I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog. Two chapters per week. Given there are 63 chapters in the book, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
Chapter Two – Emergency Control
Corporate Headquarters of McCallister Stellar Transport was located just outside the Quito launch complex fence line, on the south side of the city. A sprawling campus of just over twenty acres housed the corporate buildings nestled together inside a guarded wall: a large center tower, that stood some fifty stories in height, seven or eight smaller outbuildings, and the cargo warehouses at the back of the campus along the fenceline with the launch complex. The entire campus, with the exception of the warehouses with their railway terminals and sprawling parking lots for heavy lift trucks, was carefully maintained and planted with the finest greenery available on any of the known habitable worlds. Paved walkways joined the various buildings. No vehicles were allowed inside the campus except for the chief executives’ and the cargo trucks, but the truck roads were concealed from sight behind carefully planted trees in front of stout concrete walls.
It was a quick five minute cab ride from Jo’s condo in the light evening traffic; this time of night, more vehicles were going from the campus than towards it. She could have walked it in about half an hour, and most days she did. But between the weather and the urgency of Harold’s message, she hopped into the first cab she could find.
The guards at the campus entrance noted her identity as she approached and waved her through with only a cursory glance. Supposedly the process would be quicker and easier with the new implants, but she never had any problem with the identichips in her security badge or holocard.
The Emergency Control Center was located on the thirtieth floor of the main tower. The lift from the ground floor brought her up with barely a whisper. The noise inside the ECC was quite a bit louder. Large status displays dominated the wall directly to the left of the entrance. A glance showed her they were being updated by the latest feeds from the stellar Lagrange point navigation satellites as well as those from a pair of starliners: Chamberlain and Leonov. Workstations for the various support organizations were scattered around the floor below. Directly opposite the status displays, on a raised platform above the support workstations, the command table was fully manned by the usual people, except for the Incident Commander’s station at the center. Li Wu Shin, her principal assistant, was sitting there, and looked relieved when she walked in the door.
“Jo, where’ve you been?” Wu Shin asked, echoing Harold’s earlier words as she walked up to the incident commander’s station. He stood up, tapping the control console to log out from the command and control voice network as he did.
Jo didn’t bother to answer Wu Shin’s question; it didn’t matter anyway. She settled down into the command chair and inserted the earbud resting there specifically for her use. Most of the other principals had database implants, so they didn’t need one.
“What’s the situation?”
Wu Shin leaned over her shoulder as he filled her in.
“The Hephaestus suffered a containment breach in her fusion core. Took out the after third of the ship. They managed to close off the airtight bulkheads, but they’re without propulsion and adrift.”
“Son of a bitch. Any casualties?”
“The Shift Engineer and a Reactor Tech were in the access tunnel troubleshooting the problem when it blew.”
“And the passengers?”
“Cryo-suspension is uninterrupted. All indications are they’re fine, for the moment.”
Jo breathed a sigh of relief.
“When did this happen?”
“Earlier today. The distress signal reached us this afternoon.”
“Have we notified next-of-kin?”
“The casualty assistance office is beginning the process, but they have not yet made contact.”
Jo tapped the command screen and called up the Hephaestus’ manifest. “They only left two weeks ago. Their velocity can’t be that high yet.”
Wu Shin shook his head.
“No, a little under twelve thousand kilometers per second.”
That was something, at least. The most dangerous portion of any starliner’s voyage was the initial acceleration away from port. When the plasma generators that powered the main engines were in standby, the ship’s reactor plant operated at only a fraction of its rated power. But during acceleration, it gradually increased its power output until it reached one-hundred percent, in order to achieve an even acceleration as relativistic effects increased the ship’s mass. And it did so for just about a full year, in order to achieve nominal cruising speed of ninety-five percent of the speed of light. If anything were to go wrong, it was most likely to happen at those higher power levels. And while a rescue from a mishap during the deceleration phase was relatively simple, a mishap during acceleration was a different matter entirely. Two months out from the originating star system, it would be virtually impossible to mount a rescue, since the distances involved, and the speeds required for intercept, were beyond the capabilities of most conventional rescue vessels. And, of course, by the time the ship reached the destination star, if it ever did, everyone onboard would be long dead.
Jo inwardly gave thanks for small mercies, that this disaster had not occurred a few weeks from now. Two public funerals would be bad enough. At least there was still a chance to avoid five-thousand.
“Have you had a tug powered up?”
Wu Shin nodded. “Tugs T-3 and T-8 will be underway in fifteen minutes.”
Jo nodded and waved him away. He took a seat at a support console behind the command table. Tapping the control console to log into the command and control voice network, she spoke up.
“This is Captain Josephine Ishikawa. I have relieved as incident commander.”
* * * * *
After the initial burst of activity, the next several weeks within the ECC were less frantic and exciting, but by no means easy. There were countless details to manage, from interfacing with the various levels of government, to rerouting incoming starliners into a holding orbit so the tugs could have unimpeded access to the docking facilities, to offering official condolences to the families of the dead crew members.
And, of course, there were the press conferences. As Incident Commander, Jo was obliged to sit beside Harold each afternoon and field questions, each more inane and brainless than the last. How the hell was she supposed to know what the people stuck onboard Hephaetus were feeling about their situation? How the hell did that news bimbo think they were feeling? Each press conference was an exercise in frustration, and she often left with her jaw aching from grinding her teeth so hard. She understood where the reporters were coming from. They had their deadlines and were fighting for ratings so they could keep their jobs. But really, would it kill them to at least review basic physics before coming up with their questions?
But after the first week, with nothing new happening and nothing more dramatic to do than wait for the tugs to rendezvous with the stricken vessel, Harold, at the press corps’ request and to Jo’s relief, moved the press conferences from daily to twice a week. There was another brief flurry of press interest when the tugs made up with Hephaestus and began the long, slow process of re-directing the starliner back toward the Sol system. But when it all went according to plan and no one else was killed, the interest quickly faded once again.
When Hephaestus docked, it was almost anti-climactic. The news media noticed, of course. But the coverage was light, limited to blurbs on the evening news shows and little else. Of course, the docking was not the end of the job by any means. But with the crisis stabilized, it was time to stand down the ECC. The normal command and control system could handle it from here.
Jo had spent the last two and a half months living out of the ECC and her personal office on the thirty-fifth floor. She slept on a couch in her office, and showered and changed clothes, using spare clothing she kept in her office for just that purpose, in the employee gymnasium, which was located in one of the outlying buildings on campus. She was more than ready for a long bath in her own bathtub, and then a little vacation.
Before the crisis hit, she had planned to go up to Boston, to visit Carlton and Alison. They had both been as disappointed as she when she cancelled, but they understood. They had lived the starfarer’s lifestyle their whole lives up until a year ago. It still seemed strange to think those two wouldn’t be returning to space with her when she got underway again, in a little more than two years. And to think that when she returned, they would both be in their late seventies, suddenly, from her perspective, older than she was. It was odd, and more than a little sad, for her. But it was their decision, and they had made it for their own reasons. Who was she to judge?
As soon as she finished the last details in the ECC, Jo called Harold and informed him that she was going to take her vacation. He raised no objections so she booked herself on the next flight to Boston, leaving early the next morning.
Alison was thrilled when Jo called to tell her the news. It was obvious Alison wanted to chat more, but as much as Jo enjoyed the discourse, she was exhausted. So she begged off, promising they would have all the time they needed to catch up when she arrived.
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.