“I am the head of this project! Our current location is irrelevant. I am still in command of this operation!” Lazen’s face was nearly purple with rage. In the months Dimitri had been on the project he’d never seen the man come undone like this. Yikes.
“Considering the situation I don’t believe you have the knowledge or the skills required to handle it! We need to act decisively and together so stop arguing with me Lazen! If we need something along the lines of your expertise then you will be consulted. Until then I am in charge here!”
Glancing at Katcha who gave him and Ryan an I-told-you-so look he cleared his throat. Both Lawrence and Lazen along with everyone else in the room turned their attention to him. Resisting the urge to squirm under the combined gazes he mentally prepared himself. Usually it would be Kenric rallying the troops and he would be playing backup but Kenric wasn’t here. Of all the times for him to be tossed up to bat it just had to be during a volatile life or death situation.
“With all due respect Senator Lawrence, I’m not sure you have the knowledge or skills required either. None of us here have training in space travel but as this has become an issue of safety according to the contract with Fenton security we’re in charge. We’d rather the major decisions were made as a group but when it comes to keeping everyone safe, that’s our job. We need to be sure that you’ll all follow instructions if we need to direct you out of a dangerous situation. Can we count on everyone for that?”
Lawrence’s green eyes narrowed but Dimitri had far too much experience being stared down by Kenric. He met the senator’s eyes until he saw a grudging truce. The man grunted and he had to let out an inward sigh of relief. He knew his crew was with him but he also needed Lawrence on the same page they were on. Especially since he knew Lazen wouldn’t be, keeping both him and Lawrence in line would be a bitch. How the hell did Kenric do it? Being in charge sucked.
“If everyone agrees I think introductions first? Once that’s out of the way we can decide what we need to do next.” Breaking eye contact with Lawrence he looked over to Lazen and started swearing a blue streak in his head. The man was definitely pissed off, still purple faced with it.
“I will not be taking orders from some buffoon who thinks he’s in charge simply because he has the word security in his title!”
“Sir, I wouldn’t be alive right now if they hadn’t carried me to the passenger bay. I think we should listen to them. He’s not saying they’re in charge really. Just that if something dangerous happens we need to listen to them to get out of it, right?” Marvin speaking up in favor of them surprised Dimitri but not as much as Jude the mouse adding in his two cents.
“I agree sir. We need to work together to get through this.”
“Well then. Anyone besides Lazen opposed to making decisions as a group but with the security team having veto in times of physical peril? No? Then the majority carries. Shall we get to everyone’s names?”
Lawrence looked a bit too smug as he said that but Dimitri decided to let it go. He knew Lazen would be against anyone having more authority than him but as long as the group itself all agreed then things could move forward. Their party from the passenger bay introduced themselves again then Katcha started the round for the biolab.
“Katcha Lopresti, Fenton security. You can call me Cheshire if you want.” She gave her characteristic grin which helped explain the nickname and eased a bit of the tension from earlier. Turning everyone looked at the tall stoic man next to her.
“Cecil Bal, Fenton security.” Cecil was as deadpan as Katcha was animated but somehow the pair always worked well together.
“It’s going to get old calling me Senator so you can either call me Lawrence or by my first name James.” Be on a first name basis with a global Senator? Not likely. He better stick to calling the man Lawrence. He’d voted for the other guy after all.
“You already know who I am and no, you may not call me by anything other than Sir or Researcher Lazen.”
Apparently that was the end of that introduction. Was it too late to shove him out of an air lock? That’s what they were called right? The openings where he could shove annoying jerks into the vastness of space and out of his hair? Next up was the panicky man Dimitri remembered speaking to during take off.
“Fletcher Benach, I specialize in bioinformatics. That’s where I use…”
“No one cares Fletcher!”
The annoyed bombshell in the pixie cut had to be the engineer that Katcha had mentioned earlier. She definitely had Ryan’s attention and not just because of how pissed off she was. If things weren’t so serious they would be looking forward to ribbing him about it. A brief look at Katcha almost had him laughing, there was definitely going to be some ribbing.
“Bridget McGuffee, engineer, and if anyone tries to blame me for this I’m going to deck them!”
“Well it’s obvious something went wrong with the Twitch Drive Bridget!”
“Which I wasn’t working on, Fletcher! I was on board fixing that jammed door three corridors down! I swear, you keep this up and I’m shoving your head down a toilet!”
Maybe it was time for an intervention before they had to use the infirmary again. “How about we all calm down? There’s a lot to do and laying blame or flushing anyone down a toilet would be a bit counterproductive.”
“I dunno, it would be amusing at least.”
That earned Ryan a frown from Cecil but Katcha was trying to hide her laugh. It was time to get down to business so he couldn’t give in and play along. He gave Ryan a look that wiped the smirk off his face. “Now that we know everyone’s names we need to get some things done. I suggest we do a search of the ship for other survivors and supplies we can use. We don’t know what we’ll need yet but look for the essentials. Food, clothes, tools, etc. We already know that the infirmary in the lower section is fully stocked. We also need to move Quinn.”
“Quinn? He’s on board too? Where is he? Even as lazy as he is I would have thought he’d stick with the group.” Fletcher looked to be gearing up for a tirade but Marvin was quick to break the news.
“Quinn didn’t make it.” There was a moment of silence and Jude looked close to tears again. Cecil spoke up before the smaller man could resume the shaking from earlier.
“I’ll take care of Quinn. Would you oversee searching the ship, Dimitri?”
He owed Cecil a beer for that. He knew how Dimitri was around bodies and the memories it brought up. Nodding he reached over and gave Jude’s shoulder a squeeze. They had work to do. They couldn’t afford to fall apart right then.
“I think things will move faster if we break up into four groups and split the sections of the ship. Three of the groups will have one of us from Fenton and two researchers while the fourth group will be one security and one researcher that will stay here to keep everyone in contact. Who’s the most knowledgeable about the ship layout and using the com system?”
An argument soon broke out over who would get to stay in the relative safety of the biolab with Fletcher adamant that he would be the best choice to coordinate everyone. In the end Lazen was chosen to stay and man their base of operations with Katcha. She had a mischievous streak in her a mile long but she could keep it contained and was actually the best among them at coordinating operations. She was also the least likely to get frustrated with Lazen and strangle the man. Ryan he paired up with Bridget and Marvin while he took Fletcher and Zaine. Jude surprised him by asking to help move Quinn.
“He was my friend. I feel like I owe him this.”
Put that way Dimitri couldn’t say no. Lawrence also asked to help saying his past military career made him better able to deal with that sort of thing. He left them to Cecil but almost kicked himself as he looked at the two headaches he was saddled with.
“Alright, we better get a move on.”
After an hour of searching rooms on the passenger levels he was ready to string them both up. Fletcher talked nonstop about everything they saw. From the uniform layout of the rooms to the lack of supplies they were encountering to how his shoes were pinching him. All that he could let fade into the background of his consciousness. Zaine however stayed silent waiting for moments where he could get a jab in at Fletcher or Dimitri. That was proving harder to ignore since the man kept catching him by surprise.
“You expected people to stock rooms that aren’t being used at the moment? Wouldn’t our time have been better spent focusing on levels and areas that the crew and builders actually frequented?”
“Yes, I know most of what we can use will be found in those areas but I don’t want to miss out on other possibly useful items that someone hid away in an unused area of the ship hoping no one would find it. Like the bottles of rum we found stashed in that locker.” Zaine snorted and looked condescendingly at Dimitri. He felt a bit better imagining flushing the man’s head down a toilet as Bridget had threatened to do to Fletcher earlier. That was a lovely image.
“I doubt your ability to keep us safe and get us home if you’re thinking of getting drunk. We need all of our faculties sharp!”
Zaine. Upside down. In the bowl. Flush! Keep picturing that in your head, Dimitri.
“If that was my intention I’d agree with you however I was thinking more along the lines of how we can use the rum as an antiseptic or sedative. There’s also the whole lighting it on fire thing that I’ve always been a fan of in a defensive situation. Using it to get drunk would be a waste.”
What he didn’t bother mentioning was if they really were stuck out there with no hope of getting home he planned on downing a whole bottle. He really hoped the other groups were finding more than they were. The rum was a good find as were some balls of string they’d found tossed in a drawer but that was it. Not so much as a pack of gum or cereal bar were in the rooms and the locker room only yielded spare uniforms. He’d folded the uniforms and used the string to tie them into three bundles but he was getting worried.
They’d lucked out with Daisy stocking the infirmary on the first level but they needed food and water. He’d checked the bathrooms and they had running water but for how long? He doubted the researchers had thought about it yet and he wasn’t looking forward to bringing it up. Hopefully the other groups would have more luck. Pressing on he led his pair of hemorrhoids to the next block of rooms and hoped for the best.
At the end of their search they had more uniforms and some containers but the rum was their biggest find. Heading to the nearest computer console he dialed the Biolab to check in with Lazen and Katcha. While typing in the code he reminded himself that it could have been worse. At least he hadn’t seen anyone else, alive or otherwise. Finding some other poor soul who’d been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time during take off would definitely have made this day suck even harder.
“Biolab, what did you find?”
“Three bottles of rum, uniforms, string, and some containers. This place is pretty bare. No other survivors or bodies though so that’s good. We’re finished here. Should we head back to you or does another group need our help?”
“The other groups are almost done. Come back to the lab.”
The screen cut off and Dimitri had to resist the urge to shake his head. Of all the people he could have been stuck out here with why did it have to be the narcissistic scarecrow of Fairgold? He motioned for the other men to follow him back to the lab and fell into the rhythm of Fletcher’s prattle broken up occasionally by Zaine’s snide remarks. He had never been happier to see the doors to the biolab as he was right that second.
“Oy! Cheshire! Open up!”
Katcha’s face appeared in the door a moment before they swished open. Trooping in he glanced around the room and noted the other groups weren’t back yet. Setting their finds down he leaned against the wall next to Katcha. Lazen was already undoing the packs and sifting through things.
“You barely found anything of use at all. What was the point in searching through that section of the ship? Other than wasting time.”
“We did make a good find. The rum we can put to several uses plus we now know what is and isn’t in that part of the ship. Better to know for sure than to have unpleasant surprises later.”
Fletcher started filling Lazen in on every aspect of their adventure with Zaine predictably making comments to put himself on top. The toadying was giving him a headache. He lowered his voice and looked at Katcha.
“How are the others doing? Heard anything worth noting?”
“Cecil and his crew took care of our unfortunate Quinn and have looted the cafeteria. There were a few non-perishables that were apparently being used to test how well the straps in the pantries would hold. Spoiler, not well. They were tossed all over the place. Last I heard they were scouring everywhere for a can opener though I know each of us has a utility knife at all times so no big if they don’t find one. A can opener would just be easier. Having Bridget on board is proving to be very fortuitous.”
“You mean besides the entertainment value of seeing Fletcher get a swirly? Come on, are they seriously separating the uniforms into sizes and colors?”
Katcha started laughing softly because that was exactly what the researchers were doing. At least that’s what Fletcher and Zaine were doing while Lazen supervised. Shaking his head slightly he let it go. Whatever kept them busy and off his ass.
“While a swirly would be entertaining I’m thinking she may be the one to get us home. She was part of the Twitch Drive installation. She knows how to program it but she’s no pilot. I’ll let her explain it more when she gets back, there was a lot of stuff she had to check on first before she can give us a definite answer.” That got his attention. Bridget might be able to get them home? Hallelujah, he may not be drinking himself into oblivion after all!
“How much longer do you think we have before they get back?”
“Who knows? Like I said, there was a lot of crap she said she had to check on before she could give us an answer. Why not get some shut eye? No telling how long the other groups will be and I know you’ve probably got a headache dealing with those two. Get some rest D, I’ll watch your back.” She gave him her trademark smile and since she was one of the few he actually trusted to watch his back he nodded. Walking over to the neatly folded and separated piles he grabbed two stacks.
“I’m going to be taking a nap while we wait for the other two groups to get back. Katcha will be watching things so if you need anything let her know.”
Ignoring Fletcher’s complaining about his messing up the organization of supplies he headed to a corner and stretched out on the floor using the uniforms as a pillow. Closing his eyes he did his best to blot out the annoying voices and forget the situation for a minute. He didn’t realize he was nodding off until he felt a boot hit his side. Reacting without thinking he grabbed the ankle connected to the offending foot with one hand while his other reached up to hit the back of the knee effectively downing his attacker. Quickly rolling to his feet in a defensive posture he realized the one who had kicked him was Ryan and the rest of their team was laughing.
“Remind me never to wake you up.”
“You’re lucky I’m not Kenric. He’d have laid you out cold.”
Reaching down he gave Ryan a hand up and surveyed the change in the biolab. There was now a few boxes of canned goods but what floored him was the three trash bags full of what looked like energy bars, energy drinks, chips, and other snacks. Looked like the building crew had been sneaking food in. That was a relief, no more worrying about possible votes on eating someone though he would have voted Fletcher into the stewpot immediately.
“Looks like you guys hit the junk food motherload. Where was all this?”
“The engineering crew’s been having to work day and night to keep on schedule so we all filled our lockers with snacks or else we’d have dropped from lack of nutrition. I see you also found Barber’s stash of rum. I told him he’d get fired for that. What’s more important though is that the Twitch Drive is operating and so is the navigational program.”
“Does that mean you can program in a destination and the Twitch Drive will take us home?” Lawrence’s question hung in the air as everyone’s eyes focused on Bridget. She gave a sigh and sat down in one of the swivel chairs. She looked thoughtful for a moment before answering.
“No, I can’t program in a destination. I have no idea how to input new navigational points. Fletcher could probably do it but it could take him days to figure out how and we don’t have that kind of time. The ship was left open during construction for a reason. The air filtration and circulation system isn’t fully installed yet. What we’re breathing right now is it. Once it’s gone then so are we.”
That put a damper on the party. Shit, here he’d been worrying about food and water and he’d completely forgotten about the air. Suffocation was not high on his list of ways to go. He could see panic starting to creep up on the group but Bridget spoke again before he had to intervene.
“We’re not dead yet. I just said I couldn’t input new navigational points. There are already some points there for us to work with. Three of them are past and too far for us to make with the current air supply. As I see it we’ve really only got one good shot. We make for Berith 2. We should be able to make it there with air to spare and we know that it can support human life. Also with all the other companies trying for it we can probably sit tight until someone gets there and hitch a ride home.”
“That is an excellent idea. I propose we go along with Engineer McGuffee’s plan.”
Lazen endorsing Bridget’s plan didn’t surprise Dimitri at all. It was the one that made the most sense but it also meant that Fairgold made it out on top which would help Lazen keep his job despite this massive clusterfuck. If they landed on Berith 2 first then there would be no contest as to who owned rights to the planet. That is, as long as whoever landed after them didn’t try to kill them and say that they had never gotten there at all. When you had this much riding on a project there was no telling how far some people would go. Cecil caught his eye and he could see the same thoughts mirrored there. They’d have to go carefully with this plan and they’d have to keep a closer eye on Lazen.
“There’s one more thing you should all know before we go with this plan. I have no idea how to land this thing and the computer can’t do it either. How this will work is I choose one of the landing zones already programmed into the Twitch Drive that looks like it will offer the softest landing, we cross our fingers, and crash there. It’s going to tear up the ship and there is no way the lower sections will survive it. We’ll have to figure out which area in the ship stands the best chance of surviving intact and hold up there.”
That put a damper on everyone’s enthusiasm. Their options weren’t very pleasant. They could make a break for one of the other points and hope the air would hold out. They could go for Berith 2 and hope the ship held up enough to not kill them in their crash landing. Last choice was to have Fletcher try to figure out how to input the points for home and again hope their air lasted long enough. Why the hell did all of their options suck?
“Okay! Anyone have any other options other than the ones Bridget just went over? No? Then I guess we put it to a vote. I can’t believe I’m saying this but crashing sounds best to me. If you agree raise your hands. If not keep them down.”
One by one everyone in the room raised their hands. Some were shaking or a bit pale but everyone agreed. “Alright. By unanimous vote we’re going with your plan Bridget. We crash on Berith 2. Now what do you need us to do to make this work?”