Saturday, 4 February 2012

This is not a drill 2/4

    I nodded. “Very well. You're right.”
    Cavendish activated the Marines comm net. “We're on the move. Get the Engineers out of there” She turned and led the way, Acre fell into step behind me and Ross brought up the rear. Hall was already waiting in the circulation space outside the open hatch.
    They all knew where to go. Every member of the crew was required to take part in evacuation drills although I, personally, had never done it on the Nemesis as I never expected to abandon her.
    We didn't run. I'd been taught that, if you run, it triggers hormones that interfere with your thought processes. There was no emergency that wasn't better dealt with a few seconds later but with a clear head. That advice had served me well through the years. I could walk pretty quickly though.
    The deck was still vibrating under my feet. I glanced at Cavendish.
    “We're still being fired upon.” She said
    I nodded. “The Vrgarr are probably pissed off that we trashed two of their battleships. If they're firing at us then they're not in pursuit of the decoy ships.” The two cruisers of the Church Militant would be a different matter. They were much more disciplined and would be manouvering to pursue our ships although, by now, it would be too late for them to catch them. “I hope they're not firing on the escape ships.”
We dropped down a deck, sliding down the ladders like midshipmen. This level was only lit by emergency lighting although the artificial gravity was still working. As I hit the floor I could see the stragglers from the bridge crew at the far end of the passageway. Passing through narrow hatches slowed down progress massively.
    “This way.” called Cavendish. We took a cross corridor and used the parallel route to a second hatch. At the bulkhead, Cavendish opened the hatch and I followed Acre into the next section where we joined the rest of the bridge crew. I did a quick head count. Six marines and twenty crew. Hiraku Nonaka was quietly marshalling the survivors into groups around the bulkheads, but nobody was actually going anywhere.
    Before I could ask what was causing the delay, Cavendish held up her hand for quiet. “Hall, check on the engineers. We can't continue till they get here.” Hall ducked back through the hatch, the bulky Ultima armour only just fitting through the opening. “There's vacuum and no power on the other side of this bulkhead. If we open the hatch the engineers won't be able to get through.” Vacuum in this section would trigger the hatches to shut and lock. Overriding the security systems would take too long. I wanted to know how we were going to get through the hatch on the other side of the compartment, but, although I commanded the ship, the Marines were in control of this situation and my getting involved wouldn't be helpful. Cavendish would keep me informed, where possible, as a matter of courtesy, but I was effectively a spectator.
    Hall came back through the hatch, carrying an injured crewman over her shoulder. She was followed by another dozen engineers and three more marines. Several of the engineers were injured and I was concerned how they were going to fare through the next section. Hall slammed the hatch shut and secured it.
    Livingston was by the next hatch. “Vacuum hoods on, stand clear!” she shouted. Everybody obeyed. I checked the collar section was secure then pulled my hood out and sealed it over my head. It inflated automatically as the oxygen supply activated. I breathed normally and tried to ignore the itch at the back of my head that always started as soon as I was wearing a helmet and couldn't get to it. I could see that a couple of hoods didn't seem to be properly inflated, possibly damaged by shrapnel or debris. I banged my fist against Acre's shoulder and pointed. She looked, then turned back to me. With her helmet sealed I couldn't see her expression though the dark visor. Before I had a chance to activate the hood's comms system Cavendish grabbed me round the waist. There was a sudden crack and a tremendous force pulling at me as the air was sucked from the compartment. Cavendish held on to me so I wouldn't fly across the room.        
   In a few moments it stopped and we were in vacuum. The crew that had damaged vacuum hoods were struggling desperately. A pair of marines headed towards them, picking them up and carrying them to the back of the compartment. I looked towards the next hatch. Nonaka was on his feet and shepherding people through. I waited where I was until Cavendish signalled and we took our turn. As I put my hand on the hatch surround I looked back. There were four bodies against the back wall and I could see blood on the floor. Vacuum asphyxiation was slow and painful. I knew that the marines had intervened and made it quick and I was grateful. Acre pushed me through the hatch.
    I never heard the explosion.

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