Andrea – in search of space, picks up where Making Merry left off.
Fresh from her work on Project Prodigialis, Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson takes command of the Terra II project.
The largest in-system luxury cruise liner had been refitted and recommissioned in the Royal Space Regiment fleet as HMDSV Colin Pillinger. Its mission? To identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which can be populated over time to take pressure off Earth and its resources.
For the cast of characters at the start of the project, click here
For a brief list of acronyms and initialisms used, click here
Andrea – in search of space. Chapter six, part one.
The test kits arrived over a period of three days; the first few Dr Turner administered to all the medical staff, having said that he wanted to do it personally as a kind of feet-washing exercise. Very few of the members of his department or indeed of the senior staff had any idea what he had meant by that, even after he’d explained the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet before the last supper. Nonetheless, he did it. All the new recruits and five others tested positive. They were given antivirals and sent off to quarantine for two weeks. Of the rest of the crew and families, seventy-eight tested positive, including Andrea, Jason and Dr Turner himself. All were treated the same as the medical staff.
When the results were published, including the names of those of the senior staff, Tarquin hailed Andrea in her quarters. “I suppose,” he said, “that with you and Commodore Strangename being… erm… indisposed, command of CPIL rests with me, as First Officer. Do we need a proper handover?”
“Whatever for?” Andrea asked.
“Well, you’re off sick.”
“And so is Jason.”
“And how can either of you run the ship from your sickbeds?”
“Tarquin. You can see me now, can’t you?”
“How do I look to you, Tarquin?”
“Well, er, um… phwoar.” Tarquin flinched. Andrea smiled but let it go.
“And, Tarquin, do I appear to be at death’s door? Bedridden? Unable to carry out any duties?”
“Well, no. But—”
“Let me ask you another question. What duties do Commodore Strangename or myself carry out without using the ship’s computer?”
“Well… none, I suppose. That’s the beauty of this ship. You can do everything from anywhere on board.”
“Exactly. We can do everything from anywhere on board. So, you carry on with your duties, Tarquin, and leave Commodore Strangename and me to carry on with ours. Does that sound fair to you?”
“I suppose so.”
“I suppose so, what?”
“I suppose so, Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Tarquin. Carry on.” She cut the line and hailed Jason. “How are you feeling today, Jason?”
“Not a hundred percent, Andrea, if I’m honest. How about you?”
“I’m fine, thanks. Do you need to offload any of your work?”
“No, silly. To Tarquin.”
“You’re kidding, right? I’ll give Tarquin to do what I believe he’s capable of doing tolerably well – no more.”
“Fair enough. As long as you’re up to doing what you have to.”
“Don’t worry on that score, Andrea. I’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
The following day, Jason was a long way from fine. His medical monitor detected that he was having trouble breathing and his blood oxygen saturation was down to ninety-one percent. He was immediately rushed to the ship’s hospital and given supplemental oxygen. Four hours later he was joined by Dr Turner in the next bed. Life on board carried on as normal; Shinshuu Tanimoto’s team continued with the manufacture of MTS pods, turning out one each month. A total of nine had been built, all but one of which was tested, certified, commissioned and placed into service. The ninth one suffered a component failure during testing and so had to be decommissioned. They were also gearing up to produce the MTS drive for Sir Prijs. Once completed and tested, it could be placed in an area adjacent to the SEP generator, provided it was well shielded.
Days passed, and whilst Dr Turner was making a good recovery, the drugs that were designed for this virus seemed to be having no effect on Jason. After a week in the general ward, the medical staff, in accordance with the doctor’s advice, transferred him to the high-dependency unit where they sedated him and connected him to an artificial ventilator. He being unable to carry out his duties, Andrea had no option but to elevate Tarquin from acting First Officer to acting Captain. In an interesting twist, when Andrea gave the instruction to the ship’s computer, its response was straight out of late 20th century personal computing yet, at the same time, displayed an understanding beyond even that normally expected from an advanced AI – “Are you sure?” The question gave Andrea pause for thought and it was some seconds before she gave an affirmative response.
Tarquin was very soon on the line to Andrea.
“Admiral, Ma’am,” he said.
“What is it, Tarquin?”
“Computer’s just told me I’m acting commander and master with all privileges. What does that mean?”
“It means that you are in charge of the ship whilst Jason is unwell.”
“But I don’t know what to do.”
“You don’t actually have to do anything. Your role is as enabler, a go-between. Just make sure that all the departments are working together well.”
“What if I have to make any decisions?”
“You won’t. Refer them to me.”
“Don’t screw up?”
“That… and don’t try showing off like you did on the moon.”
“I don’t think I’ll do that again. That was a bad screw-up.”
“Just be sure you don’t. Carry on.”
For five weeks, Jason was kept in the high-dependency unit in an induced coma being artificially ventilated. During that time, the number of infections on board rose steadily until almost fifty percent of the ship’s complement had tested positive. The majority of those affected never experienced any symptoms and of those who did, most were mild or relatively mild and cleared up within a few days. Only three remained hospitalised and, sadly, one had died – Warrant Officer Duncan de Sauderley. Following a full post-mortem, carried out remotely using robotic techniques, his body was frozen and placed into storage. As his immediate superior, it would normally have been down to head of security Shannon Crawford to notify his next-of-kin but Andrea insisted that as it was she who recruited him it should be her job to pass on the news.
She had Packway send an official letter under her signature to his younger sister Ivy, his only known relative, notifying her that her brother had succumbed to the virus and offering to bring his body down personally, once the ship was released from quarantine, if that were Ivy’s wish. Ivy eventually responded to the email address Andrea had given her in the letter. She said that she had always believed Duncan would most probably have wanted to be buried at sea but that the most recent email he’d sent to her, the previous Christmas, had led her to believe that he would prefer a space burial. Andrea told her that once the ship was declared virus-free, Duncan would, indeed, receive a space burial with full military honours which she would be welcome to attend. Andrea closed by advising Ivy that she didn’t need to tell her whether she wanted to attend until she had the exact date of the funeral.
Some days later, Jason’s body decided it had taken all it could, and it gradually shut down. Except for essential services, the whole ship went into full lock-down for seven days – not as an infection control measure this time, but as a mark of respect and an expression of the deep grief and sense of loss felt by the entire crew.