By the time I got to the bridge everything was in chaos! "Hades!" I screamed, "What in the hell is happening?"
2 "We've got a full cascade!" he answered, "It was well underway before I was summoned to the bridge! I'm trying to shut down the coils around it but I don't think I'm going to be fast enough! We're losing thrust! It'll be completely gone in about eight hours. I'm sorry sir. There's nothing that can be done! The ship is going! If we could find somewhere to put her in orbit I might be able to get some thrust working again, but we probably wouldn't be able to make a tenth of our speed."
3 I turned on Posi who was cowering in the corner. "What happened?" I screamed. "How did the cascade get out of control? Why didn't you shut down the coil as soon as the indicator showed it was failing?"
4 My brother wouldn't answer, he just continued to tremble. Finally Aphroditi spoke from her couch. "We were being intimate. By the time he noticed the warning lights the cascade was already beginning! We had shut off the audio alarm because we didn't want to be disturbed by the computer's constant updates."
5 I looked at my brother and snapped "I will decide rather or not I'm going to kill you later! Right now begin the evacuation of the ship! All unnecessary personnel to the escape vehicles!"
6 The Navigator spoke up. "I've got a possible safe haven! But we'll never make it. If the ship gives out where it's projected it will be two years in the life ships to that world. We will run out of provisions and starve to death before we ever get there."
7 "Commander!" the Pilot commented, "The Navigator should check his calculations again! We are increasing speed."
8 "Impossible!" Hades answered. "Thrust is constantly decreasing. There's no way we could be increasing speed!"
9 "I tell you, we are!" the Navigator insisted.
10 "She's right!" the Navigator answered. "We are increasing speed. If present thrust is maintained the ship should fail just as we're entering the system. It should take the life ships only a few hours to reach the planet. But it's going to be right at the limit of their capability! They'll barely have enough fuel to land!"
11 "Well!" I snapped, "The next sixteen hours are going to be interesting, aren't they? We have plenty of time to evacuate the ship. Ship!" I snapped.
12 "Yes," the ship answered.
13 "There is space provided for your main unit in my escape ship. At the last possible moment you are to teleport yourself into that space. Navigation, plot a course for the escape ships. Give us every possible moment of thrust!"
14 I found my wife beside me holding her child to her breast, which was happily suckling, totally unaware of the chaos going on around him. I pulled her robe over the child's head and put up her hand so she would hold it shut. She looked down and went "Oh!"
15 "Get our personal belongings to the ship!" I ordered. "Leave the bigger items and the extra formal clothes. Take only that necessary for our survival and what the storage space on the ship will allow. Go! There's nothing you can do here!"
16 I went over to the Pilot's couch. "Sir!" the Pilot snapped, "The life ships will be released while the ship still has power. I ask permission to stay behind and try to use it to tow the life ships a little closer to the planet to give you more time."
17 "Without the computer," I answered, "the assist equipment would not work. You would not be able to teleport to the life ships. Your request will be entered into my records, but it is denied. Our survival may depend on every person we have! The loss of one could mean our doom! Because I am angry with you does not mean I would leave you to die alone in a dying ship! Do not speak of it again, and do not make me come back to remove you from that couch. Do I make myself clear?"
18 "Yes, sir!" the Pilot answered.
19 As the hours went by I kept checking with the Navigator. "Wherever that extra thrust came from," he told me, "it will put us in a very good position to escape. But the ship cannot be saved. It will go into a decaying orbit and eighty years from now fall into the sun."
20 "Will it do any harm?" I asked.
21 "Only if you happen to be on the side where it goes in!" the Navigator answered. "It will cause a solar flare that will probably reach out of the system and be visible at night, a very quick flare and a very powerful one!"
22 "Well, let's hope that the planet we're on isn't in the way in eighty years!" I sighed.
23 Finally it was time. I went to my life ship and took my seat. "All ships check in!" I ordered. One by one all nine ships reported that they had their full compliment and were ready. I activated my own controls and ordered everyone to stand by.
24 "Praise The Great Ones," my Communications Officer remarked, "that all these ships have communications equipment!"
25 "Yes!" I snapped, "Yes! Praise them, indeed! Stand by! Stand by! Just as soon as I give the order one is to go away, and as soon as two sees it is clear it is to follow. Do not wait for instructions! The rest are to follow suit. We will be the last. Stand by! Stand by! Go!"
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