Lancaster didn’t feel the impact between the side of his head and the partition separating the cockpit and the aft compartment when he was flung out of his chair, not at first. He could feel blood dripping from his temple, dazed from what was surely a substantial hit. The wind was knocked out of him, too, so he couldn’t even cry out reflexively. Moments later, the haze of his vision resolved on Alesser’s brown eyes, though he couldn’t hear what he was saying. That was answer enough to whatever question he’d asked, and a medical tricorder appeared after Lancaster blinked, and the commander was applying pressure to his temple. As hard as he was trying to stay conscious, everything went black after a few more moments.
When the captain woke up, he was in the bunk in the aft compartment. His throat was dry, and there was still a soft ringing in his ears, but the pain was gone. When he reached up to his forehead, it was clean and dry, without a bandage. Alesser must have managed to use the dermal regenerator and find the correct combination of drugs to help stave off the worst effects of a head injury. Before Lancaster could say anything, the commander was next to him.
“Don’t try to get up. You have a concussion,” Alesser warned. The Ardanan reached out to stop him with a firm hand on his shoulder when he tried anyway. “I’m stronger than I look, Captain.”
“Apparently,” Lancaster replied, with a sigh, wondering how he’d been moved into the bed without causing more damage. He looked down to see that Alesser had stripped off his jacket and undershirt to put a cardiac monitor over his heart, and he noticed a small holographic screen pulsing softly with his heartbeat and respiration. “How long was I out?”
“Four hours,” Alesser said. “We’re afloat, and we have most of our systems except engines and communications,” he added before Lancaster could ask for more information.
The captain did some quick math in his head. “The Arcturus should already be at Sentinel Major,” he noted. The two vessels had been traveling in opposite directions for approximately seven hours, and then the Arcturus had kept going for another four.
Alesser nodded. “Yes, sir. Based on our rough scans of the system and our flight time, I’ve been able to work out that we’re in the Zaaldi system. It’s uninhabited. We’re 4 light-years from Starbase 4, 4 light-years from Sentinel Major, and 4 hours away from our next check-in.”
“So, assuming they send a ship to investigate precisely when we fail to check-in, it’s 11 hours at maximum warp for them or for the Arcturus,” Lancaster muttered. “Will we stay afloat that long?”
“Under normal circumstances, the shuttle’s natural buoyancy and the emergency flotation bladders, we would be able to remain afloat indefinitely,” Alesser said. “But…”
“Spit it out, Commander.”
“One of the reasons this planet was never settled is that the microorganisms in the ocean are colonial in nature. They adhere to anything they can find. Usually floating debris, which they eventually overcome by their sheer mass and drag under the water,” the operations officer explained.
“And how much additional mass have we already picked up?”
“About ten percent of our current mass.”
“And the flotation bladders are rated for fifty percent more mass than the shuttle and four occupants, so…,” the captain said, struggling a little more with this round of math.
“The computer modeling suggests that the accumulation rate will increase as the organisms themselves create more surface area, so we’ll be underwater in eight hours,” Alesser replied.
While Alesser did genuinely annoy Lancaster, the captain also knew that his operations officer knew his stuff when it came to engineering and science. He was extremely capable, which is perhaps why his obsequiousness grated so much more. While he’d initially agreed with him about preferring Sheppard’s company, he was glad in some ways that he’d have a fellow capable engineer with him to figure out a solution to their problem.
“Nothing like survival on a deadline.”
While the shuttle could safely make it down to the seafloor with no problems under most circumstances, Lancaster doubted that it would be able to survive doing so with so much extra mass attached to it, let alone be in a condition to signal for help before their power ran out. A day-long trip was starting to turn into much more of an ordeal than he’d signed up for.