LAST CHANCE GAS – Part VI
Universal Media Syndicate
ABOARD THE E.S. CHAMPLAIN – The explosion near Titan’s northern pole is so immense that its shockwaves necessitate a course correction by the ship’s pilot. The gravitational mass of Saturn has created a slingshot effect and amplified the detonation of what equates to some 500 nuclear warheads a thousand-fold.
E.S. Champlain Commander Yuan, Last Chance Gas refinery guru Grant Turnbull, this reporter and the crew on the Champlain’s bridge are transfixed by the stream of data that incessantly reiterates the end of a world each one of us knew intimately just days ago. There is a momentary stunned silence punctuated by sobs and cursing before years of training and experience quickly reestablish ingrained professional conduct. This vessel and all aboard must be preserved. Earth and the relay stations en route must be alerted to a new, oncoming and hitherto unknown threat.
The initial transmission from Last Chance Gas was joyous. The E.S. Armstrong had somehow rebounded from mission critical in the great void beyond the human boundary and was orbiting above Titan’s orange atmosphere in preparation for a sort of homecoming. One can imagine galactic entrepreneur and station proprietor Jimmy Singh breaking out the gree-gree in celebration. One can also imagine Nick LeBlanc, Singh’s head of security and self-described fixer, being leery of a Trojan horse landing ploy by sophisticated raiders.
The second transmission requested the Champlain’s return to Last Chance Gas for possible medical assistance and as yet unforeseen aid and evacuation services. Commander Yuan at once ordered her great ship to turn back. A quarantine protocol was swiftly concocted. Atmospheric ballast was forced into its empty, sealed cargo bays. Row upon row of hammocks were strung up in the gaping, grey and shadowy steel cargo space; jury-rigged facilities and jerry-built amenities followed suit. No one could be sure what to expect, except the worst.
There were just three designated weapons on Titan: a pool cue, a baseball bat and a hockey stick. The horrific content of the final message from Titan made very clear that LeBlanc’s varying lengths of milled wood were useless: the Armstrong had been recalibrated as a missile and its defenseless target was the Last Chance Gas installation on Titan. Neither he nor Singh had ever anticipated such a lethal tactic.
The order to return to Titan has been aborted. It could not come soon enough. The quashed rescue detour has depleted the Champlain of a crucial portion of its fuel supply and therefore limits the ship’s range. This leg to the next refueling station in the relay system should be easy enough, provided the balance of the journey goes smoothly – but there are no guarantees in space. We are bolting for Mars and Commander Yuan’s course will be a straight line.
All we know now is where it happened, when it happened and how it happened. The who and why are X factors, unknowns.
Copyright UMS 2414.