Adrift

by Gaston Prereth

The claxons rang like church bells announcing a barbarian hoard, every part of the shuttle rocked with a cacophony of panic.

“What’s going on?” called Jason as he waded through an oncoming sea of scrambling passengers. Red lights rolled around the ceiling like those of a cheap school disco, flashing strange shadows onto the wide-eyed faces before him. He could see his superior at the end of the corridor, her rigid frame standing firm against the torrent of people. Her shaven head reflected the flashing lights like a lighthouse succumbing to the waves. She looked calm, but then again she always looked calm. That was how she had been designed.

She was standing in front of a computer terminal, ignoring the hands and elbows that were unceremoniously clawing down her back as the tide swelled passed. There was no way she’d be able to hear Jason over the commotion, even with her acute hearing.

“What’s happening?” he asked again once he’d fought his way to his superior’s side. He was breathing hard and struggling to keep his feet as he got shoved by passing passengers. This was something big, he had never witnessed anything like this before.

“We’ve lost communications to the bridge and appear to be adrift. The powers draining fast with no sign of why. The last message we’ve got from command was a general abandon ship message, but that was an automated fail-safe.”

“Jesus. No wonder there is a stampede. Has the evacuation started?”

“The lifepods are clamped. There are manual releases but their circuits seem to be completely drained of power. There’s a team down there now trying to release them.” As they were talking, Jason’s superior kept her eyes on the screen, her metallic fingers dancing across the keyboard in heavy steps. Jason felt helpless. The sounds around him were blocking out any thoughts beyond a formless sense of dread. He wasn’t trained for this, he was little more than a hotel porter, and not a very good one at that. He watched as his superior tried to access the flight logs and navigation controls, each time getting thwarted by a message saying ‘Error 236 has occurred. No such system found. Please contact ship’s administration for further details.’

“Stupid piece of crap.” Said his superior in an unnatural tone that lacked emotional backing. “Jason, I want you to go to the bridge. Report that we’ve lost all network access to the ships systems and require manual orders. We’ll need runners to pass messages around the ship so, if you see anyone on the way, get them to wait at key intersections. I’ll stay here and keep trying to access the ships computer systems.”

“Aye Aye, Sir.” Said Jason, ripping off a salute. A weeks training was all he’d had, and the only thing he’d actually learned was that, in times of crisis, always look and sound professional. Apparently it relaxed the passengers and made them feel like you were in control. His Superior glanced up from the screen and gave him a cold look.

 

Jason fought against the waves of panicking passengers for ten minutes, making slow progress. For the first time he realised how many people were actually on the ship. He’d known the numbers before, eighty-four decks catering for around two thousand passengers and a hundred crew each, but it was only now that the full weight of the amount of souls on board pressed in upon his mind. So many people trapped in a tin box surrounded by the vast emptiness of space. So many people relying on the engineers to have done their jobs correctly, the physicists to have got their sums right, and the crew to know what to do in any situation. Crew like him, with one week’s training and four months of experience of everything going right.

As Jason neared the staircase to take him up to the deck, the crowd became too thick to push through. He wanted to go one way, and several hundred thousand people wanted to go in the opposite direction. It was hopeless. He needed to find another route to the bridge. The claxons still hammered around him and the sound of thousands of worried shrieks and panicked feet made it impossible to think. He could feel an empathetic panic rise in his blood to add to his already apoplectic heart. He needed to get out of the corridor, he needed a place to think.

He pulled himself towards a wall, and stabbed at the nearest door’s release. The mechanism clunked and gave a soft whine that was barely audible over the commotion around him. The door slid open about a centimetre and then stopped. Jason swore, still having to fight the on-coming traffic, and jammed a hand into the gap, leaning his shoulder against it, and pushed.

The door slid open without complaint. Jason fell into it, allowing the weight of the door to slide shut behind him. The room beyond was dark. There was no flashing lights and the thick door dulled the noise of the corridor beyond. Jason felt his heart begin to slow as he gulped down huge lungfuls of air. As the haze of panic subsided, he became aware of the room around him. He could not see anything, but he could feel the close proximity of walls and objects. Shadows towered over him, strange shapes squatted at his feet, and a smell of chlorine hung in the air.

Chlorine. He was in a store cupboard. Jason took another deep breath, noticing the sting of the corrosive air in his lungs, and tried to think of what to do next. There were three main staircases and sixteen minor ones that led through the floors, but there was every reason to assume they would all be as impassable as the one outside. There were two more staircases going through the crew quarters, but he was at least a ten minute walk from them even without the crowds to fight through and there was no guarantee that the passengers would not have already discovered them. There were no handy service hatches or crawl spaces allowing access to all parts of the ship, no secret ladders tucked away for emergency use. This was a ship designed to carry the most amount of people possible in the smallest amount of space possible. There was simply no room inside the ship for such frivolities as emergency plans.

Jason fumbled around the door to the small cupboard until he found the light switch. There had to be something in here that could help him. He needed an idea, a plan, something. He rummaged through the jumbled shelves, tipping over bottles and sprays. There was nothing but cleaning products, clothes and a few piles of towels. He spun on the spot, cursing every shelf.

He could feel the walls closing in on him. The giant bulk of the ship squeezing against the tiny store room with him trapped inside. Jason turned back to the door. The only route of escape was back through the hoards of stampeding, terrified, unthinking passengers. There was no chance he would make it to the bridge through that lot, but he had to try.

“Damn this ship and it’s lack of crawl spaces.” He said to himself, delaying the moment when he would have to hit the button and step back into the roaring torrent of people. He reached for the door release and stopped.

There was a red box next to the door, half hidden by a ladder and a mop bucket. It was about  a meter long and, despite the domestic detritus in front of it, Jason could just make out the words ‘in case of fire.’

It was an axe, and Jason smiled.

 

Thanks for reading I hope you enjoyed reading this post. The story will continue next week.

I struggled to think of a title for this one, so if anyone has any suggestions, please leave a comment below.

Thank you again for reading.

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