Bad Luck Charlie
“Starboard heat shield seven is gone!” Charlie called out as calmly as he could over the din of their ship more or less tearing apart. He was going to carry out his duties like a professional if it was the last thing he’d do, and the way things were going, it was starting to look like it might be.
“Copy that.” Captain Reynard bellowed over the noise. “Gaspari, redirect the primary debris shield to cover as much of starboard seven as possible. Pull power from wherever you have to!”
Rika Gaspari, his second-in-command began frantically throwing switches, inverting the power flows, her hands a blur of activity as she carried out her orders. The ship’s rattling lessened, but did not cease.
“Still low on power, Captain. The atmosphere has some powerful radiologic properties that are wreaking havoc with our phase shielding. I don’t know if it’s going to be enough.”
“Then pull power from life support.”
“Sir? Won’t we need that?” Charlie asked as he struggled to keep the engines from redlining into critical and blowing them all to hell.
“Not if we don’t survive atmospheric entry. First things first. Right now, getting down in one piece is the most important one,” the captain replied.
Rika did as she was ordered. A moment later the crew felt the ever-present breeze of recirculating air that moved about them cease. It was something they were so familiar with that they didn’t even notice its presence until it was abruptly gone.
“Done, Captain,” Gaspari announced, her close-cropped hair sticking to her damp forehead. “Twenty seconds until we clear the exosphere.”
“Copy that. Jamal, are you suited up?” the captain asked over internal comms.
“Affirmative, Captain,” he replied. “Prepped and standing by with backup fire suppression.”
The chief of security and emergency services had geared up the moment things began to sway out of parameters, which was just before they were unceremoniously sucked through a massive wormhole and spat out Lord knew where. His foresight was a good thing. It was looking like things were about to get a whole lot worse.
The ship bucked and tossed, its hull glowing bright orange as the edges of the strange world’s atmosphere pummeled it with brutal intensity. It was a rough ride in command. Captain Reynard knew the rest of his crew were being subjected to a vicious beating in their compartments. He just hoped they had strapped in. They launched with twenty-four living crew aboard, and he planned to keep it that way.
The command module’s power flickered and dimmed.
“Losing primary power,” Gaspari said.
“I see it,” Charlie replied, already in motion, rushing from his seat to the door to the adjacent engineering compartment just off the bridge.
His team in main engineering down below would keep the reactors powered up. It was his job to keep that power flowing to the controls during flight.
Smoke greeted him as he manually opened the door with the backup access crank tucked into the wall panel.
“We got a fire?” Reynard asked, sniffing the air.
“Negative, Captain. Just some blown circuits and overloaded wires,” Charlie replied as he stuck his head in and surveyed the damage.
The room was small, just row upon row of circuit racks and relays. A harness chair sat in front of a work bench, never before used. Of course, for the maiden flight of the ship, why would it have been.
“The damage looks relatively minimal,” Charlie informed them. “Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll have it sorted.”
“We don’t have a couple of minutes.”
“I’m on it. Let me know when the main control power surges normalize and level out.”
Without another word, he slid through the narrow gap he’d opened in the door and set to work. The blown circuits were the easiest to repair, and luckily the most vital as well. The smoldering wires nearby––while important––were not crucial to staying aloft.
“Powering off navs and switching your panels to emergency reserve. Nobody touch anything until I say so. We’re already maxing the load,” he yelled out through the door.
Melted circuits went flying, his nimble fingers quickly replacing them with the backups stored in neatly-arranged cases mounted to the wall nearby. A mere thirty seconds after he began, he called out to the others once more.
“Okay, we’re good. It’s powered back up. Test the system.”
Captain Reynard feathered the controls. The ship responded as well as could be expected given the circumstances.
“Controls are functional. Gaspari, how are secondary navs and telemetry?”
“We’re limping, but it should be enough,” she replied.
“Okay, we’re good. Get out of there, Charlie.”
“Just a sec, Captain. I need to swap a few wires and reroute some of this charge so we don’t fry everything if there’s another power surge. It’ll just take me a minute.”
“Can it wait?”
“It can, but it shouldn’t.”
“All right, then. But be quick. We may have to make a much more abrupt landing than would be ideal.”
“Believe me, the last place I want to be is stuck in here,” he replied, setting to work.
He had just replaced the first of the failing wires when the ship bucked and slammed him into the wall, the emergency protocols sealing the re-powered door shut with him inside. He frantically clawed for the crank handle, but the turbulence was too much. Miraculously, he was thrown backwards––right into the harness chair. The back of the chair, that is.
Gotta get strapped in, he realized with a desperate grunt as his body switched from weightless to crushing Gs as the ship lurched and dove.
The pressure relented for a moment, allowing him to breathe. Charlie ignored the pain racking his body and dragged himself into the harness chair and strapped in snugly, and not a moment too soon, as the ship flipped upside down, then dove in a tight spiral.
Stuck in the memory foam chair, Charlie cried out, then fell silent as the pressure of the mounting G-force drove the blood from his head, rendering him unconscious.
He wouldn’t remember the crash. But he would never forget the aftermath, nor the folly that had led up to it.
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