As chief engineer on a starship, the last thing you want to hear is that the captain is dead. It’s the worst kind of exciting day, and actually watching it happen just magnifies the problem.
Sure, it wasn’t our fault. But review boards always think equipment malfunctions are deliberate, and careers can (and do) end over something as ridiculous as ruined laundry.
But the captain was dead, and we had to find out why.
The how was easy enough. A tear in a supposedly indestructible transit tube caused a catastrophic loss of pressure. It’s just bad luck that it happened while the captain was coming back to the ship from a diplomatic mission, on a day when every airlock above our deck was malfunctioning.
Of course, ours worked just fine, the outer doors slamming shut right in the captain’s face to prevent the entire compartment from being sucked out into space along with him. They still haven’t found his body, but that’s the least of our problems right now.
At top of our list is that the first officer won’t let us examine either the airlock, or the transit tube itself.
I’ll say this about the first officer, his paranoia is on par with his attention to detail. Soldiers at his back, he marched in minutes after the accident, hustling us all away from our stations at gunpoint. Then, as per protocol, he’d had any potential witnesses taken off to holding cells, until only the two of us and his goon squad remained.
“Just what is it you’re trying to accomplish, sir?”
Engineering section isn’t all that spacious with just us in here, and a half-dozen extra bodies scattered amongst open panels, diagnostic equipment, and the aftermath of explosive decompression made for very close quarters. But now the soldiers were applying orange warning tabs to every panel they could, including the controls to the still-open airlock. The first officer himself was rooting through a maintenance locker, tossing out tools and binders into yet another pile.
“I’m not letting you idiots destroy evidence of your negligence!”
“Sir, we have to know what went wrong. Every system on the ship could be compromised right now, and the longer we wait to investigate, the worse the problem could get. As first officer, it’s your duty to…”
The first officer spun around, and the double handful of binders he was rifling through exploded across the compartment.
“I’m the Captain now, and don’t you forget it!”
I’ve never seen someone’s face turn exactly that shade of red before, and my eyes darted to the airlock’s pressure indicator just to make sure we weren’t having another problem. One of the binders landed at my feet, and I bent to pick it up before replying.
“Okay, Captain, but every minute, every second we wait could mean another malfunction. We still don’t know what happened to the other airlocks, and if something happens to this one, all your pretty warning signs won’t stop us from dying either.”
The acting captain’s eyes looked about ready to pop out of his head, and it took me a moment to realize he wasn’t staring at me, but at my hands.
Turning the binder over, I read the big blue letters on the cover: Maintenance Log.
On my ship, in my section, every part and wire is double-checked before installation, and documented with two signatures. I’m usually one of them, so I knew exactly what part of the log to open up for airlock maintenance.
“Hand that over right now, chief, if you know what’s good for you!”
And there it was.
The first officer’s signature, checking out a pressure suit and cutting torch late last night, and returning them just before the end of the shift.
“What’s good for me, Captain, is letting these fine men and women with guns know that you are to be relieved of duty, on suspicion of murder!”
The soldiers swiveled their attention between the two of us, not exactly sure what to do. Technically, the first officer and I held the same rank, but he was one step above me in the chain of command, and aboard a starship that’s the only thing that matters.
And he knew it.
“I think we’ve heard just about enough out of you, chief. So put down the log book, step away, and I promise this will go easy for you.”
The manic paranoia in his voice was gone, replaced by cold conviction of purpose. That, more than anything, convinced me he was the one. His motives didn’t matter, the deed was done, and I was clearly going to be the next one out the airlock.
“So, do you even have a plan? Or was killing the captain the extent of your ambition?”
With each word, I took a half-step away from the open airlock doors. The soldiers’ guns tracked me as I shuffled, and whether or not they were conscious of the fact, they moved away from the open doors as well.
Not so much the first officer, who stepped right in front of them. Maybe it was my smile, or the way I was looking at him, but removing whatever threat I or the logbook posed was the only thing on his mind.
So I threw it over his shoulder into the airlock, and he reflexively dove in after it.
At least six witnesses will attest to the fact that all I did was shut the door after him. It was his pounding and screaming that tripped the emergency release, but to his credit, he kept hold of the log book as he was blasted out into the void. Good thing, too. The transponders on those things last forever.
And then, for the second time in as many hours, I had to call it in.
“Bridge, this is engineering. So the Captain is dead, again….”
The Captain is Dead is an upcoming new release from AEG that features co-operative gameplay as players race against time to repair malfunctioning ship systems, deal with hostile aliens, and warp the ship out of danger. Releasing in 2017.
Scott J. Magner is rising star in the fiction world best known for his novel Homefront. He is a writer, editor, designer, developer, and worldbuilder. His work appears in books, tabletop and online role-playing games, card games, miniatures games, and board games. He has a passion for movies and classic science fiction, and spends his days tweaking and twisting new universes. He is known to be a member of the loyal order of the buffalo and a proud member of #leftshark.