Castaway Resolution – Chapter 03

Chapter 3.

“Welcome aboard, Lieutenant Fisher, Dr. Pearce,” Captain Toriyama said. Sue was slightly surprised to see that while many of his features were as Japanese as his name, his skin was the color of coffee without much cream at all; he was also tall and not bad looking at all, and would probably be even better looking without the circles under his eyes and the worry lines engraved on his face. Next to him was a woman who looked to be about forty-five, some gray in her brown hair, tanned, narrow-faced with keen brown eyes.

“Thank you, Captain.” Despite all the efforts of modern nanofilters, she could still catch a faint whiff of burned electronics. The air must have been foul for a while after the disaster. “Two tow vehicles, Alabastra and Vilayet, will be arriving here in a few days. Have you prepared a room for us to work in?”

“The day briefing room is where we did most of our decision-making after the disaster. We could use that, as long as you don’t mind microgravity; it’s in the center of the main hull.” He looked to Dr. Pearce and gestured to the woman next to him. “Doctor, this is Janice White; she’s an RN and the closest thing to a doctor left on the ship.”

Pearce and White shook hands. “You have a medical facility intact?”

“Mostly intact. You’ll see when we get down there, Doctor. Follow me.”

As the other two departed to address the pressing medical issues, Sue recalled herself to her own mission. “Microgravity isn’t a problem for me,” she said. “That will do just fine. Lead on.”

As Toriyama led her down a corridor and then to one of the spoke elevators which connected the hab ring with the main body, she noticed something strange. “My omni’s not connecting with your shipboard network, Captain, just some local comm nets.”

“That’s because the shipboard network is still mostly down, Lieutenant. All the major AIs were taken out by the radiation pulses, and we really haven’t had the luxury or, really, resources to devote to trying to fix or replace them. Assuming that the replacements work. No, don’t ask me how the radiation got to the central core; we’ve got a lot of guesses but no proof.”

The elevator doors slid open; Sue jumped slightly at the sight of a horse-sized creature with three hook-clawed, multibranched arms or tentacles.

“My apologies,” the creature said in a deep, slightly buzzing voice, “I should not have been waiting so near the doors.”

“No, it’s not your fault at all. I knew there were Europans on board. I’m Lieutenant Fisher.”

“My formal name is Kryndomerr, but please call me Numbers.”

Toriyama was noticeably relieved by her reaction. “You’ve worked with Bemmies before?”

“During my undergrad work on Luna, yes. Call me Sue, then, Numbers. I would guess you’re a mathematician?”

“That is my profession. Analysis of datasets for anomalies is one of my specialities, which would seem a useful talent for this investigation, yes?”

“Yes indeed. Glad to have you aboard, Numbers.” Now that they were in the central body, there was virtually no sensation of gravity — the radius of the main hull was less than a tenth of that of the hab ring — so she followed the big Bemmie by extremely long, flat jumps. “You’ve assembled all the data on the event?”

“As much as we could without the automatics, and the damage that we have sustained,” Numbers said. “That is not quite as complete as we would like.”

They reached what was obviously the briefing room, with microgravity chairs, presentation projectors, and other accoutrements of such locations, including a zero-g coffeepot. Sue turned to Captain Toriyama. “Captain, prior to the disaster, what was your position on Outward Initiative?”

“I was second in command with a primary responsibility for the engineering department.”

About what I thought. “Then, Captain, I must request that you leave and not involve yourself in the investigation further. A board of inquiry will have to be convened into this event, and you will be directly involved. If I find evidence of negligence or other irregularities, this may reflect poorly upon you; at the same time, if I find no such evidence, that work must be clearly done separate from your involvement.”

Some of the worry lines deepened; he had clearly understood from the beginning that he might be held responsible for the disaster. “Yes, Lieutenant. That’s why Numbers here is available. He was a colonial, not one of the crew. I have had a list of other colonials you may be able to consult, for information separate from that of the crew.”

Well done. “Good work, Captain. I appreciate your cooperation.”

Captain Toriyama saluted and then turned, departing the briefing room without a backward glance.

She looked over at Numbers, who was arranging a number of articles in careful order. “Colonists? I didn’t know that they were yet allowing you –”

“We are the first,” Numbers said; the pride in his voice was unmistakable. “Our pod petitioned extensively for the opportunity, from the oldest to the youngest. It was the proudest day of our lives when we were notified that we had been selected for this opportunity.” The vibrant shifting patterns on Numbers’ skin — generated by bioluminescent chromatophores similar to those seen on Earthly squid — suddenly grew muted and dim. “Little Harratrer was especially happy to go, because it meant he could stay with his best friend.”

“Harratrer is the one of your people who was lost?”

The Bemmie expanded and then contracted, causing his body to bob up and down — the closest equivalent to a nod that they could manage. “He was called ‘Whips’ and was my second son. Studying to be an engineer, and was near the top in his class.”

And his best friend was obviously a human, since this is the only Bemmie family aboard. Interesting. “My sympathies, Numbers.”

“Appreciated, Sue.” He completed his placing of objects (with appropriate adhesion clips to keep them from moving) on the table. “Might I ask about your profession? You piloted Raijin to us with frightening precision, but you are now an investigator?”

Sue laughed. “My official title is Emergency Watch Officer, which basically means ‘person that you hope doesn’t have much to do’. My job’s to respond to emergencies the automatics don’t know how to handle. Piloting’s my avocation, investigation and handling of emergency procedure’s my responsibility, and engineering analysis is my main professional training.”

“I see. You have the skillset to get to an emergency quickly, the training and authority to run an investigation, and the professional knowledge to understand how the emergency happened.”

“Basically. There aren’t many of us in any given solar system, which is good. . . because it means that there aren’t enough emergencies like this to require more. Modern safety systems are extremely good.”

She floated to the table. “Records of the event from all systems. . . testimony from witnesses. . . video recordings. . . prior maintenance data. . . you’ve done a good job pulling this together.”

A ripple of light and color showed Numbers appreciated the compliment. “I simply thought about what I would need to fully understand the event.”

“Well, you seem to have thought it out well.” She strapped into one of the seats; floating at random was a pain. “Let’s get started, then.”