Monday, January 27, 2014
We got an ugly wake-up call this morning when alarms started blaring all over the ship. Startled, I thrashed my way out of bed. After about half a second’s consideration, I pulled on yesterday’s clothes. I’d left my blouse, trousers, and socks puddled all over the floor rather than tossing them in the laundry intake last night. All hail laziness, because I figured if the ship was about to blow up, at least I wouldn’t disintegrate in my nightgown.
I ran for the door of my quarters to the accompaniment of the announce chime going off and fists pounding on the outside. It sounded like things were pretty bad. I thought my heart might break right through my chest in the panic. I opened the door to see Katrina dressed and ready for whatever hell we were about to face. She was accompanied by a bathrobed and terribly discombobulated Candy, her blond hair sticking out in every direction.
“What is it?” I screamed, ready to go into full freak-out. I’m always prepared for that.
“We don’t know. Everyone is going to their liaison to find out.” Katrina’s voice was higher pitched than usual and a little loud, but she was obviously the least crazed of our trio.
“Come on, Shalia!” Candy yelled, making my ears pop.
We joined the frantic stampede of women through the corridor. We headed straight to Betra’s office where we were supposed to go first in an emergency. He was already surrounded by the rest of his charges just outside his office door, looking about worriedly until he saw us coming. The relief on his face was obvious as we joined our group.
“Okay, everyone stay with me,” he announced as we crowded close. He had to yell to be heard over our frantic questions. “We’re heading for the shuttle bay. Once we’re there and in our escape ship, I’ll explain what is going on.”
“Escape ship!” came the chorus from ten frightened women. Someone called out, “But we haven’t started our drills for that yet!”
Betra’s smile was both tight-lipped and soothing. “No, but I’ve been trained and you’ll be fine if you stick close. Now come on.”
He led the way, gently setting aside panicked women from other groups who blundered in his path as they sought out their own liaisons. When Betra saw women he recognized, he called them by name, giving them direction.
“Carolyn, Dramok Dryr is right over there. Go to him and he’ll tell you what to do. Marla, don’t just stand there and cry, sweetheart. Your liaison is on our way, so walk with me until we get there. Justine, stop bossing everyone around and go to Imdiko Irgna like you’re supposed to. He’s been trained for this and you haven’t.”
Through the madness and mayhem, Betra was a beacon of calm. Even setting the sexual relationship we’ve developed aside, I am damned glad he’s my liaison. The rest of my group would agree; we all followed him in a quiet bunch, like ducklings confidently following their mama.
The sirens abruptly cut off and a heavy voice – I thought it might belong to Captain Wotref – spoke in Kalquorian over the PA system. Betra paused to listen, and we stopped too and waited. After Wotref finished his spiel, Betra turned to smile at us.
“The emergency is over. However, you’ve all done so well so far, so why don’t we go ahead and continue to the shuttle bay to practice our first evacuation drill?”
We murmured assent though it looked like most of us had been roused right out of bed. Being in a group after the scare simply felt good right now, especially having Betra there. We and a few other groups kept trooping down the corridor.
“Are you going to tell us what happened?” Candy asked.
“After the drill,” Betra promised. “For now, I need you to keep quiet with all your attention on me in case I need to give you direction.”
We soon packed into an in-ship transport, which is sort of like an elevator. Betra said, “Shuttle bay seven. Mataras, remember that location if for any reason you can’t get to me, though I won’t leave the area until I have accounted for all of my group. Where are you to go?”
“Shuttle bay seven,” we chorused like school children.
“Perfect. You are all assigned to Shuttle 407. The shuttle’s number corresponds to its docking space, so if you get confused, you can ask any crewmember where it is. Repeat your shuttle number please.”
We dutifully did. The transport stopped and opened out into the shuttle bay, and we moved out.
I saw why Betra thought we might get confused. It looked as if hundreds of the sleek oblong shuttle craft were housed in that space. I remembered being in there, or another bay just like it, when I’d first boarded the transport. However, I’d been looking at it through a blur of tears. Having just left Earth, my dads, and Weln behind, I’d been too overcome with grief to really pay much attention to my surroundings.
Even though there was a lot more room to fan out in here than there had been in the corridors, we remained in a tight knot as we followed on Betra’s heels. He explained that our shuttle was in the fourth grouping to the right of the in-ship transports as we exited, which meant it was all the way on one side of the bay.
“You Mataras will be in the second wave of evacuations should we have to leave the ship,” he told us as we passed shuttle after shuttle. “We think waiting enemies would target the first few escaping ships. That’s why the first wave will be decoys. Pay attention; your ship is on the front row of this grouping, so it’s really not that hard to find.”
He led us to our assigned shuttle. “Our group is among three that will be boarding this, so get on fast. Go as far to the rear as you can and take your seat.”
The hatch was open, allowing us to follow Betra’s directions. We were apparently the only group assigned to this shuttle running the drill, so our little group of ten ended up crowded in the back of the shuttle. We sat.
“Immediately upon sitting, activate your seat’s restraint field. For those of you who don’t remember where that is located, it is the red button on the side of your left armrest. Once you’ve activated it, strap on the manual harness. We may be taking off in a hurry, so be sure to secure yourself right away. It could be we’re in for a bumpy ride, so it’s important you’re ready for that.”
Betra moved up the aisle between the double rows of beige-colored seats, ensuring we’d strapped ourselves in good and tight. His grin was that of a proud father.
“Excellent! Everyone is properly secured. You did well this first time. In the future, if you are not on our level in our section when alarms go off, com me immediately to let me know where you are located. From there, you will come directly here. If I am not here yet, com me to let me know you have made it safely onto your shuttle. If the alarms go off and you are in the Matara living area, come straight to my office to report. Questions?”
We seemed pretty clear on what it was we were supposed to do. When no one piped up with any queries, Candy said, “Now will you tell us what the hell happened a few minutes ago?”
Betra chuckled at her impatience. “A few small Tragoom raiders decided to try their luck against us. They failed miserably. Only one got away from the destroyers escorting us.”
That earned him a few cheers. Yay for dead Tragooms. Despite Betra’s grin, I noted the tension around his eyes.
“Are we in any other danger?” I asked. “Those raiders don’t pose any real risk to us, do they?”
Betra’s expression sobered more, and everyone got quiet. His tone careful, he said, “It could be the raiders we encountered were a scout detail sent by a chieftain in a larger, more dangerous ship. We will remain on high alert for awhile.”
That was not such good news. I had another question. “Is there the chance we could be boarded?”
Betra drew a deep breath. “If the destroyer escorts were taken out, there is that risk. It’s all the more reason for us to be ready to get off the transport if we must.”
I thought about that. Escape was obviously the best possible option if Tragooms got on board. Yet I had some ugly memories of being in a nearly inescapable situation in which I and others had almost died. Sometimes you get boxed in with nowhere to run. Matt King leering at me before locking a bunch of us in a room and setting fire to the building we were in is still an image I see far too clearly. I have no intention of ever getting in that situation again.
If I have to get in every Kalquorian’s face on this transport, someone is going to give us women blasters and teach us how to use them.