Alone In The Night

Chapter 5

When he reached engineering, the scene was quite different from when he had last been there an hour ago. Almost a third of the consoles were active and had people crowded around them. The main reactor was operational, though on minimal levels, and repair crews were running around like circus clowns with bundles of cables and tools. As he walked down the short corridor toward the reactor, a workstation that had been functioning suddenly exploded with a flare of sparks and a spray of poliglass. Nearby, a maintenance worker stormed over with a tool kit, obscenities and oaths streaming from his mouth. When he reached the station and saw the Captain, his face went sheet white with embarrassment.

"I apologize, Captain. I meant no disrespect. It's just that I've fixed that particular station three times already."

"It's alright, seaman. This has been a particularly stressful day. Just keep it civil in the future."

He continued on to where Lt. Bledthag was huddled in front the reactor assembly trying to repair the auxiliary power coupling. Drake stood patiently behind the engineer while he was concentrating on the task at hand. As he waited, he took a look around and noticed something that had escaped his view. One of the particle synthesizers was active. Drake noticed a portable power supply attached to the device, the same power unit that he had been told would be connected to the main communications relay. Curious as to why the engineer had so greatly altered his plan, Drake quietly picked up one of the engineer's carefully placed tools. Only when Bledthag reached for the tool did he look away from the reactor and notice the Captain standing beside him. Bledthag leapt to attention and snapped a salute.

"Captain, how long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough." He started to ask why the arrangement had been altered but decided on a more tactful course of action. "I'm curious, how did you get all these consoles active?"

"Well Captain, it occurred to me that the power surge had fried out all of the main power relays and conduits. So I hooked up the power source to one of the synthesizers and we have been synthesizing the materials we need to repair or replace the damaged components. Since then we have been bringing systems online left and right. I just sent a runner to the bridge with my plan modifications; you probably crossed en route. We should have communications restored within 20 minutes."

"Good work. When we get home, I'm going to put a commendation in your file."

"Thank you, Captain."

After snapping a quick salute, the engineer returned to his task with renewed vigor. As repair teams hustled back and forth throughout the ship, Drake wandered the corridors seemingly unaware of their existence. As his mind went over the facts at hand, he became more and more assured that something about this situation was horribly wrong. After passing once through the entire deck, he climbed through the service tunnels to the next deck. He took his time going to the bridge while he weighed his options carefully. As his mind wondered down various alleys of thought, he pretended to be making a visual inspection of every repair in progress that he passed. Only when he reached the door to the bridge, almost colliding headfirst into it, did he remember that most secondary systems still had not been brought online. He opened the panel on the wall near the lower right corner of the door, and removed the manual-opening wedge. Shaped like a wedge with a handle, he forced it between the two panels of the door and pried it open.

When he stepped onto the bridge, he was surprised by how much progress had been made. Fully half the panels and consoles were lit, active, and manned. Teams were rustling back and forth with fistfuls and armloads of wires and cables. In front of most of the dark consoles, floor plates had been pulled back and someone was busy installing or ripping out power cables. Kelson was sitting comfortably in the duty officer's chair, vacating it the instant he saw Raynor.

"Captain on the bridge!"

Instantly everyone dropped what they were doing and sprang to attention.

"As you were. Mr. Kelson, status report."

"Sensors, thrusters, navigational deflectors, internal communication, and ion laser arrays one and three are fully operational. External communications will be online within minutes. All other systems are either badly damaged, or are totally irreparable." Raynor then sat in his chair and activated a com channel to engineering. "Bridge to engineering. What is the estimated time to repair the com system?"

"Engineering, Bledthag reporting. Repairs should be complete any minute, Captain. Main power is coming online now, although I was unable to do anything about the main engines. We will be limited to maneuvering thrusters until we can get to a starport."

"Very good work. Extend my congratulations to all your repair teams for a job well done."

"Aye aye, Captain. Thank you, sir"

Raynor switched off the com channel to engineering and activated the all-call. "Attention all hands! This is the Captain. You have all made marvelous progress on the repairs, surpassing even my expectations. I shall place letters of commendation in each and every one of your personnel files. You have made me proud." Drake paused as a round of applause shook through the entire ship.

"But, despite all we have accomplished, we are not out of the woods yet. We are still deep in enemy territory, and we are still uncertain of the approaching ship's intentions. All crew will remain at battle stations until I give the order to do otherwise. Hold this ship together for the next six hours, and I will expect no more from you except to get us home. That is all."

He deactivated the all-call, then began to proceed with his orders. "Mr. Kelson, activate laser batteries one and three, and bring them up to full charge."

"Aye aye, Captain. Lasers online and charging."

"Mr. Jones, bring the maneuvering thrusters online and assume a heading directly facing the approaching vessel."

"Aye aye, Captain. Thrusters firing. Coming about."

"Mr. Kelson, has the com system been brought online yet?"

"Not yet, sir- Stand by… Affirmative, Captain. Com system has just come online."

"Good, open a channel to the Emperor's Wrath on the standard hailing frequency."

"Channel open, Captain"

"Emperor's Wrath, this is Captain Drake Raynor of the Terran Imperial Warship Ares, we require a measure of assistance."

After a mind numbing, though short wait, the voice of Admiral Jerec DuGalle came through over the ship's speakers. "Ares, this the Terran Imperial Flagship Emperor's Wrath. Fleet Admiral Jerec DuGalle speaking. How may we be of help, Captain?"

"Well sir, we ran across a small force of Voltath vessels while investigating this strange radiation cloud. We destroyed two of the six enemy vessels, but were severely damaged in the process. If you could lend us some work crews and some supplies, we would be most appreciative."

"Certainly, captain. We will be in your area in just a few minutes, so if you'll sit tight, we shall render whatever assistance we can."

"Very well. Thank you, sir."

"DuGalle out."

As the transmission cut out, Raynor turned to his new first officer. "What is your read on that exchange, Mr. Kelson?"

"Well Captain, I'm not sure what to think. He seemed to change moods so many times it would have confused a telepath."

"When the ship arrives, give them docking instructions and request that the Admiral come aboard. I'll be in engineering in the mean time."

"Aye aye, Captain."

Drake got up from his command chair, and headed toward the access tunnel. "You have the bridge, Mr. Kelson." Drake spent every second of his journey from the bridge to engineering dreading the coming conversation with his former captain.