Cnsev tormalinas lost, p.5

CNSEV Tormalinas, Lost, page 5

 

CNSEV Tormalinas, Lost
 


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  Chapter 4

  Level 5 Bio-hazard

  Amy hoped this was all a dream if portal navigators could dream. However, somehow Gunnery Sergeant Benavides, now revived by the alarm, with blood oozing from the wound on his head, seemed not to notice his injury.

  “What the bleep just happened?” he asked, a little confused, his words slurred a little.

  “Get your full suit on now!” Amy ordered, although she suspected it was already too late for him.

  Amy kept her suit and helmet nearby at all times as part of her executive officer protocols. She slid into the suit and held her breath as she fitted her helmet in place. She stood still for five seconds while her life support system initialized.

  Then she said, “Get your suit back on, now Benavides!”

  Benavides carried his suit with him in a small pack as part of command protocols also. He fumbled with his pants, his bare back and shoulders began to change colors and texture. His skin then also started to grow a strange, thin, white hair. Soon his entire back changed and became covered in the same grizzly white hairs. The change, the white hairs, spread to his head and face. He began to scream wildly as if his skin burned with intense pain. He then fell to the floor and began convulsing.

  By this time, Amy had her full suit on and grabbed the man to drag him back into the Tormalinas. On a second look behind her, she saw a swarm of similar black bugs moving toward the Tormalinas coming from the direction of the deep tunnel that led to the odd honeycombed chamber.

  She entered the ship and thought about shutting the loading bay doors, but it was too late. When she reached the panel for the doors, the small black bugs covered nearly every inch of the ship’s floor and walls behind her. She looked out and saw bugs now emptying out of the tunnel by the thousands. They swarmed over her and Benavides. He still screamed and convulsed wildly as they covered and swarmed past him further into the ship.

  Through her linking implant, she could hear reports from others that bugs were all over the underground city by now.

  “All sections report,” she ordered.

  She felt a hard rumble from the Tormalinas’ engines. Colonel Keeghan must have initiated launch sequence protocols.

  Through the linking implant, the vessel’s sentient said, “All hands have 17.35 minute cycles to return to the Tormalinas.”

  “Sedate Benavides,” she ordered.

  “Yes Ma’am,” the Tormalinas replied.

  Benavides immediately fell limp and Amy carried him on her shoulder to the medical bay. She placed him into a bio-hazard containment pod and pressed her gloved hand to the container. The canopy to the pod slid forward and locked closed with a hiss. Amy ran back to help more crew reach the Tormalinas. She calculated that a significant number of crew were more than 20 minute cycles away exploring tunnels and caverns and would be left behind.

  Three of the crewmembers fell just outside the loading bay doors. They convulsed in their suits. Amy ordered sedation for them and then turned them over and saw through their helmets that bugs were inside their suits. She picked up all three of the men and carried them to the medical bay, thankful now for the one-fourth Earth gravity. She stowed each of them in bio-hazard pods.

  Bugs now covered the Tormalinas inside and out. Amy stepped on waves of the bugs on the floor of the vessel. It felt like stepping in grass or mud or snow or deep water or sand.

  The Colonel spoke through her linking implant, “XO, are you compromised? Are you bleeping optimal?”

  “No Sir, not compromised. Yes Sir, optimal,” she answered. “I am aiding crewmembers. The Gunnery Sergeant is compromised and not optimal. Are you compromised? Are you less than optimal?”

  “No and no. I am fully optimal for now. It appears these bugs can’t get into our suits.”

  “Agreed Sir. I’ve quarantined four crewmembers in bio-hazard containment pods.”

  “Bleep,” the Colonel said. “Quarantine pods are just fancy coffins. Only a full medical station commander, a MEDSTAC, can order pods opened once they’re sealed. In every case I’ve ever heard, once you’re quarantined, a medical station performs experiments on you to find out what you have. I’ve only heard of one outcome from quarantine and the experiments to follow, death, all for the Commonwealth, all for science.”

  “Same here Sir, but we have our protocols in these cases.”

  Amy knew the Colonel was correct. She also knew that even after death, the MEDSTAC staff continued to perform various experiments until there was no further knowledge to be gained from the contaminated corpses. Bio-contamination or viral outbreaks in deep space are essentially a death sentence.

  Amy acknowledged protocols in this case, but she remained hesitant to seal anyone else inside a bio-pod with the bugs. The pods served three purposes. One, it would place the subject crewmember under hypersleep and attempt treatment of the contamination. Two, in the event this failed, the pods would then cryogenically freeze the subject for later treatment. Three, throughout both of these processes, the pod collected data on the cause and source of the contaminant so the MEDSTAC would have a head start on things before they cracked open a bad egg as crews liked to call them. Amy did not know why they were call bad eggs.

  A bad egg was any quarantine pod or anything else brought onboard that would potentially infect or contaminate a medical station when opened. Amy had coded the highest level of MEDSTAC security for each of the pods indicating there was a higher than likely chance of the contaminating vectors infecting whatever station they might escape to, although she had never heard of a contamination of alien bugs before.

  Amy remembered the bio-containment protocols precisely because she had been a portal navigator of the CNSLBV 4, the Light Battle Vessel Melbourne, when a MEDSTAC ordered his entire space station detonated, killing himself and all 242 of the station’s personnel after they bravely fought off some sort of viral contamination, a deadly pathogen that spread from crew to crew. Protocols dictated the crew should attempt decontamination, but Amy wondered if she had ever heard of a successful decontamination that did not involve imploding the subject site.

  Amy remembered the Commonwealth ordered Melbourne to the station to standby and upload all data from the station prior to its detonation. After upload, the Melbourne needed to escape blast radius using maximum engine power. After the station imploded from the 750 megaton micro-singularity, the Melbourne and two other vessels combed the sector for any intact matter. Finding none, the Melbourne delivered the uploaded data to its base of operations. The Melbourne’s crew never knew what had contaminated the station. Deep space contaminations were frequent. Nothing is more conducive to the spread of contagions like an enclosed space-going vessel, but Amy admitted to herself again, she had never heard of a bug contamination like this, an alien contaminant. She didn’t have time to think about what she could have done to prevent the contamination. There will be time to think about that later.

  “Show me the tunnels,” Amy said.

  “Showing now,” the Tormalinas said.

  “Colonel, the bugs are coming from the tunnel with the hive chamber,” Amy said.

  “Show me,” the Colonel ordered. “With your consent, I suggest we launch a bleeping seven series torpedo into the tunnel to seal off that bleeping hive chamber.”

  “Agreed,” Amy said.

  “Got it. Launching now. I need you up here in your bleeping command seat, Major.”

  Amy held on tight to two handles in the wall near her and counted to 10, giving time for the Tormalinas to guide the small precision torpedo down into the tunnel. Then she felt and heard a massive explosion. The Tormalinas shook. Amy almost fell to the floor.

  “I’m on my way, Colonel.”

  She looked around at the bugs swarming over the floor, walls, and ceiling. She waded through them. They clung to her suit. She made her way to the command room. She swept bugs off her console and her faceshield. Seconds later Lieutenant Huang joined them. Chief Engineer Charlie Waters then entered the comma
nd room and took his seat.

  “Waters, you’ve got to bust us the bleep out of here,” the Colonel said.

  “I’m on it,” Waters replied. “Getting out will be easier than getting in.”

  Colonel Keeghan worked the console next to his seat to transmit a distress signal.

  “Staff report,” Amy said.

  “Ma’am,” the Tormalinas's sentient said, “four of the 17 senior staff have reported for duty. Two senior staff are quarantined. I can confirm six section leaders have reported their teams are onboard. We have 39.02 percent of the crew accounted for. We have 8.29 minute cycles before we must launch.”

  “Make that bleeping hole now, Chief Engineer,” the Colonel order.

  “Yes Sir.”

  A series of explosions detonated ahead to the front of the Tormalinas. The entire planetoid shook.

  “Show me the opening,” the Colonel requested.

  “Showing now,” the Tormalinas responded.

  “Give me an intervalled update on staff.”

  “I will, Sir,” the Tormalinas responded. “We have 6.36 minute cycles to launch. The landing cavern will be out of air in 7.54 minute cycles. Thirty-seven staff have reported for duty. Another two staff have been quarantined. We have 47.56 percent of the staff accounted for. The next intervalled staff update and countdown will continue at the four minute cycles to launch mark.”

  Amy continued brushing bugs from her consoles. “Sir, we should switch to emergency audiovisual and verbal vessel commands.”

  “Affirmative,” the Colonel said.

  “Switching to audiovisual and verbal console controls now,” the Tormalinas reported.

  “Command staff,” the Colonel said, “we are aiming for Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Station. I transmitted our distress signal. I need bleeping suggestions. What can we do about this?”

  “We do not have enough life support in our suits to make it to Sigma Alpha Epsilon,” Lieutenant Huang said.

  The Tormalinas spoke up, “I estimate your suits are only good for a maximum average of 32.63 spans.”

  Amy said, “Once we can get outside the system, we can flush the vessel and try to jettison the bugs into space.”

  The Tormalinas spoke up, “I estimate flushing the bugs will rid the vessel of only 90.76 percent of the bugs.”

  “Can we flood the ship with methane, radiation, any bleeping thing else that might kill these bleep bleeping bugs and then flush them?” the Colonel asked, swatting at bugs crawling across his faceshield.

  “Sir,” the Tormalinas answered, “we would need to test the bugs for their resistance to each potential. For radiation, staff will have lower tolerances than the bugs. We have 4.00 minute cycles to launch. The cavern will be out of air in 2.99 minute cycles. Forty-six staff have reported for duty. No other staff have been quarantined. We have 56.10 percent of the staff accounted for. I can confirm 17 crewmembers have expired. Eight crewmembers have failed to respond and my show-me access would suggest these eight have been metamorphed into creatures similar to the creature Gunnery Sergeant Benavides transformed into.”

  “Wouldn’t the speed of this transformation suggest it’s reversible?” Marleen chimed in.

  “That remains to be seen,” Amy said.

  “Colonel, I must interrupt this discussion,” the Tormalinas said. “The bugs are now behind critical vessel console panels on decks one, three, and four. I am showing multiple systems at risk. I suggest we launch now or we may not be able to launch.”

  “Show me the rear loading bay,” the Colonel ordered.

  “Showing now.”

  “Okay, I don’t think anyone else is going to make it. Launch.”

  The command officers each spoke through their implants asking the Tormalinas to lock their seat restraints. Perfectly balanced gravitron drives allowed the ship to lift off the rocky floor, shaking the cavern and the large chunk of Askelon 1.5. Any crew not onboard would have felt the signature rumbling of the Tormalinas taking off. The vessel’s engines roared to full power pushing the vessel out of the deep cavern and towards open space, easily breaking the gravity of the small planetoid chunk. Locked in, the command officers watched through their linking implants as the vessel left the cavern and traveled through the tunnel back out into the asteroid field.

  Chief Engineer Waters said, “Engines operating at optimal efficiency Ma’am.”

  “Thank you, Chief,” Amy said.

  “Autocorrect to avoid any debris,” the Colonel said. “Speed is of the essence.”

  “Yes Sir,” the Tormalinas said. “Understood. We will clear the debris field in 90 minute cycles. When we reach open space, I can initiate flushing.”

  “Can you calculate any other remedies?” the Colonel asked.

  “My current evaluations of the bugs estimate they have a 10 out of 10 resiliency, showing beyond adequate resistance to heat, cold, compression, decompression, radiation, and a variety of chemicals such as carbon monoxide, methane, hydrogen cyanide, and chlorine. I believe basic flushing will be our only recourse.”

  Just then, the Chief Engineer screamed, “They’re inside my suit. They’re in here with me.”

  He thrashed against his seat restraints. Amy could see blood splatters on his face and inside the faceshield of his helmet.

  Lieutenant Huang ordered, “Tormalinas, please silence the chief engineer’s communications, add restraints to his command seat, and maintain those restraints until further notice.”

  “Yes Ma’am,” the Tormalinas responded.

  Additional seat restraints doubled across the man’s chest, arms, legs, and head.

  “Can we help him?” Amy asked.

  “Ma’am, I don’t think so. Not while I am in maximum launch burn.”

  She added, “That bug was inside his head. One was inside the Gunnery Sergeant’s head. What’s the possibility of any other crewmembers being compromised? Tormalinas, can you scan for that?”

  “I can scan all crew. Scanning now. Scanning will take approximately 2.32 minute cycles.”

  The Colonel and the Lieutenant watched as the man wriggled and convulsed inside his space suit. Amy looked away. Several moments later, they saw the change come over his face. They saw the creature. It looked around and blinked. It tried to escape the restraints. Rips began appearing at the seams of his space suit.

  “Tormalinas, sedate the bleeping Chief Engineer,” the Colonel ordered.

  “Do you concur, Major Porter?” the Tormalinas asked.

  “I concur.”

  “Yes Sir. Administering sedative now. Also, we will clear the debris field in 37.08 minute cycles.”

  The Chief Engineer slowly stopped thrashing against his restraints.

  “My scans are complete. There are six additional crew infected with bugs inside their bodies. There is one crew member with a bug inside his spacesuit. Shall I double the restraints for those crew and sedate them as well?”

  “Yes,” the Colonel answered, “and while you’re at it, I could use a shot of epinephrine.”

  “Do you concur, Major Porter?” the Tormalinas asked.

  “I concur.”

  “Do you concur to sedation of the infected crew or to the epinephrine request of the Colonel or to both?”

  “To both, you bleeping bleep!” Amy yelled. She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth to stop them from clattering from the vibrations of the Tormalinas as it pitched hard to the left, up and down, over, and then back and forth avoiding asteroids and planetary debris.

  We’re not going to make it, she thought. The Colonel is feeling it too. He only asks for adrenalin when something hyperstimulates and overwhelms his impulses, impeding his cognitive sharpness. He’s rattled and so am I.

  “Sir, we have cleared the debris field and we are moving at maximum speed to Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Station with an ETA of 46.11 spans. I am receiving confirmation that the MEDSTAC has cleared us for arrival and decontamination. There are no vessels in close enough
proximity to provide assistance to us. I calculate I am carrying nearly 862,000 bugs and the number is growing due to replication. If you still would like to flush, we should attempt it now.”

  “I disagree,” Amy said. “We can only flush once, so we should wait for maximum saturation of the bugs before we flush.”

  “I’m sorry,” the Colonel said. “I don’t want to wait until we are up to our bleeping eyeballs in bugs, plus we don’t know how many Tormalinas systems we could lose if we allow the bugs to continue their bleeping infestation at the current rate. Please proceed with flushing immediately,” the Colonel ordered.

  “All hands, please prepare for flushing sequence,” the Tormalinas said. “Sequence to begin in 10, 9, 8…”

  Amy stared at the bugs on the floor, the wall, the ceiling, the consoles, the small black unremarkable remarkable bugs crawling across her faceshield. Countless numbers of them floated weightless in the command room. Several of them seemed to cling to each other forming bug chains and bug clouds. They were everywhere and they were multiplying. Just the sight of them made her itch. She fingered a touchpad on her wrist and ordered a dose of diphenhydramine to counteract the itching. She noticed Marleen doing the same thing.

  How can they replicate so fast? What do they eat? What do they use for fuel? What was their purpose other than to procreate, spread, and infect? She wondered. What would be the point of creating primordial creatures? Were they the bugs’ slaves, now a part of the hive? Was there some sort of queen bug?

  Amy had never seen a flushing sequence before, but she knew the procedure from her command training. Being submerged in liquids always made her nervous.

  “Initiating flush.”

  With a crackle of electric energy, the air inside the Tormalinas turned into a liquid. The bugs did not seem to mind and they swam about in the liquid not at all different than being suspended in weightless space.

  “Aiiiighh!” The Colonel yelled.

  “Are you optimal, Sir?” Amy asked through her clenched teeth.

  “I’m less than optimal, but acceptable, Major. I just hate being submerged in water like this strapped to my bleeping seat.”

  “Technically it’s not water,” the Tormalinas chimed in.

  “I don’t give a bleep whatever the bleep it is. I bleeping hate it!” the Colonel yelled.

  After several minute cycles, panels aft of the vessel opened. Amy watched as the liquid and all the bugs suspended in the liquid, black specks floating in a small light blue swirling ocean, began swirling slowly at first. Within moments, the mass of liquid swirled violently around the command room. The level of liquid dropped lower and lower. The liquid drained aft into open space behind the vessel, taking the bugs with it. In seconds, the liquid and the bugs froze into solid chunks of ice.

  “Colonel, I estimate that 86.43 percent of the bug infestation is cleared.”

  “86 bleeping percent? That’s way less than optimal. I would have hoped for more. Bleep. At least most of them are out of the way.”

  Amy saw only a few dozen or more of the bugs still clinging to the walls of the command room.

  “Tormalinas, can you estimate the bug reproduction rate now?” she said.

  “I estimate that in 55.25 spans the bugs will occupy every available space onboard.”

  “Colonel,” Amy said, “I recommend everyone remain in suit stasis until we reach Sigma Alpha Epsilon.”

  “Tormalinas, can you calculate an estimate of our chances of infection should we break suit containment?”

  “I estimate breaking suit containment presents a risk of 74.83 percent contamination and infection. The bugs are seeking points of infection. As yet, they are not capable of compromising the integrity of our space suits.”

  “We gotta know for sure,” the Colonel said. “Low man up,” he ordered.

  “Sir,” Amy insisted, “I do not concur.”

  “I’m not asking Major. I’m not interested in riding this out in spacesuits for the next 46 bleeping spans. We need to know what will happen if we break the seal on these suits.”

  Amy turned to face the Colonel and said, “Your idea is less than bleeping optimal.”

  “I do not require your concurrence in this protocol, Major.”

  “Sir, I will insist that the Tormalinas document my stern discouragement of this.”

  “It’s not your bleeping call to bleeping make, Major. Now bleeping low bleeping man bleeping up, Major. Execute.”

  “You’re going too bleeping far, Colonel. Maybe we can all bleeping make it. Maybe there’s another bleeping way. We need to keep bleeping calculating.”

  “I’m not bleeping asking you for your opinion.”

  “You will have my bleeping opinion,” Amy said, now rotating her command chair, ignoring her readouts.

  “You carry out my bleeping order right now, Major, or I will relieve you for bleeping insubordination and bleeping Lieutenant Huang will carry out my order.”

  Lieutenant Huang completely puzzled yelled, “Bleeping define, Tormalinas.”

  The Tormalinas replied, “Bleeping is an expletive, considered a colorful, derogatory, and/or exclamatory comment to express abject disrespect and/or disdain or to indicate intense emphasis or added seriousness as an enhancer to spoken language, never to be used in the presence of the aristocracy.”

  “No, you bleeping bleep,” Lieutenant Huang yelled. “Define last man up.”

  Amy and the Colonel turned and stared at Lieutenant Huang strapped into her command chair.

  The Tormalinas said, “Last man up is a command protocol where a commander orders the lowest ranking crewmember to break suit containment, exposing the crewmember to the potential contaminants in question. The commander will use the resulting evidence to determine if the rest of the crew are safe or should remain suited up.”

  “Sir,” Amy said, “I’m your XO, your executive officer, and I do not consent to this. We’ve suffered enough casualties already.”

  “Major Amy Porter, I said execute. Now execute. This is standard bleeping protocol.”

  The Colonel’s cold hard stare pierced through something in Amy’s psyche, puncturing right through to her very core.

  “Remove my restraints,” she ordered. With her restraints removed, she floated up. “Identify last man up,” she said, grabbing the pull handle on the ceiling, hovering just above Colonel Keeghan.

  The Tormalinas replied, “The last man up is Corporal Munn assigned to the engine room.”

  Amy turned to the Colonel and said, “I’ll be bleeping back with Munn momentarily.”

  “I have visual by bleeping linking implant,” Keeghan said. “There’s no need to bring her to the bleeping command room.”

  “You don’t get that bleeping luxury, Ian. I’m bringing Munn to the bleeping command room and here is where you can run your dirty bleeping last man up test.”

  The Colonel blinked several times at the sound of his first name. The rush of adrenalin made his name sound alien. He couldn’t remember the last time he had heard his first name. He wanted to strike Major Porter, to choke her with his hands, but instead, he closed his eyes and breathed in and out. When he opened his eyes, Amy had left the command room.

  Amy returned to the command room with Corporal Munn. Kendra Munn pulled herself upright, slid her right foot into a harness on the floor, and faced Colonel Keeghan alongside Major Porter and said, “Sir, Corporal Kendra Munn reporting as ordered.”

  Amy said, “Corporal Kendra Munn, you are the last man up. Do you understand what this means?”

  “Yes Ma’am. I do.”

  “I will ask you to sit in my command chair where I will restrain you.”

  “Yes Ma’am. I will comply.”

  “I will order your helmet to be removed and your containment seals broken.”

  “Yes Ma’am. I understand this calculation.”

  Tears fell from Kendra’s eyes. Tears fell now from Amy’s eyes too.

  “Ma’am?”

 
“Yes Corporal Munn.”

  “I don’t want to become a creature, not like Stamatakis, not like Edwards, not like Gunnery Sergeant Benavides. I hereby ask for termination should I become infected.”

  “Kendra, we don’t know if the condition is reversible. It could be temporary. We just don’t know.”

  “Ma’am, I watched Edwards turn as I was trying to put his helmet on. He had a hole in his head. It was unnatural. It was not optimal. I don’t want to know for one second cycle what that’s like. Promise me if I am infected you will give the order.”

  “I will,” Amy said.

  Munn sat down in Amy’s command chair. The Tormalinas activated the command safety restraints first and then the additional restraints.

  Munn sobbed and said, “I want my family to know I believed in the Commonwealth of Nations and I gave my life for the honor of the Tormalinas, her commanders, and her crew.”

  “They will know,” Amy said and waited.

  Colonel Keeghan sat and watched, perspiring in his suit. Amy looked into his cold blue eyes and said, “Tormalinas, release my helmet locks.”

  “Belay that bleeping order,” the Colonel yelled. “Tormalinas, sedate Major Porter.”

  Amy fell limp as a hypospray injector in the wrist of her space suit made contact with her skin. She felt a cold pinch there and then she felt herself floating, floating away as if being flushed out to space.

  {Return to Table of Contents}

 
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