by Michael Kingswood
The ship rocked, and Karl felt himself hurled to the side.
He clenched his teeth and rolled his shoulders in anticipation of the impact, but still he ended up grunting out a half-shout when he struck the bulkhead across from where he had been working.
The unexpected g-force left as quickly as it came, and he slumped back to the deck, breathing quickly to regain his bearings even as he looked around the room.
He was lying on the wall. Or, the wall as it had been a few moments before. The deck that used to be the floor was a meter and a half to his right and above him, from where he lay. The control panel that he had been working on remained open, though its access hatch was slightly cockeyed, as though the sudden change in gravity vector had thrown it off true.
And why shouldn’t it have? It had thrown Karl halfway across the compartment and, from the feel of it, came damn close to dislocating his left shoulder.
Karl grunted and licked his lips, and grimaced at the metallic flavor of blood. He spat, and watched as the mixture of blood and spittle arced up and then sailed down to land on what used to be the athwartships bulkhead next to his temple. Then he cursed.
The battle was going even worse than he’d thought he would.
Karl pushed himself up onto his feet, ignoring the multitude of protests from joints and muscles all over his body. His instincts called out for him to curse the Captain and her idiocy. And boy, he was tempted to do that. But he’d pledged her his loyalty.
So instead, he kicked on the magnetic grips of his boots and, ignoring the pain, he stepped up onto the wall that used to be the floor, and, holding himself erect against the third-g pull down from his right, he stalked back toward the engineering control panel he had been working on before all hell broke loose.
He reached the panel and took hold of the cover. Looking at it, he grunted. It was warped, but not so bad he couldn’t force it back into place. Then it would just be a matter of jury-rigging the fasteners back into place, and the thing would be solid. At least for long enough to last through this battle.
An electronic beep, and then the Captain’s voice echoed throughout the compartments of the ship.
“Attention all hands.” As always, her voice slammed through Karl’s defenses, her melodic alto seeming to carry the words against the defenses of his rational mind into the very center of his being, and he felt buoyed by them. “The enemy is retreating. We’ve taken down one of them, and the other is almost crippled. We are in pursuit. Stand strong. Athena Triumphs.”
Karl couldn’t hear it through the bulkheads separating himself from the other members of the crew, but he could feel them shouted Huzzahs, fists launched toward whatever passed for the ceiling as the Athena adjusted her flight vector to send her on toward the last of the enemy ships, and victory.
And, with victory, prize money.
But that wasn’t Karl’s concern. He had to get this panel back online, and fix the local gravitic system.
His shoulder cried out, reminding him of the necessity of his mission. And then the acceleration vector changed again.
He felt pressed into his boots as the engines kicked on full thrust in the direction of the ship’s hull, and he was once again standing on the floor as it was designed. He glanced to the side, toward the bulkhead that so recently had been the floor, and that had thwacked his shoulder so strenuously, and scowled.
Then he got back to work.
The panel’s cover was twisted, but only slightly. It would be easy enough to get it back into place; he might not even need to use a mallet to do it. But the wiring beneath, that connected the touch pad to the circuitry below, was a shambles. Half of the wire bundle was pulled off its connections on the circuit board.
And, of course, none of the wires had any label tabs connected to them, to tell where they were supposed to go.
“Son of a bitch,” Karl said to himself. This was not good at all.
He tabbed the communication patch on his right breast, opening a connection to Sven, the Chief Engineer. A second later, Sven’s gruff, gravelly voice came into Karl’s ear through his implants.
“What’s the status?” Sven asked.
Karl tried not to let his frustration get into his voice as he replied. “Ecologic controls in compartment 16 are shot. Wiring is pulled completely. Don’t suppose you’ve got a wiring diagram?”
“You check the tech manual?”
Karl ground his teeth. Of course he’d check the tech manual. He tapped the fingers on his left hand together, and the manual’s pages opened up in the left side of his vision, fed there by his implants. It showed every electrical connection in the panel he was working on.
But it didn’t show which wire was which. Or rather, none of the wires in the panel itself had any labels that corresponded to the connection points in the tech manual.
Karl bit back a curse. “Tech manual’s no good. People’ve been working this thing for so long, none of the connections are labelled anymore.” He drew a breath. He knew the answer to the question he was about to ask before he asked it. “Don’t suppose your folks used wire removal forms?”
Sven’s sarcastic laugh was all the answer he needed.
Karl didn’t wait for the response. He cut the feed, and stood there, pressed down by the engines’ thrust—until the pilot needed to shift his course—and swore up a storm.
Back when he’d been in the Navy, Karl had cursed his Chiefs when they insisted he use wire removal forms every time he did any kind of work inside a panel. It seemed like the ultimate waste of time…until the day he’d had to change out a main engine throttle control, which required removing over two hundred separate connections.
That had taught him the value of knowing what went where; it would have taken him months to put the damn thing back together again, otherwise.
Now, he was looking at the inside of this panel, at maybe half as many connections, all severed. And he felt his spirits sink completely.
This was going to suck.
Karl keyed his comms again. “It’s going to take me a while to get this fixed, then. Going to have to trace each wire back to its source.” He paused, the added. “Sure would help if you could get the Captain to not maneuver for a while.”
Sven snorted in Karl’s ear. “Lose this ship, we cut our pay in half. Deal with the course changes.”
The comms cut off, and Karl scowled. Easy for Sven to say that. He was up in the bridge, where gravitics weren’t compromised. He wouldn’t feel each and every little –
As if responding to Karl’s thoughts, the gravity vector shifted, and he had to clutch onto the panel’s stanchion to avoid losing his feet; and to hell with trusting the magnets on the ends of his boots to save him.
The shift in acceleration eased after a moment, and thrust resumed simply pulling him down into what had been designed to be the deck.
Karl stood there, panting, and swore to himself, and to the empty compartment around him. A big part of him wanted to say to hell with this. It wasn’t worth the hassle. He could fix the damn thing after their engagement was done; it wasn’t like there were any vital systems in here.
But he set that aside just as quickly as he thought it. Yes, he could put these repairs off. But that would just add to his plate of things to do later, and from the comms so far during Athena’s engagement he would have more than enough stuff to repair once they were through this.
Plus, there was always the chance Sven would claim he’d been shirking, and convince the Captain to cut him back from a full share to half, or even a quarter. Which would cast aside a year of toil on the Athena getting to the status he currently had. And not like anyone else on the crew would stand up for him; lower share for one meant greater shares for the rest.
So Karl shoved his misgivings down, tabbed over to the applicable page in the tech manual, and set about tracing the first wire in the control panel back to its source.
* * * * *
Karl lost track of the hours. It would have been easy enough to check how long he’d been going, but what was the point?
The ship had long since stopped its wild maneuvers. And at some point the Captain had come over the announcing circuit, declaring their victory and heaping praise on the crew who had brought them to this great victory—and a greater payday, apparently.
But Karl paid that no mind. Though part of the crew, he never took the Captain’s praises over the announcing circuit to heart. He had long ago figured out that she meant the praise for the tactical guys; the ones who fought the ship or, if a boarding was necessary, stormed the other ship to take out the crew and claim her a prize.
Maintenance guys? The ones who kept Athena running and actually made her victories possible?
Nary a word for the likes of them.
But that was ok. Karl had learned the reality of things back in his Navy days. The techs kept the ships running, the grunts got all the glory. And they did all the dying.
Karl didn’t envy them one bit.
Except they never had to trace out unlabelled wires through half a dozen panels to figure out their source, so as to be certain they weren’t re-connected to the wrong portion of a circuit board and maybe blow the whole damn thing out, and with it the life support in a quarter of the ship.
The stress of that kind of work ate at a man’s liver.
But, Karl considered, at least it wasn’t a bullet. So there was that.
He looked down at the wire he had been tracing for the last hour, and at the termination point he’d finally located. Two compartments over from the panel he’d started in, within a minor power panel that was subservient to a networking junction three decks above.
It provided control power to the servo-actuators that allowed the ventilation compressors to turn, sending fresh air from the atmosphere processing equipment in the Auxiliary Machinery Room to this, and six other compartments in the after third of the ship.
He’d been wrong; it wouldn’t have just been the space he was in that would have been screwed if he’d not gotten the job done. It would have been much worse than that.
But he’d found it, and ticked that wire off on the form he’d been keeping. Then he made his way back to the original space, and to his damaged panel.
He looked within. Just a couple more wires to go, and then he would be able to re-attach all the leads and get this thing back to running. After he forced the panel back in place, of course. But those last two looked like they’d be easy.
And they were. The first led to a grounding strap. Essential, but easy to follow. The second, to an LED on the panel’s lid, to give status indication.
Karl reattached them, then forced the panel closed, and removed the tag he’d placed on the main power supply to the control panel. He felt a small surge of satisfaction when he flipped the breaker closed and the panel lit up. And then a greater one when he felt fresh air begin to move throughout the compartment again.
He took a moment for gather up his tools, closing them in the plastic case he always carried them around in. Then he tapped the panel and started walking back forward.
The mess called. Midrats and some tea. Then his bunk, and what few hours down he could get.
Tomorrow he’d do it all again. And then after the next battle he’d do even more.
But that was for later. For now there was just the satisfaction of a job well done.
And a nice paycheck when next they hit port.
And that was enough.
A collection of Michael Kingswood’s published stories are available here: