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Part of USS Helios: Echoes in the Weeds and Bravo Fleet: Labyrinth

It Might Kill Me to Breathe (pt. 9)

USS Helios, orbiting Helike
09.2401
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The silence was comfortable in the forward lounge as the delta shift rolled into its fourth hour. The last of the chattering ensigns had finally returned their plates to the temporary kitchen set up against the aft bulkhead to make the emergency field rations more appealing. The cook had powered down his hot plates and cleaned his pans and with a shared nod to the lounge's single occupant departed for some well-earned rest before the next rotation. Commander Biban Th’erhilnon was alone with his thoughts once more. He swilled the empty mug idly around his fingers as he pressed his forehead to the transparent surface of the windows, the tinny ringing of the mug against the grey table like the hum of a warp core. Steady, predictable, reliable. It was a paltry replacement for the ship's own core that lay frustratingly silent, despite the commander's best efforts. 

Bib let out a frustrated snort of air against the window, clouding the vision of the nearby planet and the debris field beyond that sheltered at its heart the infuriating Underspace corridor that had brought Helios to this marooning. Repairs were slow going and no doubt Ensign How's recent revelation of their distant stellar location would only slow them even more. 50,000 lightyears is a big punch to the stomach, especially without warp drive. Their only option was to go back through the Underspace corridor but with no warp core and no thus no way to generate a warp field they couldn't even open the door let alone navigate through the barely charted subspace network. So for now, they sat, tail between their legs. 

“Please don't break her,” he whispered to the perilous solar system beyond the glass as he recalled Captain Tanek's parting words. Beyond the window he knew the space surrounding them was filled with overwhelming solar radiation that interfered with their warp field and kept them locked on this subspace island, only the shelter on the night side of the planet protected it from slowly cooking the hull and its crew within. “I won't be able to look him in the eye if I break her.”

“I think he'll understand” a voice hissed from behind him, the slow draw and release of converted air a telltale sign of its owner.

“I thought you were still in isolation?” Bib pushed a chair from under the table, offering it to the Barzan woman, her rebreather implants quietly hissing in the background. 

“I speak to you from the beyond!” Placing her cane beneath an armpit Oshira wiggled her fingers in mock mysticism as she took the seat, landing with a surprising thud into the cushioned panel. 

“Ensign Garinna down in the fabrication team.” she tapped the small scars on her cheeks where the rebreathers were located, “did you know she spent a year aboard a Benzite mining colony before joining?” She let out a long contented sigh as she wiggled her shoulders, sinking into the thick padding of the chair. “She's become a dab hand with rebreathers and their microcircuitry and she wasn't busy, because…” she motioned towards the recessed replicators in the walls that had lay quiet for several days now in the interest of power conservation. Their dark screens and inactive buffer plates were a constant reminder of their predicament as a barely perceptible layer of dust began forming on their surface. 

“You really can find anyone and anything can't you?” Bib smiled, pouring her a cup of water from the jug on the table. 

“That's why they call me bloodhound.” She lifted her cup to her lips and took a short sip, barely masking the gentle shake in her arm. 

“Do you think you could find me a way out of here?” Bib slumped back, his self-pity threatening to rise above a low simmer.  

“You know the way out.” She tapped the table's small panel creating a digital enhancement of the window showing the debris field beyond the ship's bow, the crackling light of the Underspace portal creeping around the jagged silhouettes of the broken ships.

“I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of that road.” A shudder raced down Bib's spine as the two watched a great jolt of energy leap out and smite a piece of debris that dared to wander too close to the grumbling portal mouth. 

“Why?”

“Why?!” BiB cried, “Did you miss the briefing about our current situation?” He threw his arms wide, motioning to the empty lounge as his frustrations began to spill out. "We are marooned in a distant system at the edge of the actual galaxy! We are probably 50,000 light years from Federation space. We have no warp core. Sensors are barely functioning and we can only work on them for an hour at a time before the engineers need decon which means a day job has become a week job! We can see about this much of the space around us, so there could be threats everywhere and we wouldn't know it until they chomped down on our throat. I have lost a senior member of the crew somewhere out there, plus the symbiote they carried, so essentially 3 people are now MIA. And between you and me they are almost definitely dead." Bib stood from the chair, his barely restrained frustrations boiling over into the crew lounge. “There is an ominous debris field hovering outside the window twenty-four seven and it seems that the only way out of this place seems to be through the portal that brought us here which we can't open or use because, if you'll remember, NO WARP CORE!”

Bib's heaving breaths filled the silence as Oshira waited patiently for the man to finish. “Do you feel better?”

“Maybe a little,” Bib confessed, his anger beginning to peter out. 

“Would a bon-bon help?” She pulled a pink striped bag from her jacket pocket and unfurling the top, offered the frustrated Andorian a small yellow treat. 

Bib blinked slowly in disbelief. “Those are the Captains.”

“Where do you think Tanek gets them from?” She smiled as she popped a sugar-covered orb into her mouth. “I ‘an ’ind a'y'hing.” 

Bib let out another frustrated sigh as he took a sweet from the bag, placing it on his tongue and beginning to chew. “We have to go back into the Underspace don't we?”

Oshira swallowed loudly. “Yes.” With a grunt of exertion, the older woman turned in her seat to face the young officer. “What are you really scared of Bib?”

“There are 507 souls currently aboard this ship, more if you count the relays Oyo swears have a personality.” Oshira let out a slight laugh, the young Xindi Ops chief was well known to chat to consoles and bulkheads whilst she worked, going so far as to name a particularly problematic relay on deck 6 Lucifer for it's persistent failures. “I've already lost 3 people just by coming here."

“Through no fault of your own.” She laid a hand on his. “Exploration is dangerous Bib, we all know that.” Her breath caught in her throat, causing her to cough and splutter as she was exposed to the imperfect mix of gases in the ship's air. 

“We almost lost you.” Bib rubbed her back as she took several deep breaths and settled back into a rhythm. “And what if we're not the only one? What if there are a hundred other ships out there all suffering the same problem? What is the Federation has just been ripped to shreds and we're all that's left?”

“That's a big if. And a certain level of arrogance Commander.” Oshira took another sip of the water as her admonishment fell upon Bib's furrowed brow. “Do you really think us so important that the universe has singled us out to suffer?”

“Well, no…”

“Exactly. The universe doesn't have a plan Bib, it's not a grand design to challenge us. If I've learnt anything it's that it's all just excitable atoms running around bumping into other excitable atoms.” 

Bib remained silent, the balloons of his pity party pinpricked and fast deflating. It was easy to forget the wisdom that wandered through the ship's halls, particularly those who had recently returned to service like Oshira and Doctor Ashra, a lifetime of hard-learned lessons living shoulder to shoulder with fresh-faced ignorance.

“Danger comes with the territory, everyone that steps aboard a starship knows that, it's inescapable. It's the deal we make to get to see the universe.” She leant back into the chair's wide arms with a sigh, “Why do you think people join Starfleet? Why did you?” 

Bib chewed his cheek, considering his reply. “I always liked the night sky on Andoria, especially after an ice storm, my father would tell me off whilst repairing power relays on the surface because I would get distracted staring at the stars. I was desperate to see them up close.”

Oshira smiled, accentuating the motherly form of her face, filled with well-earned wrinkles and smile lines “I wanted to chase comets, something about their constant movement fascinated me.”

“There aren't any comets here. And we're not moving very fast.” Bib felt thoroughly deflated.

“At the moment.” Oshira pushed herself up from the chair, “There are no comets at the moment.” She motioned with her cane to the feed of the debris field projected onto the window as she lifted it from the table and steadied herself, her arms still gently shaking with the effort. “I'm pretty sure they're all through there.”

"Oyvo to Bahir, Sir we have an update from the surface." 

“Stand by Oyvo.” Bib answered, tapping his combadge. “Oshira, do you really think it's worth the risk?”

The older Barzan woman turned back to look at the neophyte Captain, his legacy stretching out before him, a lifetime of adventures yet unrealised. “Sometimes it might kill me just to breathe Bib,  Of course, it's worth it.”

Oshira turned as Bib clicked his comm badge once again, a smile spreading across her face. The chances of chasing comets were suddenly a lot higher. 

Comments

  • I really enjoyed how you opened the story. It was a perfect description that truly brought me into the narrative. The isolation felt by the Commander followed by their camaraderie with Oshira was a great bit of storytelling that has me wanting more. It was a wonderful addition to the Helios story arc.

    July 13, 2024
  • Bib

    First Officer / XO

  • Oshira Vhan

    Theta Squad - Logistics & Operations