The bridge was as silent as the grave. Seven sets of eyes remained fixed on the now inactive viewer. No one seemed willing to look away from the sight they had just seen, that last log entry. Some of it was disbelief and shock. Some of it was not wanting to see that shock on their crewmates’ faces, or allow them to see it on their own.
Bran was in that last camp, unwilling to let his crew see his reaction to his counterpart’s last desperate act. He stared at that blank viewer, willing it to give him other options, other ideas. Ideas he could use to save his crew, but the viewer’s silence was relentless. There were no answers there. No, there were, but none that he could use.
He didn’t believe in the famed ‘no win’ scenarios they put him through in command school. The instructors believed they built character and showed how a potential CO would react to a hopeless situation. Bran considered a point of honor that there was no ‘no win’ scenarios, just simulators that cheated to make it so. There was always a way out, always something that could be tried. They might not be successful, but there were always options. But after those log entries, his faith in that was shaken.
The situation was bleak. The Gorion lost, perhaps for good. The Helios was overrun with the living dead, an army that gained not just another soldier with each fallen man or woman, but all of their skills and abilities. He found himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place, and somehow he had to find a path to thread between them to save his people.
Damned if he knew how. His last gamble had failed. There was no magic bullet hidden the bridge computers, only the grim final testament to the Helios and her crew. As he stared at that screen, he pitied Captain Vico and hoped that whatever afterlife she believed in would be kind.
As much as her fate chilled him, the time for the dead was past. As was the time for self recrimination. He faced a greater concern now. Making sure that he was not making a similar entry in a few hours.
Schooling his face into the calm composure that command school had drilled into him, he turned towards his crew. The options weren’t many, and those he had could be charitably called ‘long shots at best’. However, with no access to the ship’s systems from here, staying on the bridge was not one of them. It was safe from the zombies, yes, but not from starvation. Or the even greater threat, despair. That would claim his people far faster than running out of those delicious E Rats.
No, the bridge of the Helios was no haven for his people. No more than Masada, Io, or Tyban had been for those who’d fallen back there.
Tugging down on the main breastplate of his powersuit, more out of habit then any need to adjust it, he said, “Alright people. We’ve got some problems, time to solve them. First thing, we’re going to need a suit for Mazzy.”
“A suit, Bran?” Jaheira asked.
“Well, she can’t exactly survive in vacuum without one, can she?”
“No, of course not. But I am wondering why she would be exposed to vacuum in the first place,” Jaheira countered, eyebrow arching.
Bran looked at Imoen, who was sitting still, staring at Sparky’s screen. “Immy?”
“Yes, Bran?” she replied, hesitating just slightly before she looked up. Her eyes were a little glassy, and Bran wondered if there had been tears. And who they’d been for.
“You and Sparky found anything else in the files that might be of service?”
“No. Nothing,” she said in a sad parody of her normal chipper tone. “We’ve gone through pretty much everything. Just doesn’t seem to be much else. Pulled everything that could be useful and Sparky’s got it stored up.” She shook her head. “But that’s it, unless you want to see some of the other crew’s goodbye messages.”
“I think we can skip those.”
“Good. But I saved them. In case we get…”
“We will, Immy. We will,” he said, putting one hand on her shoulder and giving her a smile he didn’t feel. He must have faked it well enough, because Imoen smiled back. Either that or she knew and was trying to reassure him. Knowing her, it was probably the latter, but he was going to hang his hat on the former. For his own sake.
Turning back to Jaheira, he said, “That’s why. We’ve exhausted the options on the bridge. There’s nothing else here to help us. So, now we go for Option B.”
“A Deck is secure, Bran. We have the supplies to hold out and wait for rescue,” Jaheira riposted. It was a logical objection, but it lacked her usual force.
“No, we can’t just sit here,” Mazzy said flatly from where she’d be standing. “That is not an option. We need to take the fight to the zombies, not just sit here and rot, like old women waiting for death to relieve us of our cares.”
“Boo thinks the little angry one is right. We have mighty weapons and the Force of Good on our side. We should apply the Righteous Boot of Evil Kicking to Evil’s unwashed backside!” boomed Minsc. The wide smile on his face showed no signs of the qualms or the cold fury he’d seen on the others. One of the ironic blessings of what had happened to him, Bran supposed.
He looked at the other two members of his crew. The Doc looked even less certain than some of the others. She wrapped both of her arms around Minsc’s much more massive arm, and was worrying her lower lip. However, when he looked at her, she returned his glance and then gave him a deliberate nod.
Then he turned to Valygar. The tall, dark navigator was one of his oldest friends, a man who he’d served with for years, since the days he was a bright, shiny new lieutenant. They’d danced on the gates of Hell more times than he’d care to count, and he’d never once backed down. He had yet to speak, and when he turned to Valygar, the older man arched an eyebrow and said in his plain way, “What’s the plan?”
“First things first. We need to be able to get all of us off this bridge. That means finding either a working pressure suit or something we can jury rig into a pressure suit. We’ve done a pretty good job searching the command area, but there are other sections of this deck. We need to search them. Mazzy and Valygar, you’ll take the forward sections. Jaheira, you, Minsc and the doctor will take the middle sections while Immy and I take the aft sections of this deck. Anything that might work, even if it seems crazy.”
“We’re good at crazy,” Imoen quipped.
“That we are. Now let’s get to work people.”
Quickly, the crew gathered their equipment and filed out of the bridge, breaking up to search the remaining sections of A Deck. As the others peeled off, Bran and Imoen hustled down to the aft end. There was no abandoning caution, even in this supposedly safe area. The danger in making such assumptions had been made painfully clear. They had assumed the crew of the Helios was dead and not a threat. As the last few harrowing hours had proven, that assumption was only partially correct.
The siblings began their search in the aft most starboard section, working their way through abandoned corridors and rooms. These were in better condition than the lower decks and possessed much nicer appointments. But for all their finer points, they possessed nothing useful to transport one cranky Yolandan with a multibarrel through the void.
“You know, I’m not seeing much here that’s going to be useful,” Bran said after yanking open another looted equipment locker.
“Well, I found a couple of rolls of engine tape,” Imoen said with a funny edge to her voice.
“What good is that going to do?” Bran asked quizzically.
“A little trick they taught us in school. A last-ditch pressure suit.”
“Oh?” Bran asked, eyebrow arching.
“Yeah.” Imoen was trying to hide a smile but was not being entirely successful in doing so. “See, you get a couple rolls of engine tape and then you…”
“You wrap them around the person’s body, double layering the exposed skin,” Bran interjected. “If they’re lucky, you tape an O2 breather to the face, if not, you ask em to take a deep breath. Idea being they don’t go all splat out in the vacuum on account of being ‘pressurized’ by a few layers of tape.”
“Yeah,” Imoen said, surprise creeping into her voice, “How did you…”
“Former Blackguard, remember? We do all the crazy stuff. Thankfully not the engine tape pressure suit. However, that’s a little less crazed than some of the other shit I got into…”
“Oh boy, more ‘wild stories from the old days’,” Imoen groaned. “Can we just finish the search, or am I going to have to engine tape your mouth shut?”
Bran laughed. “This from Ms. Chatterbox, owner of three warrants for talking a man mad?”
“Yeah,” Imoen replied with a grin of her own. “It is. Now stow it and let’s get back to work.”
“Aye aye!” Bran replied, snapping off a parade perfect salute, to which Imoen replied with a raspberry. Both Varnas siblings burst into laughter, Imoen eventually tossing an engine tape roll at Bran’s head.
Bran snagged it out of the air and nodded towards the next compartment. “Come on, brat, let’s go.”
Imoen fired off another raspberry as the two resumed their search through the aft compartments.
Forty minutes later most of the Gorion’s crew had reassembled on the bridge. Bran, Imoen, Mazzy and Valygar stood in a rough circle near the aft operations station, awaiting the final team. A few minutes earlier, Jaheira had radioed in to report that they’d found a lead and were working on determining what it was. There had not been further reports, so the others were left to wait.
One foot resting on the cracked leather seat of the Science 2 station, Bran said, “Well, we found a few things that might work, but I doubt that you’ll be much of a fan of it, Mazzy.”
“Well, we had no luck in our searches, so however unpleasant, we may have to contemplate it,” Mazzy replied in her clipped tone.
He could see the smile already forming on Imoen’s lips. “Well, we found quite a few rolls of engine tape.”
Mazzy blinked and looked confused as a smile now threatened the impassive face of Valygar. “Engine tape?” Mazzy asked.
“You aren’t familiar with the Gambler’s Special?”
“The Gambler’s Special? No… I’m afraid not,” Mazzy said, then looking at the others, she added, “And I’m afraid I’m about to find out.”
“Well, it’s pretty simple,” Imoen said with barely disguised glee. “See, first, we use one of the emergency O2 canisters in Aerie’s medpack. Then we tape that into place with a little engine tape.”
That was enough to elicit a cringe from the Yolandan captain. Of course, Imoen didn’t stop there. “Yeah, and once we’ve got that done, we wrap your whole body with engine tape, double layering all of your exposed skin. Keeps your body pressurized so you don’t go busting capillaries all over your body.”
“I… see,” Mazzy replied, blanching.
“Course, we’ll need to give you a bit of a shave beforehand,” Imoen continued, a grin splitting her face.
A hand went up to touch the unruly mop of hair on Mazzy’s head. “Shave?”
“Well, you don’t have to… the engine tape will take care of it when we peel it off. I just figured a shave’d be a lot more comfortable.”
“Hopefully,” Mazzy said, her eyes a little wide, “that such things will be avoidable.”
“Certainly,” Bran said. “Jaheira thought she had something, and if she says she does, then there’s a good chance.”
“Maybe, but maybe we oughta prep Mazzy. Just in case,” Imoen said with a well controlled grin.
“Is such preparations are needed, Imoen, I will take care of them myself,” Mazzy said, eyes narrowed.
“What preparations?” a familiar voice called from the starboard bridge hatch. Eyebrow arched, Jaheira walked into the bridge trailed by the doctor and finally by the large form of Minsc. Four sets of eyes were drawn to the bundle that Minsc was carrying.
“Last ditch pressure suits,” Bran said quickly, lest Imoen go through her description one more time. “Did you find something?”
“Yes,” Jaheira answered, her mouth thin. “We found a pressure suit sealed inside an equipment locker near one of the emergency medical stations.”
“That’s great news,” Bran said as Mazzy let out a long sigh of relief.
“Well, there is a problem with it,” Jaheira said.
“What? The envirosystems are dead? The rebreather kicked? Holes?” Bran asked, his relief starting to dissipate.
“Thankfully nothing so severe as those. The problem is the former owner of the suit,” Jaheira replied. “The suit belonged to Captain Vico.”
“Why is that a problem?” Imoen asked.
“Captain Vico was nearly two meters tall,” Mazzy groaned.
“And Captain Fentan is no where near that height,” Jaheira finished.
“She won’t be able to move in it at all and with so much loose material, the chance of a breach is high. And none of the containment systems will function.”
“Engine tape alterations,” Valygar suggested. “Bundle the excess material and tape it off.”
“I’ve seen it work on far less expansive size differences,” Imoen said, holding her hands far apart.
“Well, she still won’t be able to move under her own power,” Bran pointed out.
“Not a problem. We just strap her to Minsc,” Imoen suggested. “The servos in his suit are even stronger than yours, he’s got the strength to spare for her and her ubergun.”
“Wait a moment!” Mazzy interjected. “I am not a piece of cargo to be just manhandled about.”
“Minsc and Boo can carry honorable Mazzy! With Mazzy at our back, Sneaky Evil will not be able to sneak around on Minsc and Boo! Liberal buttkickings can be applied in all directions!” Minsc boomed, with a wide grin. “Right Boo?”
The answering squeak was drowned out by Mazzy’s groan. “There is no other option, is there?”
“I am afraid not,” Jaheira replied.
“Very well. Let’s do this thing.”
“Alright people,” Bran said. “Suit up.”
Twenty minutes later, the crew was assembled in front of one of the sealed off lift shafts. Immy was hard at work popping the seal to drop them into vacuum for their trek along the hull. The others were busy with last minute weapon and suit checks. But Bran’s eyes were drawn to their solution to the missing pressure suit problem.
An uncomfortable looking Mazzy was strapped onto Minsc’s wide, armored back, bundled in her heavily taped, oversized pressure suit. Her appropriated multibarrel rested in its harness and her gloved hands gripped its’ controls. Meanwhile, Minsc had the Lilarcor 9000 back into firing position. The combination appeared like the demented design of some weapons designer high on stims and crank, a twisted device capable of spitting death in any direction while resting on just two legs.
As he looked at the two of them, Bran wasn’t sure if he should laugh or cringe. Either way, he was damn sure that Minsc was walking drag in the formation. For one reason, he now literally had eyes on the back of his head. Not his own, but they did work. The other was far less rational but no less a reason. Something about that much firepower attached to two people who were strapped together worried him on some elemental level.
“Are you sure it is wise to strap the two of them together like that?” Jaheira’s voice filtered in over a private channel, putting voice to his own concerns.
“He’s the strongest of us,” Bran replied. “And his suit is the most capable of bearing the extra weight.”
“I know. But now that I see it, I can’t help feeling somewhat…”
“Worried? Concerned?” Bran interjected.
“I was going to say disturbed. However, those are appropriate as well.”
“Yeah. But there aren’t many other options, are there?”
“Then let’s hope we don’t find any heat before we can unstrap those two.”
“I would prefer not to find any at all.”
“Somehow, my love, I doubt we will be so lucky.”
Jaheira’s response was cut off by Imoen announcing, “I’ve got it. Ready when you are.”
Flipping the Bladesinger up against his shoulder, he said, “Let’s be about it then.”