Captain Darrow gets a Priority One call and the Kestrel goes into action. To read the book from the beginning go here.
The next day, Captain Darrow was alone on the bridge when a Priority One call came in. There had been an accident at a razor quartz mine on Pallas, an asteroid, and Kestrel was the closest ship for emergency response. The mission seemed straightforward, but the details were encoded, which puzzled him, so he decided to open it in his office. He changed course then called Lieutenant-Commander Hoy to take over the bridge.
Hoy arrived and saluted.
‘What’s up, sir?’
Darrow raised an eyebrow.
‘Sorry sir. Lieutenant-Commander Hoy reporting for duty.’
‘That’s better. Now, “what’s up” is a mining accident on Pallas. I’ve already changed course.’
Hoy frowned. ‘Pallas, that’s an asteroid isn’t it? A razor quartz mine - unusually large crystals.’
Darrow was impressed. He got up and Hoy took the seat.
Hoy’s face fell. ‘Will I have to go underground, sir?’
‘That will be up to Commander Holland. He’ll be drawing up the assignments.’
As Darrow took the few steps to his office behind the bridge, he reflected on Hoy’s claustrophobia. Hoy had struggled the first time he donned a space suit, but had managed to concentrate on the view, and the panic had passed. He had fought the claustrophobia because of his desire to work in space. He managed to cope with the cramped quarters on board, because his cabin had room for two but wasn’t shared, but how would he cope underground?
Once in his office, Darrow entered the security code and unpacked the data burst which had arrived with the accident report. The report came via Chert, the mining company, and the reason for the security was the suspicion of sabotage. The report included several reports regarding missing razor quartz. The company was suspicious that the explosion was staged to cover up the thefts. The word that caught Darrow’s attention was “mystery” - the miners claimed it was a mystery how the quartz disappeared. Darrow had always had a fascination for mysteries and collected stories from across the galaxy. He mentally added this one to the list, as he called Holland and Robinson to his office.
The office had a chair either side of the desk and drop-down seating for another four around the walls, plus another console that pulled out from the wall as well as the one on the desk. As the senior rank, Holland took the seat across the desk, while Robinson pulled down a seat. They both carried electronic pads for taking notes.
‘We’ve been ordered to assist with emergency aid after an accident at a razor quartz mine on Pallas, an asteroid,’ Darrow said, once they were seated. ‘What we know so far is there was an explosion and a cave-in, and there are casualties.’ He brought up on screen the pictures and schematics from the data burst.
‘We’ll need to programme the maintenance ‘bots for digging,’ Holland said, making notes, ‘and we’ll need the force lifters. I’ll speak to Commander Blackwell.’
‘We may need EVA suits as well,’ Robinson said. ‘The dome may have been damaged in the explosion.’
Darrow checked the report again.
‘They reported a crack, but they’ll fix that first. Unfortunately their comms are down, so we can’t ask. They got the mayday out via the direct line to Chert, the mining company. Chert alerted PACT. Best check out the suits just in case.’
‘That razor quartz is nasty,' Robinson said, 'it didn't get its name by accident. What races are the personnel?’ he asked, leaning forward to scan the report. ‘I need to know what medical aid to prepare.’
‘Human only, to make facility provision simpler.’ Darrow zoomed in to the relevant details on screen. ‘There are 25 personnel - 12 miners, 3 support staff and 10 family members.'
‘At least it will give the crew something to do,’ Robinson said, tucking a stray lock of hair behind his ear. ‘With all this personnel trouble the crew are quite unsettled. I know this trainee will be an extra pair of hands, but I’m not sure it’s wise.’
Darrow stiffened. Is that a criticism? he thought. ‘She will also give the crew something to do,’ Darrow said. ‘There’s no better way of testing your knowledge than trying to explain it to someone else.’
Holland and Robinson sat back and looked at Darrow in expectant silence.
‘So what’s the mystery, sir?’ Holland said when Darrow didn’t respond. ‘Why the security coding?’
Darrow sighed and turned his thoughts away from the crew problems. ‘Over the last few weeks the miners have reported several incidents of quartz going missing, quartz they say they didn’t steal. Chert aren’t convinced, and now with this explosion, they think it may be sabotage to cover up the thefts. They want me to investigate. Don’t tell the crew about this; just tell them to keep their eyes open and report in detail. Let them think it’s for the accident investigation.’
‘Maybe it’ll take the crew’s mind off all the upset,’ Robinson said. ‘Two crew gone and Mike going - that’s a big hole.’
Back to the crew problems, Darrow thought.
‘Yes, it’s unfortunate it’s all come at the same time,’ Holland agreed. ‘It was bad timing, my promotion coming straight after Lanx’s, but with Balitoth’s emergency as well …’ he leaned forward, ‘You’re going to need a good First Officer to make them a team.’
‘If Personnel can get their act together and find us another First Officer,’ Robinson interrupted. ‘I’m sorry Mike, but they shouldn’t have promoted you without a replacement available.’
‘Now now, Doctor, let’s avoid insurrection,’ Darrow smiled, ‘you could be court marshalled, and then we’d lose another crew member.' He became serious. 'And it's Commander Holland, not Mike.’
He turned to Holland. ‘I’m relying on you to help them through it, and to help Trainee Enns get settled. Make sure she’s well supervised if you let her help.' On seeing Holland roll his eyes, Darrow added, 'Were you hoping for an easy ride before you leave us?'
Robinson interrupted, ‘Not Mike - Commander Holland, he loves to be in the thick of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes looking for trouble on his new ship.’ He slapped Holland on the shoulder, who gave an embarrassed grin.
‘I’m not that bad, but I must admit I was hoping for some action. And there's a puzzle to solve too.’
‘Not for you, Commander, leave that investigation to me,’ said Darrow.
‘Captain Holland is just looking for some excitement before he leaves,’ said Robinson with a grin.
‘Well, Captain Holland is still Commander Holland at the moment,’ smiled Darrow. ‘You two take charge of the mine rescue and leave me to handle the mystery. Dismissed.’
[Next week: We learn of Darrow’s collection of mysteries]
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