2950-03-22 – Tales from the Service: Duncan’s Misadventure 

Rumors of our death have been somewhat exaggerated. 

Nojus here. Duncan is alive and mostly intact. We got thrown around a bit when Saint-Lô took a bad hit in action on the third of this month, but both the ship and the team did pull through in the end. Sadly, the battle ended up as yet another inconclusive action between Fifth Fleet and the bulk of the Incarnation ships in the Coreward Frontier. We didn’t really lose, but neither did we win. Duncan will bring a full breakdown to the feed when he’s up and walking again. 

With the restoration of long-range communications back to Maribel (though not as long as the people there would prefer to believe), we’ve been buried under several mountains of datasphere messages and alerts that were sent before the Navy could move one of its portable hypercast relays into the Håkøya system safely. If you sent us anything and expect a reply, be patient, especially if you expect it from Duncan. 

Some of you may be asking how only one of us managed to be injured. Well, during action the five of us tend to spread out across the ship to observe the battle from wherever we can get a good sense of things without getting in the way. We’re trained to do basic damage control if we need to, but Captain Liao told us not to get involved unless the situation was really bad. Most probably, Cosmic Background asked the Navy not to risk the lives of four of its employees and one contingent contractor needlessly, but that’s none of my business.  

Anyway, Duncan should have been the safest of us; he was in the command citadel with Captain Liao during the battle. Having talked to him as much as the medics would permit, and viewed some of the system data from the battle, may I present to you the account of how Cosmic Background’s star text feed editor nearly got his arm blown off. 

“Ah, not again.” Captain Liao kicked the display projector housing with the toe of his boot. As if responding to the kick, the cloud of fuzzy static in the display area briefly coalesced into a swarm of brightly colored icons before fading away again. 

“It’s no good, sir. Something’s wrong with the hard-wire data feed. I’m switching to wireless backups.” 

Duncan sat at the inactive terminal assigned to him in the corner of the compartment, his recording unit perched on the top edge of the adaptive screen. He had made little sense of the battle so far, but he usually didn’t understand things as they were happening anyway. After things were over, he always re-played the recording a few times, then asked Liao or another senior officer about anything that still seemed strange. So far, the battle in Håkøya had been no different than the large-scale engagements over Margaux. With multiple fast groups of Incarnation ships moving in tight formations trying to outmaneuver the slower but more powerful Fifth Fleet battle line, it took a trained command officer’s eye to watch the whirling swarm of symbols in the display all at once and make any sense out of it. 

A few seconds later, the display reset, but Duncan could tell from the back that the data being displayed was of far lesser quality. The symbols were larger and more diffuse, indicating inexact coordinate data, and the various rectangular insets appearing and disappearing around the margins for Captain Liao and the other four officers pacing around the display seemed far less choked with information.  

Most of the orders Liao and his subordinates were sending out were muttered quickly over their comms headsets, so Duncan, unable to overhear most of it, focused on the display, picking out the solitary bright blue symbol which represented their own ship, Saint-Lô. The venerable battleship, currently occupying the tail endf of Fifth Fleet’s eight-battleship central line, was currently maneuvering away from the thick of the fighting, where cruisers and destroyers in various shades of green flung themselves like waves against tight knots of red Incarnation warships. There could be no telling who was winning, not yet, perhaps not even for Captain Liao or even Admiral Zahariev. 

Duncan jumped as the big armored hatch behind him emitted a dull clanking noise followed by a hiss. Captain Liao had summoned a crew rating wearing a damage control patch and was pointing toward the exit. The captain occasionally punctuated his orders to the damage control tech with a gesture that seemed to be in Duncan’s direction. 

The tech saluted and hurried away from the battleship’s captain, waving Duncan to his feet. “Come on.” 

Duncan, for the first time in months remembering that he had been ostensibly trained in damage control when he’d come aboard, stood awkwardly. “Me? What for?” 

“Going to need a second pair of hands to check the wire trunking. Don’t worry, I’ll show you what I need.” 

Duncan picked up the tool satchel he’d still not used except in refresher training, then followed the young man out into the corridor. Never had Saint-Lô seemed to be so big and so silent. With the crew at its combat stations, the vast central corridors were blocked every few meters with a translucent pressure-seal curtains. He and his guide were the only people moving in any direction. The dimmed Condition One battle alert lighting gave the long, curtain-divided corridors an eerie feeling, and Duncan immediately wished he was back in the command citadel with Captain Liao. 

Pushing aside the first pressure curtain, the tech pointed to a panel in the bulkhead. “The trunking is behind that.” 

Working quickly, the pair released the screw bolts holding the panel in place and levered it off to one side. The tech stuck a scanner probe into a coiling tangle of ducts and cables, and Duncan tried and failed to discover how the man knew which one was the data line to the command citadel before he withdrew his arm once more, shaking his head. 

“Damage is further back, right?" Duncan began lifting the panel back into place, glad that the heavy panel was attached to swinging lever-arms that took most of the weight. 

“You got it.” The tech holstered his probe and helped bolt the panel back down. “Let’s try the next one down.” 

Five panels later, the battle alert klaxon sounded. Looking over his shoulder, Duncan saw the command center’s heavy hatch begin to swing closed once more. “We’d better get back before that’s sealed off.”  

“Captain didn’t recall us.” The tech shook his head. “We’ll finish up and head for the damage control annex at the aft end of this deck.” 

Duncan wanted to push through the pressure curtains and get back inside before it finished closing, but the tech didn’t seem terribly concerned, so he stuck with his temporary associate, helping seal up the sixth panel and move on to the seventh. He wasn’t technically a Navy spacer and was under no obligation to follow Captain Liao’s orders, but he didn’t want to leave the young man next to him to finish the task alone either. The faster they both finished, the faster they could both retreat to the relative safety of the damage control station. 

The pair had just opened up the ninth panel when the lights flickered and a low boom echoed through the battlewagon’s massive hull frames. Duncan knew this to mean that the ship had suffered a hit through its defensive systems, but probably not very badly; after all, Saint-Lô had heavy armor to absorb such punishment, and nothing else seemed to be going wrong. 

A moment later, as the tech was once again reaching into the panel to stick his sensor probe into a tangle of wiring, the ship took another hit, this time much closer to the pair of techs. There was a bright flash down the corridor to accompany the usual boom of a strike, and the deck below Duncan’s feet seemed to twist and leap a meter upward, throwing him across the corridor away from his partner. Shrill alarms began to wail and the pressure curtains inflated to firmly seal the corridor in both directions. 

Just as Duncan, shaking spots out of his eyes, was getting to his feet to help his associate disentangle himself from the wiring, there was another boom, this time seeming to come from just above Duncan’s head, and reverberating in a lasting rumble that seemed to be getting closer and closer. 

The tech, at last pulling free, seemed to recognize a danger that Duncan did not, and dived to the deck. 

Before Duncan could mimic the action, a gout of flames exploded out of the open bulkhead panel he was standing beside. Thrown across the corridor yet again, he struck his head on the hard metal opposite, and everything went dark.