The Tesserene Imperative

By Mark Terence Chapman

Action & adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller

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479
2 mins

Chapter 3 (partial)

Hours later, with holes patched and bellies full, it was time for a rest break—not that anyone felt like sleeping. But there wasn’t much we could do about our air situation. That’s the problem with exploring an asteroid belt—there aren’t any oxygen-rich planets handy when you need one.

I guess we were lucky; we were still alive. Of course, we could have been luckier. The ‘roids took out two water lines—costing us more than a thousand liters sucked into the void before the auto-shutoffs kicked in—not to mention most of our free-flowing air. Normally, water and oxygen aren’t a problem. The starflight drive powers the life support systems that purify and recycle the air and water, extracting oxygen from the carbon dioxide we exhale. Unfortunately, the ‘roids took care of that, too. Two different bits of cosmic rubble smashed different parts of the drive, as if to guarantee they got the job done.

“We’re screwed, aren’t we?” Guido asked softly from his bunk.

“Yeah,” Sparks replied.

We’d been working feverishly since the ‘roids hit, but it probably wouldn’t matter in the end. The engine wasn’t a total loss, but the damage was so severe, so comprehensive, that we didn’t have the spare parts to repair the damage. We had the equipment to manufacture any parts we didn’t have in stock, but not the time.

“What are the odds we can jerry-rig something before we run out of oxygen?” Guido asked.

Silence was his answer.

It was ironic. On my last shore leave, a friend’s little boy, Jimmy, bombarded me with questions about living and working in space. One of them had to do with how long we could stay out before having to return. I told him most missions last three to five months but we always carry enough food and fuel for six months, just in case, and that the water and air can be recycled indefinitely.

But, as they say, the universe has a perverse sense of humor.

Had we lost only the starflight drive, we had enough of the other stuff to survive until we got the drive repaired. On the other hand, had we lost just the air and water it also wouldn’t have been catastrophic. Our life support system could have kept purifying and recycling the air and water we had left in the ship’s reserve tanks. It also could have extracted some extra water from the humidity in the air. We could have gotten by until we made it home.

Of course, the ‘roids knocked those options for a loop. Not only didn’t we have enough oxygen or water to last until we reached Earth, we had no way to actually get there.

“It’s too bad we can’t send out a mayday and get some help,” Guido mumbled.

“Yeah, and if wishes were horses, we could gallop home,” Sparks countered.

A faster-than-light mayday to Earth and any nearby ships would have been great. However, there were two problems with that idea. First, we knew there were no other ships in that part of the galaxy. Space is vast, and Earth had barely a hundred tesserene-powered ships of all sorts in its fleet, and none of them out in our direction. Second, and more importantly: There’s no such thing as faster-than-light communications.

Yes, the starflight drive lets us travel “faster than light” by slipping through folds in space, but that only works within the energy field the engine projects around a ship. It can’t fold space outside of the energy field; therefore any radio transmissions leaving the field were limited by the speed of light. It would have taken seventy years for a mayday to reach Earth. We were on our own the moment we left the solar system.

Guido’s question, “We’re screwed, aren’t we?” kept echoing in my mind.

We were six hundred and seventy trillion kilometers from home, with a dead starflight drive, little water, and less than three days of air. We needed a miracle and there was no cavalry out there to come to our rescue.

It was all up to us.


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