Freya's Tears

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Shuttle's Return

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: New Pacifica - Freya's Tears

As soon as the shuttle reconnected to the ship, Kolodka removed his restraining straps. “I’ll get to work on that ice analysis, just to confirm. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes if the computer’s working.”

Els acknowledged his task with a wave of her hand and removed her straps as well. To Austin, she said, “I’ll prep and set the course while you finish the post-flight checks here. When you’re ready, get to the bridge and get us started.”

“Will do, Skipper.”

She patted him on the shoulder as she passed, stepping carefully over the rear seat to access the floor airlock. Clambering back into Freya’s Tears, she enjoyed a brief moment of relief at the more spacious corridor. Kasli was there to greet her, and Els’s heart fluttered at the sight. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Kasli smiled. “Kol said it’s confirmed?”

Els’s joy muted at the reminder of reality. “Ja, there’s no doubt. We’re at New Pacifica. There’s a lot of biological debris out there.”

Kasli’s smile faded, forehead creasing with worry lines. “What in the spirits’ names could possibly have that much power?”

“Dunno.” Els sighed, shoving the unanswerable question aside as she started toward the common room door. “Is Naya done?”

“Yes.” Kasli turned and kept pace at Els’s side. “The diagnostics are a ninety-nine point eight percent positive we’re where we’re supposed to be. She had time to run them on the nav station too—similar data. There’s nothing wrong with the ship.”

After personally witnessing the results of the planetary tragedy and trusting in her skill as a navigator, Els had no doubts regarding their location. Naya’s findings simply covered Els’s technological ass if the authorities came calling. Granted, no one with a brain would think that a mid-range hauler and its oddments crew had anything to do with this global destruction, but someone would have to take the fall for the murder of millions. People always suspected the first person to discover the body.

Els stepped into the common area. “Call the crew together in about thirty minutes. I’m going to plug in a flight path for Austin before I talk to everybody. He should be finished in the shuttle by then.”

“Okay.” Kasli stopped in the kitchenette to access the intercom, her warm voice sounding tinny through the speakers as Els crossed the room and went downstairs. “Shuttle’s back. Captain wants a crew meeting in the common area in half an hour.”

It didn’t take long for Els to program a route around the worst of the damage. Calculating an inner system course was much different than figuring out the navigational foibles between star systems. The slower speeds in system gave her much more leeway, allowing her to use the external sensors in tandem with the computer to make adjustments on the fly.

She headed upstairs afterward, not concerned with leaving the bridge temporarily unmanned. The ship was currently at a standstill, and proximity sensors would set off an alarm if anything got within an unsafe distance of the hull. Once Freya’s Tears got moving again, the crew would be back to bridge rotations though with a slight alteration. The ship would be moving in real time, not on autopilot, which meant only those individuals with piloting experience would be allowed to take a shift. That meant for the next four days it would be she, Austin and Naya responsible for the bridge and no one else.

At the top of the stairs, she saw that everyone had gathered. Kolodka, Naya and Tobias sat in the couches between the kitchenette and the stairs. Hrothgar and Kasli idled at the dining table, Kasli straddling the bench and Hroth leaning back with his elbows on the table. Tobias peeled a mound of potatoes in the kitchen area as it was his week to cook. Austin entered from the far door, having just completed his post-flight checks aboard the shuttle.

Els crossed her arms over her chest. “Naya, Kasli told me about your findings. Want to add anything?”

Naya shook her head. “No, it’s pretty straight forward. There’s nothing wrong with the ship sensors. We’re exactly where you thought we should be.”
Nodding, Els looked at her engineer.

Kolodka took the hint and cleared his throat. “We picked up an ice sample from one of the asteroids. The chemical make up is consistent with New Pacifica’s sea water.” He glanced around at the gathering. “Besides, we found a Lofran whale out there and they don’t exist anywhere else.”

Tobias barked an incredulous laugh. “A whale?”

“Yep.” Kolodka rubbed his chin. “I don’t know what kind of weapon destroyed the planet, but it didn’t vaporize everything. There’s a lot of debris out there that’s in one piece, including biomatter.”

That tidbit sobered Tobias as well any others who had thought it humorous to witness a giant sea creature floating in space.

Els interrupted before anyone continued the conversation on that subject. “We need fuel before we can jump system. Kol’s right about the amount of intact detritus—we might be able to locate a fuel dump en route to our next jump point across system, so we’re skirting the system. I’ve programmed our course and Austin will get us started in a few minutes.”

Austin nodded.

“That’ll mean he, Naya and I will be on bridge watch for the duration. In the meantime, I want three people in the shuttle searching for salvage and fuel. Kasli will set up the shift rotation.” She turned her attention to her second in command. “And that includes the bridge crew, understand?”

“Got it.”

Els returned her attention to the others. “Once we’re on the other side, we’ll top off our water tanks with some of the ice. If we still haven’t located fuel, we’ll head to the fourth planet and scoop the gases from there. That’s a last resort.” She scanned the room. “Everybody got it?” She received a myriad of positive responses from gestures to grunts of acknowledgement. “All right. Austin, get us started and then take a break. Naya, you’ll take first bridge watch.”

That signaled the end of the impromptu meeting as Austin padded across the common area and headed to the bridge, Naya trailing lightly behind. Kasli stood and approached Els.

“Austin’s going to take the next bridge rotation,” Els said. “Then me, so figure that into your salvage schedule.”

“That means you’ll be going out as soon as the shuttle’s ready. You just got back from a fifteen hour run.”

Els recognized the concerned tone and smiled. “I know. We’ll just take a short jaunt so the others can see what we’re up against. Set up the rotation and I’ll get the shuttle warmed up in a half hour.” She bypassed the stairs, walking toward her cabin. “I have to send a quick message to Folsum about what we’ve found before I report to the shuttle.”

“Got it.” Kasli turned away, pulling an archaic notebook and pencil from her vest pocket.

Grinning at Kasli’s low-tech methods, Els shook her head and entered her cabin.


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