© Copyright 2017 - Lobo De la Sombra - Used by permission
Storycodes: Solo-F; machine/f; scifi; spaceship; accident; life-support; drug; wrap; cocoon; encase; stuck; gag; tighten; rescue; freeze; cons/reluct; X
"Join the fleet, they said. Experience all the adventure and excitement that comes with serving humanity." Glancing around the small compartment, Sandra Bollingbrooke frowned. "Yeah, right."
Surprisingly, she thought, there had been a time when she'd believe what all those vids had claimed, which was why she'd enlisted right after graduation. Now, nearly five years later, she'd reached the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade. She even had her first command, if you'd call it that, but that was as close to her dreams as she'd come.
"Sector Command to Adirondack."
Sandra flipped a switch on her console. "Adirondack here."
"Adirondack, this is Sector Command. Stand by to receive new orders."
"Adirondack, standing by."
"Adirondack, proceed to the coordinates uploaded to your computer. On arrival, render all required assistance."
"Understood, Command. Adirondack, out." Breaking the connection, Sandra brought up her orders, sighing at what she saw.
"Oh, goody," she said softly, "another exciting mission. This time, she saw, it was a cruise ship, the Mayflower IV. Engine trouble, from what she saw in her orders. Which made sense. Why else send a Fleet tug?
"Computer, plot course to new coordinates and alter course."
"Course plotted, adjusting to new heading." As always, the computer's voice sounded flat, toneless. Be advised, present course intersects Gendara system."
"Oh?" Sandra remembered that system. Shortly before she enlisted, a rogue planetoid had collided with one of the system's larger rocky worlds, destroying both and filling the system with fragments. "Will we be at risk?"
"Negative. New heading plotted to avoid all known planetary fragments."
Sandra nodded. "ETA?"
"Estimated time of arrival, one day, six point four hours."
"Well, let me know when we get close."
"Collision alert! Collision alert!"
Jolted from sleep, Sandra rolled from her bunk. "Report!"
"Sensors indicate unknown object on collision course."
"Evasive!" As she spoke, Sandra rushed toward the small tug's bridge.
"Ineffective. Estimate collision in ten seconds."
Precisely ten seconds later, the floor lurched, sending Sandra sailing. She saw the wall approaching her, then everything went dark.
Sandra woke to near darkness. "Computer," she said, still struggling to clear her thoughts, "status report."
"Hull breach in engineering. Main power offline. Secondary power offline. Emergency power at fifty percent and falling."
Slowly, Sandra pulled herself to her feet. "Oh," she groaned, "that one hurt." One of these days, she thought, maybe they'll decide to include padding for the walls. "Computer," she said, "send a distress call to Sector Command."
"Communications inoperable," she heard.
"Great. What else doesn't work?"
Engines inoperable. Thrusters inoperable. Sensors inoperable. Life support at sixty percent."
Sandra shook her head slowly. "Shut down all nonessential functions and route all available power to environmental."
"How long until complete failure?"
"At present rate, estimate total life support failure in ten hours, fourteen minutes. Initiating emergency medical protocols."
"Is the distress beacon working?"
Hearing this, Sandra sighed with relief. At least something seemed to be working. "Estimated time until help arrives?"
"Ten hours, seven minutes."
Sandra frowned. "Damn," she whispered, "that's cutting it a little closer than I like. Still, it's what is. Nothing to do now but wait." Shaking her head, she moved onto the bridge and began pacing behind her control chair.
"Please cease all unnecessary activity. Increased physical exertion not recommended."
"I'm not exerting," Sandra shot back, "I'm pacing. Now leave me alone."
"Pulse and heart rate increasing. Respiration increasing. Initiating proper medical response."
"Proper...?" Even as she spoke, Sandra felt a strange tingling that seemed to envelope her entire body. With stunning swiftness, everything went black.
Sandra woke to a feeling of tightness, as if something were pressing against her entire body. Opening her eyes, she glanced down to see herself wrapped from shoulders to toes in some kind of white, shiny material. The tightness of the wrapping fused her legs together, pinned her arms to her sides. She began to struggle, only to freeze as the feeling of tightness increased.
"Great," she moaned, "trauma wrap."
Designed by a small medical firm, trauma wrap was intended to prevent patients from further injuring themselves. Any motion above a certain level caused the wrap to tighten. In theory, it would prevent further injury by keeping broken bones from shifting. Once in use, it was discovered that the wrap tended to continue tightening, and that the motion threshold was far too low. It had been recalled from most fleet units shortly after delivery. Unfortunately, that recall had not yet reached many of the smaller ships, including this one.
"Computer," Sandra said, frowning, "explain. Why am I wrapped?"
"Emergency medical protocols prohibit excessive motion during life support emergencies."
"Well let me out."
"Negative. Unable to override protocols while emergency conditions continue to exist."
"Did you have to take my clothes?"
"Emergency protocol requires removal of any unnecessary items that might interfere with procedure."
"Damn it, let me out!"
"Emergency procedure has been adequately explained. Further speech not recommended."
"Are you," Sandra asked, "telling me to shut up? You're telling me to shut up, aren't you? Well, I've got news for you, I have no intentiommmmfff!" As she spoke, Sandra felt something against the side of her head. Quickly, the sensation rose, passed across the top, then down the other side and beneath her jaw, forcing it shut. Before she could react, something wrapped around her lower head, covering her mouth. Stunned, she tried to open her mouth, only to freeze as the wrap tightened, forcing her jaws even more tightly closed, pressing firmly against her lips.
Great, she thought, more trauma wrap. Defeated, she forced herself to relax.
Lying as still as possible, Sandra considered her options. Nobody, she knew, would be coming to find her, since she was the only one aboard. Which meant waiting until help arrived. Sandra groaned softly. Hours of being helplessly wrapped up, unable to free herself and afraid to try, was not on her list of favorite ways to await rescue.
Oh well, she thought philosophically, at least I'm in medical, not stretched out on the deck of the bridge. Chalk up yet another use for maintenance robots. One of them had obviously carried her here while she was unconscious. The exam table was much more comfortable to lay on than deck plates, even if it was a bit short.
Somehow, in spite of everything, Sandra managed to drift off to sleep, waking later with a start that caused the wrap to tighten still further. I wonder, she found herself thinking, if this is how toothpaste feels coming out of the tube.
As the long minutes continued to pass, she began to notice something wrong. Slowly, so slowly she almost missed it, the wrap was continuing to tighten. This doesn't make any sense, she thought. I'm just lying here, not moving. Why is it tightening when I'm not... Her eyes widened. I'm breathing, she thought. But how...? With an effort, she stilled her thoughts, focusing on her breathing. It was only then that she realized something. The wrap, as it tightened, was slowly making it harder and harder to draw air into her lungs. Her breathing had become quick, shallow, her chest expanding more in an effort to draw in enough oxygen. Even now, she felt herself becoming just the slightest bit light headed.
Oh hell, she thought, struggling to slow her breathing. If this lasts too long... In spite of herself, she felt her breathing quicken once more. Slowly, the room began to blur, fading slowly into darkness.
"She's coming around."
"Make sure the straps are secure. We can't have her moving around. And make sure that oxy mask is properly placed. We have to pump in just enough oxygen to support life without causing lung expansion."
Slowly, Sandra cracked her eyes, staring blearily up at the faces looking back down at her. One of them leaned closer.
"Lieutenant? Lieutenant Bollingbrooke? I'm Doctor Martin. You're aboard the rescue ship Solace. We received the signal from your distress beacon and followed it to your location. Your ship was pretty banged up when we boarded, and I would love to know how you wound up in this condition. For now, however, we have more serious things to worry about."
The doctor frowned. "Lieutenant," he said, "the wrap encasing you has tightened to very nearly lethal levels. We've given you something to keep you from feeling any discomfort, but you need to know that you are this close to being crushed to death. Which leaves us with only a very few options, none of them good.
"One option," he went on, "is to cut the wrap away. Problem is we only have two ways to do that. If we use a scalpel, we'll have to press down on the wrap, which will cause it to tighten further, killing you. With scissors, we would have to pull up on the edge of the wrap, causing it to tighten further, also killing you. That leaves us with only one option. It will definitely kill you, but we might be able to do something about that. Just hold still, and try to remain calm." With that, the faces vanished.
Staring helplessly up at the ceiling, Sandra wondered what the doctor had been talking about. Suddenly, she shivered. She couldn't feel it, but she knew the wrap had just tightened a bit more from this slight motion. When did it get so cold? Within what felt like seconds, she felt icy fingers spreading throughout her body, a searing cold that even the drugs couldn't keep her from feeling. Somehow, she could feel her heart slowing, the room around her fading until, once again, all turned to blackness.
Sandra woke slowly. Her body, no longer wrapped, lay limp in the middle of a comfortable bed. Opening her eyes, she turned her head to look around her, only to realize she hadn't actually moved at all.
"Doctor, she's awake!"
Doctor Martin's face appeared over Sandra's head. "Oh," he exclaimed, "thank God you're back."
Sandra licked dry lips. "What...?" Was that hoarse, grating croak actually her voice?
"We froze you," Martin said. "Cryogenic suspension. At such extreme temperatures, the wrap became hard, brittle. Once we got it cold enough, it literally shattered off your body."
"Technically, yes, you were dead, but it was the only way. The freezing killed you before the wrap could. Then, once the wrap broke away, we were able to thaw you out and revive you." He shook his head. "In order to save you, we had to kill you. I'm sure someone will be questioning the moral implications of that one for a very long time."
Martin smiled. "Yes, Lieutenant," he said, "you'll be fine. A little physical therapy, maybe a little psychological therapy, and you'll be back to your old self."
Smiling wanly, Sandra closed her eyes.
"Docking Control, this is Seeker, ready for departure."
"Roger that, Seeker. We'll see you when you get back."
Leaning back in her chair, Sandra shook her head. I, she thought, have got to be the craziest broad in the universe. Why am I doing this? Even as her mind formed the question, it formed the answer as well.
Adirondack had been an antique, one of the last single-crew tugs still operating. During her time aboard, she'd grown used to being alone, so used to it that she no longer felt comfortable around other people. She wanted only solitude now, craved it the way other people craved companionship. And this was her way of achieving that solitude.
Not that it had been easy. Her therapy, both physical and psychological, had been tough. Still, she had pushed through it, managing to be cleared for active duty in only three months. Offered her pick of available duty posts, it had taken only seconds to choose.
Now, as the commander of the newly commissioned long range scout ship Seeker, Sandra was setting out on her first deep space exploration mission. For the next three years, she would be far, far away from any other person. And just as far from any kind of wrap.
For a moment, her thoughts flashed back to those long hours on Adirondack. Well, she thought with a wry grin, maybe not that far.
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