Lelaray stood there watching the air barge creep closer and closer to the Melbourne. He wondered to himself what kind of person willingly volunteers for the type of work the he was now watching Yamato doing. She didn’t seem to be a thrill seeker or have a malicious streak that needed to be fed. He wondered if he had the stomach to do what she did.
“Helm, bring us around to her starboard amidships. We’ll open the hangar bay door and start accepting passengers and crew. Notify the doctor to have his team ready. We’ll be taking the injured first and sending them to him.” Lelaray turned towards the middle of the bridge, walked over to the helm, and stood near the ship’s wheel. He started to relax a little, relishing the idea that this was almost over. He took a deep breath, and gave Goughington a smile.
“Captain, you may want to see this,” Ensign Dowd said to Lelaray. He walked over to the communications station. On a small screen above the workstation, Dowd had patched in a satellite signal: there on the screen was a major news channel broadcasting live pictures of the Artemis next to the hostage ship Melbourne. The air barge moving in midair between the two ships could be clearly seen. Bold computer graphics with the words “Mid Air Rescue By Ministry Airship” accompanied the newscaster narrating the scene.
“Great! Just what we need: the whole world watching us. It’s not like I wasn’t nervous before,” Lelaray said to Dowd. She smiled and he smiled back, and then he returned to his place near the ship’s wheel.
Just then the room lit up with an intense orange light and the entire ship shook violently. Numerous lights began blinking on panels and the sound of alarms filled the bridge. The pitch of the deck went from dead level to a slow tilt up from the nose. Smoke and commotion filled the room as the crew, stunned by the explosion, was quickly recovering and starting to assess the situation.
“What the hell just happened?” Lelaray shouted. “Someone report!”
“Captain, the Melbourne is gone. She just exploded in a fireball!” Captain Jonah yelled from his perch near the window.
Lelaray ran to the window, Goughington and Wescott swiftly following. There, where only moments ago the Melbourne had been, was a large cloud of smoke that trailed of down towards the ocean below.
The Artemis continued its nose up position when there came a sudden deep rumble and then the sound of a smaller explosion from the rear of the ship. The nose pitched up suddenly to a 30 degree climb and the ship started to rise quickly.
“Damage report! Repair crews to their stations! All personnel including marines to their reporting stations!” Lelaray yelled over the ship’s speakers. He found it difficult to stand due to the dramatically steep pitch of the ship. “Get me Commander Hayda. I need to know what happened,” he barked for someone, anyone to hear.
“Captain, Hayda here,” came the immediate reply on the intercom. “The explosion of the Melbourne sent debris through our canopy and punctured sacs 54 through 60. The nose has too much lift. I’m attempting to release pressure in forward sacs, but we are in danger of crushing.”
“Crushing?” Goughington piped in. “What does that mean?”
“That means that if we can’t stop our ascent, the gas pressure in the balloons at twenty thousand feet will be so great that they will explode--and we will go crashing down to the sea,” Lelaray explained to Goughington and the rest of the bridge crew. He had to let them know how dire this was.
Wescott ran over to the helm and helped grab the ship’s wheel as crew members worked to place wedges into slats on the floor, enabling the helmsman to stand level despite the acute angle of the ship. Both men struggled to push the wheel forward, trying to force the nose of the ship down to at least slow the ascent. Goughington ran to the wheel and tried to put his muscle into it as well.
“Commander Hayda, dump the rear ballast and cool the forward sacs,” Lelaray order. “Rotate engine props to push us down. Communications,” he continued, “instruct the Flora of our situation, and order them to rescue efforts of the Melbourne on the ocean’s surface. Send out a mayday for all ships in the area. Engines on full”
The ship still continued to ascend into the sky, gaining altitude at an alarming rate.
“Commander Hayda, dump all rear waste water tanks, and vent sacs 12 to 14,” Lelaray instructed. He felt the ship shudder as the tanks were dumped. Soon after there was the sound of whoosh as the sacs were vented into the atmosphere. Lelaray watched the gauges. The speed of the ascent slowed somewhat but the nose was still pitched at thirty degrees--and they were still climbing, fast.
“Sir, we are still climbing too fast,” Hayda called back over the speaker. “I am not able to make repairs to the aft section. I recommend that we vent all sacs forward of sac 12, and hope that we level out.”
Lelaray pondered the request. Venting that many Synth sacs would possibly not give them enough lift to remain airborne. They would stop their uncontrolled ascent, but would they have enough lift to stop the ship before dropping in the ocean?
“Hayda, do it! Vent the sacs.” Lelaray deeply hoped it was the right course of action. He decided a slow crash into the ocean was far better than a devastating crash from twenty thousand feet.
“Commander Wescott, go and prepare the life boats,” Lelaray said. “When we reach 15 thousand feet, if we are still climbing, I’m going to order abandon ship. Go and make arrangements. Goughington, you go with him!” Wescott motioned for someone to take his place at the wheel and both men left the bridge.
“Hayda, drop all rear fresh water tanks,” Lelaray ordered.
“Aye, Captain. All rear fresh water tanks, and all sacs forward of sac 12,” Hayda’s replied over the intercom, his voice at a high pitch, evidence that the ship was venting Synth-Helium gas.
Lelaray hiked up the steep deck to the helm and took position on the wheel to assist in getting the nose down. The altimeter read that they had just passed twelve thousand feet. He waited to give the abandon ship message. But then he saw that the dial was slowing, as was their ascent. The altimeter was close to fifteen thousand feet, but Lelaray held the abandon ship order to see how the ship would to react to the actions they’d just taken.
“All forward sacs vented, sir.” Hayda squeaked over the intercom.
Lelaray and the helmsman put their backs into pushing the wheel forward, letting out strained groans as they fought the force of the great ship shooting skywards. In moments the ship started to noticeably level out.
“Captain, we’re at eighteen thousand feet, but we’ve stopped climbing!” A voice yelled out over the commotion. “The ship is leveling out.”
A collective gasp of relief could be felt throughout the ship, followed by elation from everyone on the bridge--everyone but Lelaray. He knew that the ship no longer had enough gas to stay afloat at this altitude. Soon the forces of gravity would take hold and the Artemis would plummet towards the ocean below.
“Quiet on the bridge!” Lelaray yelled. “I said quiet on the bridge! We are still in a world of hurt. I need everyone at their stations and concentrating on what’s at hand!” He gave a stern stare at the bridge crew.
“Commander, what is your best guess at the leveling altitude?” Lelaray shouted to Hayda through the intercom. As he waited for a response, the feeling he had been dreading took effect and his stomach turned as the ship lurched downwards in a steady drop to the earth.
“Hard to say, Captain,” Hayda’s high pitched voice came through the speakers. “My figures say two thousand feet.”