Tabitha crept through the bridge door.
Psst! Andrew! Can I come in? There’s no one here.’
‘What about me?’ said Chambers. ‘Am I “no one”? You know you’re not allowed on the bridge.’
She hesitated and decided to take her chance. ‘So report me!’
She came in and sat boldly in the nearest chair.
‘First you come on the bridge unauthorised,’ Chambers smiled at her, ‘now you’re sitting in the Captain’s chair!’
She scrambled out of the chair like it was burning and sat down beside Chambers.
‘Is this all right? Whose seat is this?’
‘Weapons station. Don’t touch anything.’
Chambers laughed as her eyes went wide and she squeezed her arms in tight to her body. ‘I’m only joking. It’s all offline.’
She looked around the bridge and wrinkled her nose. ‘It’s not as impressive as I expected, there’s not a lot of room, is there?’
‘What more do you need than three workstations?' He pointed them out. 'This main one is the helm and navigation, beside this is scanners and weapons, and the one at the back is for the bridge officer, when we have a full complement, and he takes comms as well.The fourth one's spare, in case of malfunction. Of course, most of the time there's only one on duty, the helm. All functions can be operated from here. It’s a working environment, not a pleasure cruise.’
‘I suppose so. It’s not like the simulators, is it? In fact, nothing is as I expected it.’
‘You’ve only been here five minutes, give it a chance.'
'Where's the viewscreen? This window's all right on planet, but what about long distance?'
Chambers laughed. 'This “window” is the main viewport. It polarises, to be clear for take-off and landing, then to show a visual display of any screen on the bridge. So how was your first mission?’
‘Not at all what I expected!’ she laughed. ‘When you sign up to serve in space, you don’t expect to end up down a mine.’
‘In the Fast Response Fleet you have to expect anything. I’ve slogged through jungles and deserts on planets, done spacewalks for repair and rescues, and coped with refugees and all sorts on board. It’s certainly not dull. How did you get on?’
‘All right, actually. We were mostly heaving rocks around. Wasn’t it dusty though?’
‘That’s one of the disadvantages of low gravity. When you disturb the dust it just floats about for ages. It was pretty much the same for us on Level Two - heaving rocks around.’
‘You didn’t have the cave-in to deal with. Once we found it was mostly one big slab, they didn’t want it touched too much in case it broke, though I did manage to raise it a few millimetres. We just moved the other debris and put in roof supports.’
‘A few millimetres? What are you - supergirl?’
‘Don’t be daft, I used one of those lifter things,’ she laughed. ‘What about you?’
‘The scanner confirmed the missing miners are trapped in a void beyond the cave-in, and they drilled a small hole to communicate with them. Dr Robinson spoke with them then left Ensign Ryan to monitor their condition while they drilled a bigger hole to get them out. Once we’d tidied up, there wasn’t anything else I could do, so Commander Holland sent me back here. Hey, did you hear about the Captain? He sent a mayday. Lieutenant-Commander Hoy’s gone out to him on the surface. I hope he’s all right.’
‘What’s he doing outside the dome? We’re here to rescue the miners aren’t we?’
‘He knows what he’s doing, there must be something else going on. He doesn’t tell us everything you know. Maybe we can get Lieutenant-Commander Hoy to tell us when he gets back.’
‘He’s a talkative one, isn’t he? He gave me some really good advice about low gravity and stuff, but he never stopped talking.’
‘Hoy? He’s not usually like that. How strange. Maybe he was nervous about baby-sitting.’
‘Shut up! I’m no baby. I bet I could show you a thing or too, even about piloting.’
Chambers face fell and he turned away.
‘Oh no! Andrew, I didn’t mean … I wasn’t thinking. Look, I don’t know what happened, but you must be a good pilot or Captain Darrow wouldn’t have made you helmsman. My Dad says the past is a bucket of ashes. It’s gone and there’s nothing you can do about it. But the future is a promise built from all our todays.’
‘Quite the philosopher, your Dad.’
‘Yes, and he’s usually right.’
They sat in silence for a while. Then Tabitha remembered.
‘Oh, did you hear about the MO’s accident? Ensign Stubbs told Lieutenant-Commander Hoy when we came back.’
‘No, what happened?’
‘Dr Robinson and the base doctor were bringing a casualty here via the outside for some reason, and Dr Robinson had an accident. Ensign Reuel went to help bring the casualty in and then go back to rescue the doctor. Ensign Stubbs has gone to sick bay to help.’
‘I wondered where everyone was. I thought Stubbs and Reuel had been left on board. So let’s get this straight,’ he counted off on his fingers. ‘Hoy is out on the surface helping the captain, Reuel and Stubbs are in sick bay with the MO, Commander Blackwell is with the base engineer, and everyone else is still at the mine.’
‘No, wait.’ She frowned in concentration. ‘Lieutenant-Commander Hoy told Ensign Stubbs to send Ensign Reuel to the mine to relieve you. Wow, this is complicated!’
‘But it’s important, do you see? If we don’t keep track of everyone, how will we make sure they’re all right?’
‘In that case, would it be a good idea to check in with Commander Holland to make sure he knows where everyone is?’
Tabitha felt warmed by Chambers look, it was one of approval.
‘Now you’re thinking!’
[Next week we get an update on the rescue of the trapped miners]
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