absolute darkness. Life support equipment was straining due to a hull breach not contained by the bulkheads. As trained all crew members gathered at the med center for a head count and an assessment of injuries. Quickly, they realized they were short three techs and they all were injured to some degree. They put slap patches on the leak but the oxygen was depleted and they had to shut down the main system and don suits to attempt to get the engine started.

You can’t feel yourself tumbling without gravity, mused Tori as she fumbled with the stabilizer system in an attempt to stop the tumbling ship. After several attempts she managed to bring the ship to a stop. Zoey and Lori had experience with star maps and concluded they were maybe 10,000 nautical miles from the Alice Marie. They had no power and no way to get their engine online, but they weren’t moving. The three techs on the outside came to the same conclusion and were trying to swap the live harness with the operable engine’s harness. The task was nearly impossible since they were in shadow and had the wrong tool kit. Once this was accomplished they squeezed themselves against the ship and waited to see if those inside would get the ship moving. When the engine control panel lit up on the bridge everybody was surprised but relieved. Zoey started the ignition process and all crew members went to the med center since it had the only operable life support and gravity. Their ship was heavily damaged and a fuel system problem kept them at ¼ speed but the The Three Zees were headed back to its mothership.