Without a Scratch

Just a little tale from the frontlines to give you some more insight into the world of Universe or Nothing.

Sparks still flew from overloaded power conduits on the command deck, but it was clear that the battle was coming to an end. A Game of Chance had taken significant damage during the encounter - one whole bank of directed energy weapons had been knocked offline, and Helm Officer Marriat was complaining of uneven maneuvering thruster output - but the tide of the battle had turned when a well placed torpedo shattered the enemy's forward shield generator. Apparently unable to get it back online, the Centauri Alliance frigate had turned tail in the hopes of using their rear shield array to cover a hasty retreat. However, this slashed their ability to direct fire towards Chance, as most of the weapons systems were mounted with their arc of fire covering either the front or sides of the vessel. Recognising this, A Game of Chance’s captain had ordered all power diverted from their own shields to weapons, seizing the opportunity to land a crippling fusillade of fire on the enemy ship. The result of this now filled the view screens, as the enemy ship listed helplessly, atmosphere venting in icy plumes from a dozen holes across her hull. Lieutenant Kalt was even now negotiating terms of surrender with the surviving CA crew - UNION policy dictated granting full amnesty to enemy combatants, both out of humanitarian concerns and a desire to encourage a willingness to surrender among the enemy.

Within moments, Kalt had finished both his negotiations and local scans, indicating no further threats in the vicinity. Lifeboats from the crippled CA ship were quickly being directed to an aft docking port. Tactical officer Bedford was already en-route to meet them, with a unit of marines in tow. The ships would be scanned carefully for explosives, then the occupants brought over in small groups to minimize the security risk. If Bedford had her way she would likely have left the CA lifeboats for their own people to find, but that simply risked these same spacers crewing some other enemy ship down the line, which was not something UNION command was willing to risk. The alternative to capture was to blow the lifeboats out of the sky, and while this had been floated as an idea more than once, Bedford knew things weren’t so desperate that UNION would put aside its ideals in such a way. At least, not yet.

Within seconds of the Captain signaling permission to leave battlestations, Chief Engineer Spalding was off the bridge and scampering down the access shaft to the main engineering decks, moving with a speed rarely seen since his days working the power conduits himself. Moments later, the captain was hot on his heels, leaving the rest of the somewhat stunned bridge crew alone on the command deck.

“What’s wrong with them?” Asked Helm Officer Marriat, as soon as she judged it safe to speak freely in the captain's absence. “We just kicked CA ass up here, and the ship barely took a scratch!”

“Check your notifications, Marriat.” Suggested Kalt, his face stoic. “It wasn’t flagged as high priority for you, so you may have missed it.”

Marriat scrolled down through the flashing multi-hued notifications until she found the one Kalt had referred to, blinking pale and translucent on her display.

“Oh no…” she whispered.

The Engineering deck was in chaos. The initial volleys taken from the CA frigate had been devastating, the extent of the damage underestimated by the bridge crew simply because of how well contained it had been by the ships technicians, operating under the direction of Chief Engineer Spalding. A spray of plasma from a ruptured fuel line had ignited stored supplies a deck below, and only the quick thinking and bravery of a nearby tech had prevented the fire from spreading. That tech was now being placed on a ventilator by medical staff, having inhaled far too much of what were likely quite toxic fumes. Spalding took note that the man would likely need medical attention at a station, and flagged the matter for the Captain to consider before continuing briskly through the length of the deck.

Spalding also noted that elsewhere whole power conduits had been manually rerouted, with meters of ominously sparking cable running the length of one corridor, carrying power from the long range communications array to an aft weapons hardpoint. The quickly installed cabling was clearly being operated far past their rated capacity, but whoever had stuck them in had installed transformers at either end to minimize the still substantial risk. These transformers still bore the branding and burn marks that indicated they had been pulled from a capacitor in a damaged weapons array. Commendable innovating under pressure, thought Spalding, and made a further note to find out who was responsible to mention as much in person. That, and to make sure the thing was shut down before someone was electrocuted.

The worst of the damage was, however, situated to the rear of the ship, near the starboard hydrazine shunt. The highly reactive chemical was a necessary component in the backup maneuvering array, but was also notoriously dangerous, maintained only as a last resort fuel supply should the fusion reactor be knocked offline. The whole thing was a lethal anachronism, in Spalding’s opinion, but the chief engineer also appreciated the need for multiple redundancies, and so had not drained the system as some other ship’s engineers had done. In front of him, wrapped around the emergency shut off, the burned and twisted form of Technician Bradley stood as testament to that lethality. The man had died patching the shunt, just as he was ordered to, likely preventing the whole deck from being contaminated by the highly reactive substance. Spalding was vaguely aware that another technician in a haz-mat suit was attempting to ward him away from the site of the accident, but he pushed by regardless, eventually acceding to having an air filter quickly strapped across his face. He dropped to one knee by the corpse, meeting the open eyes of the dead man, noting the blackened uniform and raw burns across the body.

‘Thank you for your service, Arthur.’ he murmured, in that quiet voice only the dead can hear.

With a gloved hand the chief engineer reached out and palmed the blue eyes closed.



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