Burden of Command, a short story by DavidJae. Date added: 2012-06-13. Times viewed: 592.
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- Intro: Ensign Sakura Kimura, in the Japanese Galactic Self Defence Force JGSDF is forced to take command of a survival shelter when the Battleship Ryoja is crippled above Earth, an experience that she was not expecting or prepared for.
Ensign Sakura Kimura's footsteps rang ominously on the metal deck, eerily quiet without the familiar thrum of the engines beneath her feet as she made her way towards the door, keeping her pistol raised. Entering her access code, she stepped through into the control room, moving towards the central console, tapping at the controls and the room became bathed in the pale glow of the emergency lights. Picking up a headset from the console and putting it on, she spoke into the microphone.
'Bridge from Survival Shelter 14, over.'
She said, hearing only static that sounded unnaturally loud in her ears.
'Bridge from Survival Shelter 14, over. This is Ensign Kimura. Is anyone receiving me?'
She repeated, receiving the same response. She was about to try again when she heard the scuff of a boot behind her and she spun around, aiming her pistol at the shadowy figure in the doorway leading from the Passenger Module.
'Don't move.' She said, fighting to keep her voice from shaking. 'I'm Ensign Kimura, JGSDF Fleet Command. Identify yourself.'
'Flight Officer Ryo Tanaka.' The figure replied. 'Tsunami Squadron, Fighter Command.'
His name sounded familiar, but recent events were fresh enough to maintain her paranoia. 'Step forward. Slowly.' She said and the figure stepped into the room, revealing a dark-haired man dressed in a pilot's flightsuit, helmet carried in one hand, the other presenting his ID tags. Sakura waited a moment, and then lowered her pistol, aware that she was shaking. To cover it, and give herself something to occupy her hands, she turned back to the console. 'I've tried to raise the Bridge, but I haven't had any response so far. Have you found any other survivors?' She asked, and he nodded, slowly. 'Fifteen civilians in this survival shelter, Ensign. Main power is down, so we don't know the status of the ship or how many of the crew have survived.' What he didn't say, but still passed between them was that they may be the only survivors of the attack. 'Show me to them, Flight Officer.' Ryo lead Sakura into the passenger module, where the other survivors waited, scattered around the room that could easily accommodate three times that number. Numbly, Sakura counted eight men, five women and two children, their eyes filled with the same blank horror that she felt. Some looked up when she entered, staring at her for a second, before looking away again. Swallowing nervously, she stepped towards the centre of the room, every eye in the room turning towards her. They hadn't covered this in Officer training. A clamour of voices started up, barraging her with questions faster than she could follow. 'What's happening?' 'Are we still being attacked? What's happened to...?’ 'Please, do you know if my son's still alive? His name is...' 'Are we going to die?' 'Please, I need to...' Sakura shared a helpless glance with Ryo, who shrugged. 'That's enough!' Snapped a voice that cut through the hubbub and a tall, brown haired man stood up as the crowd fell silent. 'Who are you?' Sakura asked, taken aback. 'My name is Tenji Nakamura, First Minister of Aoi Colony. And you are, Lieutenant...?' 'Ensign, actually.' She said, feeling her cheeks flush at admitting her lower rank. 'Ensign Kimura.' 'Well, Ensign Kimura, can you give us any information about what's happening?' Despite their situation, he seemed perfectly calm like he might have been discussing the weather. She wished that she could feel that way right now. 'Not much, sir. We had just completed the evacuation of your Colony when we came under attack by three Jaevaen Cruisers. However, we've so far been unable to establish contact with the Bridge or the ship's mainframe...' 'The Bridge has been destroyed?' A woman asked, starting up the clamour again, and Sakura had to shout several times to make herself heard. 'We don't know that for certain, so let's not jump to conclusions. Main power isn't online yet, so our communications may not be getting through. We're about to...' 'I need some help here!' They turned at the shout to see a blond-haired Medic entering the room, supporting a Sergeant over her shoulder. He was pale faced, with a nasty gash across his forehead. Sakura and Ryo grabbed his arms, helping him into an empty seat and she saw that his name tag said Tatsuoka. 'What happened?' Sakura asked the Medic who had knelt before him, checking his pupils, answering without looking up. 'We were on our way here when there was an explosion and he took a blow to the head. I reckon he has a concussion, but he's going to be alright.' She seemed to check herself and stood up, saluting. 'Apologies, Ensign. Corporal Meguri Kanoko, sir. Medical Corp. May I ask what our situation is, sir?' Sakura looked around at the assembled civilians and gestured to the Control Room. 'Let's discuss that somewhere more private, shall we?' 'Nothing! Even with main power restored, we can't make contact with Bridge. It looks like the damage we sustained during the battle has disrupted or destroyed the circuit pathways throughout the ship.' Sakura said, staring at the schematic that hovered above the console, feeling her spirits sink. 'So, what can we do?' Meguri asked. 'We can't just sit here and hope that somebody comes to rescue us.' 'We need to get to the Bridge.' Sakura said. 'Hopefully, we'll find help there. If not, we might be able to send a distress call.' 'And, how are we going to get there?' Ryo asked from where he sat, with his feet propped up on the console. 'We've no idea what state the rest of the ship is in.' 'We walk. There's spacesuits in the emergency lockers. Ryo, that will be our job. Meguri, I'll need you to stay here and monitor our progress.' Sakura said, passing her the headset over to her. 'Come on, let's get suited up.' She crossed to the locker and passed one spacesuit to Ryo, taking the other for herself. While she stepped into the insulated bodysuit and secured the seals, she couldn't help her thoughts running to what they may find on the Bridge. Despite what she'd been saying, she had to face the possibility that they would find no-one alive. Shaking away those thoughts, she sealed her helmet and activated her comm. 'Ryo, are you receiving?' 'Loud and clear, sir. All systems read green.' 'Let's go.' She said, grabbing two P-90 rifles from the weapons locker and passing one of them to Ryo. Sakura stepped out of the airlock into the corridor, checking her helmet sensors, detecting oxygen, which the suit would filter, adding it to the reserve in her tank. She looked left and right, gesturing for Ryo to follow her. 'We're on Deck 22. If we're to get to the Bridge, we can't hope to reach there in time on foot. We need to find a maglift.' They made their way along the corridor in silence for a few seconds, before Sakura asked 'How did you get here?' Ryo looked down for a moment, a flash of pain visible in his eye. 'My Squadron was defending the Ryoja, while the rest of our wing took the fight to the Jaeva. I had to make an emergency landing in Hanger 14, after my fighter got hit. I was about to head back out, when the launch bay took a hit, damaging the blast door. I couldn't get back out to help them. 'Do you...know what happened to your Squadron?' Sakura asked, quietly, and Ryo shook his head. 'No. We lost power and communications soon after, so I headed for the shelter to try and find out what was happening.' Sakura didn't know what to say, and she felt her throat tighten. She couldn't remember feeling so powerless, or so scared. Right now, she had only one hope that she could hold onto. 'When we get to the Bridge, we can...hold on.' Sakura stopped, indicating the red status message on the door ahead. 'Vacuum alarm. How's your suit integrity?' 'Still holding.' 'Then, we should take a look.' Sakura entered her access code and the airlock door hissed open. Squeezing inside, Sakura cycled the lock and the exterior door opened. 'Damn.' Ryo muttered, craning over her shoulder, looking at the milky black of space. The corridor beyond was gone; a huge jagged wound in the hull of the ship, scorched and twisted. Even though the door on the other side seemed intact, it was impossible to reach. Sakura exchanged a glance with Ryo, before activating her comm. 'Meguri, Corridor C is impassable. We're going to try the other way.' They back tracked hurriedly, only to find their path barred again, the next airlock buried behind a twisted and melted mass of metal that looked impossible to shift. 'We're trapped.' Sakura said, feeling ice settle into her gut. Back in the Control Room, Sakura, Ryo and Meguri sat around the console, staring at the schematic as if a solution would magically present itself. 'There has to be something we can do.' Meguri said. 'I don't see what. The only way to reach the Bridge will require spacesuits and we don't have enough for everyone here. Even if we did, there's no guarantee that we'd find a way there before running out of oxygen.' Ryo added. 'What about Emergency Protocols? In the event of a ship being crippled, we're to eject the Survival Shelter. Once we're away from the ship, the solar cells will activate and we should be able to make planet fall on Earth.' Sakura chewed her lip, uncertainly. She was reluctant to do that and scared of what would happen if she was wrong. It seemed too risky. 'I don't know. We're not sure that the ship is lost, yet. For all we know, rescue parties are on their way' 'And if they're not?' Ryo countered. 'We've only got limited supplies and we don't know if main power will last. What about Hanger 14? We might be able to find a spaceworthy craft there. We should launch while we can.' 'I'm in charge here, Flight Officer. We're going to wait for rescue, is that clear? In the meantime, I'm going to see if I can re-establish access to the ship's mainframe.' Sakura said, hoping that she sounded more confident than she felt. However, Ryo continued. 'With respect, Ensign, that's crazy. We need to abandon ship while we still can.' 'Your objection is noted She was about to continue, when the door to the Control Room opened and Nakamura stepped inside, his face twisted in anger. 'How long are you going to keep hiding in here?' He snapped. We demand...' 'Sir, this is a restricted area.' Sakura said, stepping to block his path. 'Please, return to the Passenger Module immediately.' She met his gaze, trying to ignore the churning in her stomach that his words had inspired. Hiding? That wasn't true. Was it? Nakamura gave her a sardonic grin, as if he could tell what she was thinking. 'Very well, Ensign. You should know that people are getting restless, especially since you're keeping them in the dark.' Without waiting for a response, he turned and disappeared back the way he had come and Sakura turned back to the others. 'He's right. We need to brief the civilians, seeing as we're going to be here for a while.' She led them back to the Passenger Module to find Nakamura waiting with the others arrayed behind them. 'It's about time you agreed to speak to us, Ensign. We have a right to know what's going on.' 'I'm sorry, but we've been...' 'Spare us the excuses, Ensign. What is happening?' Nakamura repeated, interrupting Sakura, who stepped back involuntarily. 'We...were unable to reach the Bridge. Structural damage has cut off our section of the ship. I'm afraid we're on our own.' 'Well, what are you going to do?' One man shouted, drawing angry assents from the crowd, and Sakura felt her throat go dry. 'There's...nothing we can do. We need to wait for rescue. It's our only option.' 'Says you! Who put you in charge, anyway? If you won't do anything, give us the spacesuits. We'll get to the Bridge ourselves.' 'This is a Navy vessel, and I'm the ranking naval officer here.' Sakura retorted, feeling her temper rise, driven by ice that she felt settle into her guts. 'So, you get to decide if we live or die?' The man yelled, pushing his way through the crowd, reaching for Sakura. Before she could move, Ryo stepped forward, his fist connecting with the man's jaw in a blow that sent him stumbling backwards. In the same instant, Meguri raised her P-90, aiming it levelly at the crowd, the sound of the safety switch unnaturally loud in Sakura's ears. 'Nobody make any sudden moves. You, get up and stand with the others.' She said, gesturing to the man that Ryo had hit, who obeyed, looking rattled. Sakura felt her jaw drop and she pulled herself together, stepping in front of Meguri. 'That's enough, everyone. We're here and we need to deal with that. Reaching the Bridge is not an option. Even if you could find a way, there's no guarantee that your oxygen supply would last. I know that it's difficult, but we need to focus on the positives right now. We're alive and we can survive in here. Even if everyone on the ship...is dead, we're still in range of a rescue from Earth. It's too early to give up hope. For now, we're going to try and restore access to the computer's mainframe.' With that, she turned on her heel and marched off, escaping with all the dignity that she could muster. Sakura pried the access panel off, running her eyes over the circuitry underneath. If she could re-route the circuit pathways, then they might be able to restore contact with the Bridge. She was working in one of the airlocks, in case she needed to access the exterior circuits. Reaching for her toolkit, she was about to start work when she heard footsteps and she spun around to see a shadowy figure standing behind her. She reached instinctively for her P-90, just as she felt something strike the side of her head, pitching her sideways. Head spinning, she struggled to rise just as she heard the airlock door hiss closed and a strident klaxon began to sound. Decompression Alarm. She thought, with a surge of panic. Desperately she grabbed her helmet, slipping it into place just as the airlock door opened, pulling her out into the vacuum of space. Ryo sprang up from his seat at the console when the alarm sounded, his fingers flying over the controls. 'What is it?' Meguri asked. 'Decompression Alarm from Airlock 3. Come on!' They raced through the corridors towards the Airlock, finding Nakamura standing there with his face pressed against the viewport. When he turned towards them, his face was a mask of horror. 'Ensign Kimura...' He started, his voice failing him. 'What happened?' Ryo demanded. 'I...there was...Ensign Kimura was working inside the Airlock when the door sealed. It...I don't know...it activated and the exterior hatch began to open. I tried to stop it, but I didn't know what to do. She...she's gone. I'm sorry.' He finished, sinking to the floor and cradling his head in his hands. Ryo turned to Meguri; 'What are we going to do now?' 'I don't know.' Meguri said, without taking her eyes off the open airlock. Nakamura hauled himself to his feet with an effort, seeming to steel himself. 'We've got no choice. Without Ensign Kimura, we're never going to be able to restore computer control. I've been thinking that we should try and reach the hanger deck. It's our only option.' Ryo exchanged a glance with Meguri. 'I hate to say it, but he may be right. If we can find a ship, then we can get out of here. Meguri, let's get suited up and...' 'Hold on' Nakamura interjected. 'We shouldn't risk both of you. If it fails, then we'll have lost the only people who know how to operate these systems. Corporal, I think that you should stay here in case there are any more injuries. If something goes wrong, even you won't be able to help us. Flight Officer Tanaka, will you be able to fly what we find?' 'I'm a pilot.' He said, not bothering to conceal his sarcasm, turning to Meguri, and lowering his voice. 'Do you think we can trust him?' 'I don't. But I also don't think that we have much choice. Without...' He stopped for a moment, his throat tightening before he managed to continue. 'Without Sakura, we've got no chance of restoring access to the computer.' '...Yeah. I don't like it, though.' 'Me neither.' 'Meguri, do you read me? We've reached Hanger 14.' Ryo said, punching in his access code and the door slid open. Nakamura was about to step inside, when Ryo put his hand out to stop him in his tracks. 'Hold on. Let me go first.' He said, pulling out his pistol and stepping through the door, sweeping the hanger carefully before gesturing for Nakamura to step inside. 'All clear. And I think our luck's just changed.' He said, indicating the vessel that sat in the middle of the hanger bay; a Thunder-class Personnel Transport. 'Perfect. Now all we need to...What the hell are you doing?' He exclaimed, for Nakamura had drawn a pistol and was aiming it directly at him. 'What needed to be done from the beginning. I'm not waiting around for the Jaevaen to catch up with me while we float helplessly through space.' 'What do you mean?' Ryo asked, and Nakamura laughed, almost hysterically. 'You think the Jaevaen just attacked an Earth Colony on a whim? They wanted to kill me. The ship is doomed. If you want to go down with it, then that's your choice. I'm not going to let you take me with you, not now I'm so close.' Without taking his eyes off Ryo, he walked backwards, popping the cover off a junction box with one hand, grasping the lever inside. 'Wait!' Ryo yelled. 'If you do that, you'll divert power from the Survival Shelter and...' He started forward until a shot struck the deck, stopping him in his tracks. 'Uh-uh. Just stay where you are.' Nakamura warned, pulling the switch, filling the hanger with a faint hum. Keeping his weapon trained on Ryo, he crossed to the transport and climbed the open ramp, stopping at the top. 'I'm sorry.' He said, his finger tightening on the trigger and a shot rang across the hanger. Sakura drifted along the hull of the ship, using what handholds she could find, not daring to look at the inky blackness beyond. She knew that one slip would be enough to pitch her off the hull into the void, but she couldn't afford to think about that or just how far it was to the Airlock of Hanger 14. She forced herself to focus, to keep moving, when all she could think about was how close she'd come to death. If she hadn't managed to seal her helmet in time before the airlock decompressed... Shut up! She snarled to herself. Focus! Ahead, she saw the welcome lights that indicated the airlock and swung herself into position, punching in her access code. An eternity seemed to pass before the door hissed open and she pulled herself through, punching the door control even as the ship's gravity took hold and she heard the familiar hiss of the oxygen cycles. Resisting the temptation to remove her helmet, she opened the interior door and stepped into the darkened hanger, stopping when she heard Ryo's voice; '...you'll divert power from the Survival Shelter and...' She flinched when she heard the shot, throwing herself against the nearest wall, peering round when she heard Nakamura's voice. 'Uh-uh. Just stay where you are.' He said, and she felt anger and adrenaline tighten her throat as she saw him aiming a pistol at Ryo. Without thinking, she unslung her P-90 and took aim at Nakamura, who was standing at the top of the ramp, and pulled the trigger. He must have seen her, because he dived sideways, disappearing inside the hatchway. Before she could react, the Transport's drives roared to life and it lifted off, blasting through the hanger doors and into space. Sakura stood staring after it for a second, before turning and sprinting over to Ryo, who had thrown himself flat to escape the blast, his eyes widening when he saw her. 'Sakura? Nakamura said you were dead.' 'Not quite. Are you hurt?' 'No, but we've got a problem. He's diverted power from the Survival Shelter to this Hanger. We need to get back there quickly.' Back in the Control Room, they found Meguri hunched over the console, her face tight with anxiety. She looked up when she heard them enter, her jaw dropping. Sakura?! You're alive?' She said, but Sakura cut her off. 'Never mind that now. Report, Corporal.' 'We've lost main power, I don't know how. We're operating on internal batteries only, but they'll only last for another thirty minutes. After that, we'll start to run out of oxygen.' 'Are the civilians aware of the situation?' Sakura asked, and Meguri blanched. 'No, sir. I...didn't want to start a panic. And if we're all going to die, maybe its better that they don't know. Sir.' 'We're not dying today, Meguri. Ryo, get the civilians seated and strapped down immediately and take the helm station. We'll need you there.' 'Why? What are you thinking?' 'Did I just give you an order, Flight Officer?' 'Yes, sir!' 'Then snap-to.' 'Aye, Ensign.' Ryo said, turning and heading forward to the crew compartment. 'Meguri, stay on station here. I'll need your help.' 'Aye, sir. Sakura, what are you going to do?' 'What I should have done earlier. Prepare for launch stations, Corporal.' 'Aye, sir. And, where are you going?' 'I'll need to manually disengage the docking clamps from outside, before we can remotely launch from here. Power status?' 'Twenty five minutes, Ensign.' 'Okay. I'll need ten minutes to disengage the clamps. Start launch procedure.' Sakura had to force herself not to keeping watching the timer counting down, but to focus on her task at hand. She never thought that 25 minutes could seem so short. She was crouched in front of the docking clamp control, her fingers flying over the control board, punching in the final sequence and the board went green. 'Meguri, docking clamps disabled. Power status?' 'Just under twelve minutes, Sir. Get back here! I'm commencing launch sequence.' 'On my...' 'Wait. I'm getting a malfunction alarm. Dammit! The command pathways are shot. Sakura, I can't remotely retract the clamps. Get back here. We need to reroute.' 'There's no time. Launch on my mark!' 'Sakura, you can't! If you do that...' 'Obey my orders, Corporal!' She commanded, reactivating the control panel, feeling oddly calm as she entered the sequence, giving what it would mean. 'Launch, now!' She yelled and felt a thump run through the deck which told her all she needed to know. 'Meguri, launch status?' She asked, and there was a long pause, then Meguri answered. 'Launch successful, sir.' She said, her voice cracking '...Sakura, I...' 'It's alright, Meguri. This was my choice, and my duty.' She paused, before continuing. 'It was an honour to serve with you, even briefly. And Ryo. Tell him for me.' 'Yes, sir.' Meguri said, her voice choked. 'I was hon...' The signal dissolved in a burst of static and Sakura new that they had gone beyond transmission range. Even though she knew she was going to die, soon, Sakura felt a calm acceptance wash over her. She'd saved them. That counted for something. Checking her HUD, she saw that she had just fifteen minutes of oxygen left and she considered just taking her helmet off now. No! I'm not going to give up until the end. With that thought, she sat down and hugged her knees, looking out at the starry expanse of space visible through the viewport. It really was very beautiful. 'Sakura? Sakura, can you hear me?' Sakura stared at the white light above her and smiled; everything felt light, like she was floating above world. 'Yes, I can hear you. Is this...Heaven?' She asked and there was silence for a moment. 'That isn't the word that I would use, Ensign, no.' A man wearing a medic's tunic came into view, a soft smile on his face. 'In fact, you're in the Medical Bay aboard Ryoja.' 'What...what happened?' 'You were found by a rescue party outside Survival Shelter 14. According to their report, your suit was low on oxygen when they found you and you were barely conscious. If they hadn't found you when they did...Anyway, you've been through an ordeal and you need to rest, so I'll come back and check on you in a little while.' He said, turning to go when Sakura called. 'Wait! What happened to Survival Shelter 14? Are they okay?' 'Yes, Ensign, they're fine. A rescue shuttle picked them up about an hour after you were found. Now, you need to rest.' He said, but Sakura tried to rise. 'I'm not going to lie here while...' She gave a moan, as a wave of dizziness engulfed her and the medic returned a knowing smile. 'You were saying, Ensign? Anyway, there's no rush to return to your duties. Accord to Captain Tsugimoto, we're going to be in the Shipyards for several months until we're space worthy again.' He left and Sakura lay back, staring at the ceiling. I'm alive.
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