Catalyst Rick Novy
Chief Engineer Hoyle nodded. “I caught Officer Jarimath mucking about with the safety controls myself.”
The commander turned around to stare at the dim yellow star that controlled this solar system. “And there’s no way to vent the fuel?”
“The relief valve is frozen solid.” He paused a moment to consider how that might have happened. “Probably welded earlier. We haven’t purged the system in a long while.”
A long sigh punctuated the Commander’s resignation to the situation. “Ten hours, you say?”
“See if you can work it out.” The commander pointed toward the star. “There is a habitable planet in this solar system, and it is fairly close. Can we still use thrust? If we have to abandon ship — ?”
“We can put her into a high orbit.” Hoyle didn’t quite believe that, but at least the idea would give the Commander hope. It might even prolong the inevitable. A little.
Back in the engine room, Hoyle’s eyes alternated between the gauges and the blueprint for this section of the ship. There had to be another way to vent the pressure. Cutting into the line would fill the ship with toxins, and in addition to the main valve, Officer Jarimath ensured all backup systems were frozen, too. If only he could release it into space.
“Do you think it will work?” The Commander looked uncomfortable with the concept of cutting a hole in his ship’s hull to relieve the pressure. “It sounds risky.”
“Risky, of course.” Especially for the guy cutting the hole, and that guy would be Hoyle. “But what alternative do we have? It’s the only way.”
Hoyle never liked working outside, especially while in orbit. Working with a planet hanging overhead would make anyone nervous. Even the opaque goggles didn’t help. Planetshine leaked around the edges. Still, Hoyle knew the ship better than anyone else aboard.
With one of the extended reach tools normally used for reaching deep into the radioactive stores, Hoyle lit a torch and began cutting into the hull. The opaque glasses made it difficult to see the torch flame, but the purge would be bright as a nova, and that made the eye-protection mandatory. Even with the reach tool, Hoyle would be lucky to finish this escapade with his life. Once the torch penetrated —
After consuming half the fuel, the torch broke through the hull. Bright as a nova turned out to be an understatement. He could clearly see the hull of the ship through the opaque glasses, illuminated by the jet of hot plasma erupting from the new hole. That jet would continue for many local days. Pressure relieved. Mission accomplished.
In the Commander’s ready room, a pair of soldiers held Officer Jarimath. The commander stood in front of his desk, while Hoyle sat in one of the comfortable crew chairs.
The stare that the Commander gave Officer Jarimath could have been used in place of the torch. “You nearly destroyed my ship and killed my crew. Treason is punishable by death or banishment. In this case, since the inhabitants are human, my decision is exile. Officer Jarimath, do you have anything to say for yourself before you are expelled to this primitive world?”
Officer Jarimath remained stoic, saying nothing.
“Take him away.” The soldiers escorted Officer Jarimath out of the ready room and onward to his fate.
The commander turned to Hoyle. “When can you begin repairs on the engine?”
Hoyle got to his feet and adjusted the shirt that had bunched while he sat. “The engine will vent for eight or nine more local days. Once the gasses escape, it will only take a day or two before we can be underway.”
“Very well.” The commander walked around his desk and sat.
Hoyle took a step toward the door, then stopped to turn back to the Commander. “One thing. We are in stationary orbit above a populated desert region. Surely the natives see what must look like a very bright star.”
The Commander shrugged. “This planet is populated by primitives. In a generation, there will be no memory of a bright star in the sky.”
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