Chain of Command – Snippet 05

“Captain’s orders, sir. Blockage at frame fifty-five, so people are reshuffling their stations. Jules is sitting TAC One up front.” Sam pulled the folding workstation over his midsection and locked it in place after strapping himself into the chair. He plugged the life support umbilical from his shipsuit into the work station socket, slid the helmet cover down over his face, and checked to make sure his suit was sealed and had positive air flow, in case they lost pressure in this compartment as well. All his internal system telltales showed green and he slid his helmet cover back up.

“Damage report,” Huhn demanded, now ignoring Sam.

“Umm … multiple hull breaches forward and amidships,” Karlstein answered, her eyes flickering across the different data feeds and flashing red indicator lights at her workstation. “We’ve lost atmosphere on decks one, four, five, and nine, as well as parts of number one crew bay. All of the compromised spaces are sealed and pumped down to vacuum. No casualties reported yet. We’re losing hydrogen from tanks eleven, twelve and fourteen through seventeen, and have some O2 contamination, but it’s under control.”

“How bad’s the hydrogen loss?” Huhn asked.

“Not critical. Cumulative loss rate looks like about twenty liters per minute and dropping,” she said. “Automatic self-sealing is working. The thermal shroud is compromised as well.”

“Christ, we’re a sitting duck without that shroud!” Huhn said. “Bitka, where are your other people?”

Sam looked up from his operations display, which was blank except for the faint thermal signatures of the other eleven destroyers in the squadron and the one larger signature of USS Hornet, the squadron carrier.

“There’s Ramirez,” he said, as Petty Officer Second Ron Ramirez glided through the hatch and toward Tactical Four. Neither of the two weapons specialists had shown up yet. Sam punched the manning roster up on his display.

“Sir, Smith and Chief Patel are probably coming from the forward crew bay and if it’s sealed they’ll have to cycle through the lock,” Sam answered. “Ramirez, we don’t have any sensors active so move weaponry to your board for now. Guns up. Delacroix can handle the passive sensors,

“Aye, aye, sir. Guns up.”

“Sir, do we know what hit us?” Sam asked Huhn.

Huhn didn’t answer for a moment, probably listening on his embedded commlink to the bridge command channel. Then he shook his head. “Negative. No energy spike, no radiation, no thermal plume anywhere nearby. Just impact shock, holes, and interior spalling, so something small and solid–a bunch of somethings.”

Sam scanned back through the recorded integrated operational displays to a minute before the impact and saw nothing.

Petty Officer First Kramer, their communications specialist, glided through the hatch and toward her station. She looked shaken.

“Where the hell you been?” Huhn barked.

“Sorry, sir. We lost pressure. I had to wait a cycle to get through the crew bay air lock.”

“Didn’t you tell them you needed to get to a critical battle station?”

“The casualties had priority, sir.”

“Casualties? What casualties? I thought you said there weren’t any, Karlberg,” Huhn said, his voice angrier.

“It’s Karlstein, sir,” she answered, “and none reported so far.”

Huhn turned back to his own display. “What the hell’s the medtech doing?”

Probably tending the wounded, Sam thought. Of course, anyone admitted to sick bay would be scanned into the system already, but until the medtech made an assessment there wouldn’t be a report.

Nobody on board Puebla had ever been under fire in a space battle before, including the Captain and Exec, but Sam had still expected to look to the regular officers as models of how he should behave. Sam wasn’t sure Huhn was giving all that good an example so far.

“One KIA,” Karlstein said, her voice flat.  Sam’s vision became more focused, the colors on his monitors a little more vivid, and for a moment he tasted metal.

Puebla’s complement was only fourteen officers and eighty-one enlisted personnel. Now one of them was dead? Which one? After five months he knew all of them by sight, all but a few in the engineering department by name.  He shook his head. He’d find out later; for now he had to focus on the job.

Unbidden, an image of Jules came to him. At least the bridge was okay. He’d have liked to say something to her, although he couldn’t think what he’d actually say if he had the chance. “Hey, you okay?” That sounded stupid even to him.

She’d be doing fine. Since he met her she’d been eager to prove herself, even more so once her promotion from ensign to lieutenant junior grade came through six weeks earlier. Sam had a more cautious approach to demanding situations, not that that mattered now; whatever sort of trouble this was, it had found them.

The boat shuddered and the feed indicator on Sam’s tactical display flickered from “slave” to “direct.”

“Multiple hits forward!” Karlstein called out, her voice rising in excitement. “Deck two now depressurizing. Hydrogen loss rate up to fifty-four–no, sixty-one liters per minute.”

“Sir, I’ve lost the bridge feed on my ops display,” Sam said. “I’ve still got a feed but it’s direct from the sensors now and updated locally.”

“Same here, sir,” Ensign Lee reported from the Maneuvering One station, followed by a chorus from the others.

“Yeah, I lost the commlink to the command channel,” Huhn said. “Kramer, get those internals back up.”

“Sir?” Kramer asked.

“I’m on it, sir,” Karlstein said before Huhn had a chance to answer.

Petty Officer Delacroix in the Tactical Two seat below Sam turned her head back and raised her dark eyebrows. Sam frowned at her and shook his head, which drove the petty officer’s attention back to her screens, but her unasked question was obvious. What was Huhn thinking? Kramer’s station was for boat-to-external communications and vice versa. All the internals ran through Karlstein’s Boat Systems board. The Exec knew that.

Sam put that out of his mind. His job was the tactical situation, and right now it was out of their control and getting worse. They had to do something to regain some initiative, and quickly.

“Sir, something’s hitting us and I still got nothing on thermals or HRVS optics,” Sam said. “I want to go active with radar.”

Active? Are you insane? Everyone in five hundred light seconds will see us.”

“I think they already know we’re here. This feels like those pellet cluster things the uBakai were supposedly deploying. Intel called it ‘buckshot.’ You remember the briefing on them? If the launch vessel isn’t close enough to pick up, we should at least be able to detect incoming pellets.”

“Permission denied, and it’s the captain’s call anyway. Karlstein, any luck on the command channel?”

“Negative, sir. Looks like whatever hit up there cut the data and comm feeds. I’ve alerted Engineering and they have a damage control party headed there now.”

It might have cut the hard feeds, Sam thought, but everyone’s embedded commlinks up there should still be working. Why weren’t they?