Chapter Seven – Paradise Regained
He watched the screen intently, not even noticing as Rosie looked over his shoulder. They were going to make it. They had to make it…
"Radu and Bova are inside the Christa," Thelma announced.
Seth Goddard visibly relaxed, though they weren't out of the woods yet, so to speak. "Thelma, what happened to Bova?"
"Well, first he was born…"
Seth waved a hand. There just wasn't time for this. There wasn't any time for anything! "No, tell me what happened to him in the last five minutes!"
Thelma nodded, smiling… Concentrating on fastforwarding her story to the appropriate time frame. "Radu and Bova were standing around the Christa's support beam, when Bova was punctured through the shoulder by an En'hegian Drone claw. Radu and –"
"They're on the ship, though…" Seth interrupted. He had to be sure.
"Yes, they are in the airlock. Hm." Her eyes rolled back. "It seems like Bova has been injected with an anticoagulant."
Rosie, who'd been silent for a while, finally spoke up. "…He'll bleed to death! Commander, we have to get down there."
Seth shook his head slowly. There was no question that the crew came before the ship, but if they couldn't get off the planet, there wouldn't be a crew at all. Or for that matter, a ship. "Thelma. If you need to, can you reinforce the Christa's hull from the inside?"
Thelma nodded, jerkily. "…I can pinpoint the most likely areas the En'hegians will attempt to bore through, and direct the Christa to build up her walls there."
"Okay. Thelma, you come with me. Rosie, head to the airlock. Take care of Bova." He paused… there was something he was forgetting. Something he'd overlooked…
"Let's move, people!"
Seconds later, Commander Goddard and Thelma were heading down the corridor to the places she'd specified. Rosie programmed the jumptube to take her to Radu and Bova. The Command Post fell eerily quiet, and Christa, sensing no one working, dimmed the lights. Harlan didn't notice… All he could do was lay his head back against the Helm. "…I'll just… sit here and wait."
There was blood all over the floor, and though Radu pressed his hand into the wound as best he could, there was little he could do to stop the bleeding. The green light from the floor shined up through it, illuminating the airlock in a faint, almost sickly yellow glow.
"Don't bother," Bova said. His voice was distant, and calm.
The injury shouldn't have bled that much, and it certainly should have slowed down by now. Radu narrowed his eyes, determined. But he still had no idea what to do; he wasn't a medical expert. Hell. He was barely interested in medicine at all. He did know that he had to keep Bova conscious… For some reason, that struck the Andromedan as being important. So he prompted the slightly older cadet into speaking a little more. "…Don't bother? Why?"
"We knew something like this was gonna happen. Admit it, Radu. Did you really think all seven… eight of us could make it home alive? That's a real long shot, you know. Just let me die. You know. Give me that much dignity."
"There's no… there's no dignity in death." Radu's voice wavered. There was a lot of blood on the floor. "Uh… Tell me what you'd do… When you got home."
Bova smiled vacantly. "I'm still hungry. I've been hungry since we landed. I could probably clean out the biosphere right about now…"
Radu looked upward, having heard the faint sound that signaled someone using the jumptubes. He waited for the sound to carry away, half expecting whomever was in it to be heading to another part of the ship. There was no way anyone could have known they were down here… Unless Commander Goddard had been monitoring the outside…! Damn. That was an entirely different situation. They were supposed to have retreated back into the Christa immediately after setting up the fence. Surely they were going to catch hell for that later. If there was a later. When he looked back down, Bova's eyes were closed.
The Andromedan couldn't help allowing negativity to slip into his thoughts. The situation was bad. He didn't remember it ever being worse than this…
The sound came closer. Suddenly, Radu heard the jumptube's airbrake, very close, and then Rosie arrived, a medkit cradled in her arms. She landed on her feet, though nearly stumbled in her attempt to reach Bova before regaining her balance.
"I didn't think anyone knew we were here…" Radu said. He propped Bova up so that the Mercurian medic could get a better look at the wound.
"Take off his jacket," she said, as she dug through the medkit. Radu did so, laying the blood-soaked thing aside in a heap.
"It's slowed a little, but not enough," he continued, as he attempted to get the blood off his glove by wiping his hand on his own jacket. It was pointless. Meanwhile, Rosie turned some sort of bottle upside-down, drawing a strange dark blue liquid into a syringe. Radu watched as she injected it near the puncture site.
"It's a styptic," she explained, as she set that syringe aside and assembled another. "Made from a kind of herb that's grown on several planets in the Sol system. Apparently the Lumanian system, too, because this was already made up."
Again, she injected Bova with the substance, this time, through the back of his shoulder.
"He should probably have a blood transfusion, but there's no other Uranusians on the Christa, let alone one of his type. He's gonna have to go into the healing—"
Without warning, the ship suddenly lurched.
Radu's eyebrows knitted. "What was that?"
"What was that?" Commander Goddard asked, looking up at Thelma. She was entering some codes into the terminal in front of them, while adjusting some crystals. She was far too calm.
"The En'hegians appear to be chewing through the Christa's support."
"…I thought they were going to climb it!"
Thelma pondered this, then asked, "Would you like me to open the airlock? Perhaps you can ask them."
Seth wondered if the android had chosen now to develop a particularly bad sense of humor. "Can you direct the Christa to reinforce that?"
Thelma shook her head. "I am sorry, Commander. While the Christa's hull is partially organic, her supports are compost entirely of various metals." I can send weak electrical shocks through the cores of the beams, but my guess is that it will hardly phase the En'hegian attackers."
Seth could allow himself to show his frustration in front of the android. Rattling off a few choice expletives, he pounded a fist on the wall. Thelma's eyes widened… Never had she seen the Commander so worked up. Had she been able to feel, surely she would have been worried!
Maybe she was worried. Her processes were crossing wires in the most inopportune places.
"What's the damage report on the support?" Commander Goddard asked.
"About forty-point-one-eight percent."
"Do what you can, Thelma. And open up a channel to the engine room. I need to speak to Suzee."
Catalina rattled off processes that Miss Davenport had never heard of before. Frantically entering the commands and hoping she wasn't making any mistakes, T.J. could feel Suzee's headache working its way into her own mind. The link didn't allow her to see the Yensidian's thoughts, but they shared a sort of telepathic connection. She could sense that Suzee was transferring some of her pain… But if it kept them both conscious and able, so be it.
When the voice came over the intercom, Miss Davenport jumped about ten feet.
"Suzee? How's the engine?"
It was commander Goddard. Attempting to keep her eyes fixed, the Yensidian answered, "Ask Miss Davenport."
On the other end, there was a definitive pause. "Miss Davenport?"
"…Catalina's talking me through connections and diagnostics. I can't talk now!"
Vaguely, Seth remembered thinking something along the lines of what the hell, But due to the growing absurdity of their situation, he was surprisingly comfortable with the idea that T.J. was communicating with Catalina. How? He didn't care. As long as it was getting things done.
"Look, how long do you think before we can be in the air?" Commander Goddard asked.
The ship lurched again… This time, T.J. swore that they were standing on more of an angle. "I don't know," she answered. Her hands were trembling. There was sweat dotting both her forehead and the terminal.
"…We need an out. They're out there chewing… chewing… through the Christa's support beams. If we…"
Seth ignored her. "…If they get through it, the Christa's going to collapse. That's where we stand right now."
No one had to say that if the Christa fell, she'd be damaged beyond repair. Actually, it might actually be reparable, except for the fact that there were murderous aliens outside…
"I'm working on it," T.J. stated.
"There!" Cat exclaimed. That's it!
"Cat says we're ready to go," T.J. relayed.
Seth breathed a sigh of relief. "Alright. Now all we have to do is get one of the students up to the Helm…"
Unfortunately, the broadcast was cut off by the sound of metal grinding on metal as the remainder of the support twisted and shifted, unable to withstand the weight of the ship. Christa slid over a few degrees, dropping a few feet on one side. The motion tripped T.J. up at her terminal, and she stumbled. The eye contact with Suzee was broken, and as the Yensidian spirit withdrew, T.J. also felt a good portion of that confident strength slipping away. Not that it really mattered anyway. She had about two seconds to cry out before she struck her head against one of the ion collectors and mercifully passed out.
To Suzee, it looked like a remarkably good idea. In some far corner of her mind, she knew how bad the situation was. But on the surface, she was totally oblivious… And thought that no one would probably mind if she just took a nap…
The Christa shifted more, and Harlan had to hold on tightly to the Helm to keep from falling. His knee still hurt, but Rosie was a wonderful healer. At least he could put some weight on it… enough to propel him forward. He nudged the step up to the controls with his toe, and slid his boot up until it rested on top of the short pedestal. That way, he could gauge the height so he could lift and place his other foot.
He'd been able to hear the conversation Miss Davenport had with Commander Goddard. It had carried up the jumptubes, and while the Earther had to listen very closely, he could just make out the fact that Catalina was pretty sure the ship was ready to go. Harlan, too, was a little confused about how Miss Davenport was talking to the now-invisible Saturnian, though it wasn't really the time to question anything. If the ship was ready to go, it was ready to go.
Admittedly, he was frustrated that he wasn't able to see the controls, but if he concentrated, they were quite clear to him. His sense of touch was also heightened, and as his hands passed over the individual crystals and levers, he recognized specific irregularities upon each one that he'd never really bothered to notice before. Irregularities that were actually quite important now.
The crystal on the right… he remembered its color. Red. He pushed that, and he could feel as the engines powered up. The sound was a very welcome one… Whatever Miss Davenport had done, she'd done it correctly.
The lever next to it. That would engage the primary thrusters… He looked back to Suzee's podium… where she should be to tell him when he could launch. No… He didn't need her right now. He could count the seconds himself.
The support jerked again. Had Harlan not been holding on to the Helm, he would have gone flying.
Finally, it snapped. Unbalanced, the ship began to topple. Somewhere on the ship, someone screamed.
Seven. Six. Five…
The horrible groaning sound was next, as the now-upset Christa continued on her course groundward.
Four. Three. Two.
The wing touched the ground. They could all feel it… It would snap off. It would leave them stranded.
Harlan punched the thrusters up to full power, feeling the incredible satisfaction of the Christa traveling first along the landing strip, and then into the air.
They were all gathered in the MedLab, except for Thelma, who'd been left to pilot the ship. Considering the injuries, it seemed like an appropriate place for an impromptu meeting. Several hours had passed. Rosie had been able to check out both Harlan and Bova; the latter of the two was resting, awake and alert, in the open healing chamber. Apparently, Rosie observed, he'd be fine. As Uranusians were naturally lethargic, Bova would just need to sleep a bit more.
And Eat. Bova was very happy to hear that he was finally permitted to eat.
"I'm very proud of all of you," Seth began. He smiled. How to deliver this speech without sounding cheesy? It wasn't exactly easy. "But then again, you probably knew that. What you did on that planet… That was definitely STARDOG material. You've come a long way."
"Cat wants to know if she passed, too," Suzee said. She was sitting on the floor, back-to-back with Miss Davenport, as both of them nursed the shared effects of a terrible headache. With a little difficulty, she even managed a smile.
Seth chuckled. "All of you did."
Radu pushed off the wall upon which he'd been leaning. "There's a couple things I don't understand. I think I get why Suzee and I were connected to… to them. And I guess Thelma as well… But why Bova? I… didn't think he had any psychic abilities. Er… no offense, Bova."
"…My antennae acted as a receptor. I was a walking radio tower." Bova's eyes opened a little. "Kinda like Thelma. I suppose. They were communicating using psychic waves that are derived from radio waves. Anyone notice that the small star at night is a pulsar?"
"A pulsar?" Miss Davenport removed the cold compress from her eyes long enough to turn and look at Bova. Instantly regretting it, she turned back around.
"It amplified the psychic effects," Rosie guessed.
"Negatively for us," Suzee added. "We weren't used to it."
Rosie moved a small light in front of Harlan's eyes, smiling a smile that he couldn't see.
"At least it worked out," Harlan said. "For all of us. I think I can still even pilot the Christa, if you'll let me. I'll need you all…"
After thoroughly cleaning out the wounds on Harlan's head and arms, Rosie worked on bandaging them. "Harlan, I'm pretty sure you have a concussion. It's affecting your visual cortex… This part back here. The Occipital lobe." She gently trailed a gloved hand through Harlan's hair, and he winced as Rosie contacted his skin. She continued. "Your retinas are still responding, very well, actually. Your eyesight has just shut down to let your brain heal."
There was a joke waiting to happen there. Suzee refrained from saying anything.
"So… I'm gonna be alright?" Harlan asked, trying to keep the hope out of his voice.
Rosie nodded, then remembered to add, "Yes. You told me you had a migraine. Probably post-trauma stress. That's why you can't see now. Watch."
She turned on the overhead lamp, and shined it directly into Harlan's eyes. Then she moved her hand across it.
Harlan's face lit up. "…I can see it! It was a shadow!"
"I'm not sure how long it's gonna take. May take a while for you to get back to one-hundred percent," Rosie warned gently, reaching out to Harlan's hand and pressing an object into it.
"Sunglasses. You're going to be really photosensitive when your vision returns. I'd suggest wearing them for a while."
Suzee managed to look up from her position on the floor in order to add, "Besides. Your eyes look really creepy right now."
Harlan chuckled. "They're all telling me your eyes are still glowing, Suzee. Maybe you should wear sunglasses to keep the light in."
"…Stop laughing at me," she said, attempting and failing to keep the laughter out of her own comment.