Captain Sullivan returned to Questor feeling distinctly relieved. He, Henson and Simpson had finally arranged for everything they needed, but it had been very hard work. All he wanted to do now was go to his quarters and rest.
“Captain, the Commander asked you contact the command center as soon as you arrived back on board,” said the crewman on duty in the hangar.
Sullivan sighed. It couldn’t be that easy could it? “Sullivan to Barlow. We’re back on board. Is there a problem?”
“I’m afraid so, Captain. We’ve lost all contact with the shuttle.”
Immediately the tiredness lifted from Sullivan’s shoulders. “Call a meeting of the senior officers. We’re on our way.”
Barlow quickly explained Piper had been trying to contact the shuttle for thirty minutes after it ought to have landed but without luck.
“No response at all?” Sullivan asked.
“No, sir, not even that strange static when we lost contact last time. It’s as if the shuttle isn’t there.”
Captain Sullivan asked, “Is it possible there was a serious fault with their transmission system, and that’s the only problem?”
“No, Captain. Piper did a full check following the loss of the signal from the orbit of Rhiava. He reported a distinct trace of interference. Whatever it was that caused the transmission difficulty it wasn’t the instrumentation. Hardesty said he’d checked the shuttle’s systems too and it was definitely interference at their end.”
“But it could still just be a transmission problem, couldn’t it?” asked Henson. “There needn’t be anything wrong with them?”
“Maybe, but how do we know for sure? If it’s merely interference in the area of Rhiava we won’t get confirmation until the shuttle leaves. That could be some time. If they’ve made contact and talks are progressing well, it’s unlikely they’ll want to leave too quickly.” The captain rose moving to stand behind his chair, leaning his arms on the back. “On the other hand, how long do we wait? If they’re in trouble they’ll likely need help right away.”
“Well, shouldn’t we go immediately then?” Henson asked.
“We did acquire all the supplies we needed from Midea,” Simpson commented.
“Yes, but it’ll obviously take some time to receive what we’ve arranged. Of all people, Henson you know how much we need those supplies. We can’t possibly leave without them,” Captain Sullivan replied.
“Also, Captain, you managed to get some more Kerosphamide,” Hendricks interjected. “You’ve no idea how pleased I am about that. I told Mr. Barlow while you were on the surface that some of my repairs were becoming crucial. I have two major problems just now, sir. First, I’ve discovered the protective plating on the hull is beginning to de-polarize. Secondly, we’re facing an imminent failure in the life support system.”
“What are you suggesting, Sara?” asked the captain with a sigh.
“Well, I understand everyone is concerned for Jon and Manny, but we also need to be concerned for the ship. It’s impossible to travel safely at any decent speed in deep space without the protective plating. Once de-polarization begins it’s cumulative and swift. I need to reline the plating with the Kerosphamide immediately, before we leave here. Also I have to fabricate the part needed for the life support system.”
“Surely you carry all the spare parts required for the life support system, in fact two of everything as I understand it,” Barlow said.
“Yes, parts that would normally fail and need replacing. This happens to be something which ordinarily couldn’t fail except for our enforced trip through the storm. It has lasted until now, for which perhaps we should be grateful. With the material we gathered on that asteroid just after the accident, and one of the ores the captain obtained here, I can make the necessary alloy and fabricate the part.”
“And how long would the work take, Sara?”
“If I split my staff into two teams, one for each task, I would estimate a minimum of forty-eight hours.”
“Forty-eight hours! And it will take us, what? Thirty-six hours plus to reach Rhiava afterwards. They could be dead by then!” Henson exclaimed.
Coming soon from Amber Quill Press!