Alive and Well..?

Early Day 35
I could make out that I was in some kind of a tent built lean-to and Janie was putting branches on a fire just outside of the partially opened front flap only a couple of feet away. I mumbled, “Wha happen? Howd I geh here? Miik? Lauraah? They alright.” Janie was inside in a flash, looking as if I had come back from the dead, and I guess I had. It was a near run thing.

“Mike and Laura are fine Bart, they’re with the bots and will check in soon. It’s you that have given us all a scare.” She leaned over and brushed her lips against my forehead and continued, “It’s been 36 hours since the crash and we were afraid you might not ever make it back to us. Wait a second darling while I fix you something to eat and then I’ll tell you the whole story.”

Over the next several hours, between spooning warm broth into me and smiling. Janie described in graphic detail what had come to pass. When the shuttle plowed into the rocks the impact was all on my side if the cabin. Tough fiber reinforced syntha-steel crumpled like cardboard and my helmeted head along with the entire left side of my body took a major blow. The ship came to rest, hanging partially on the jagged boulders, about 60 feet from shore and in 30 foot of water. The shock and drag caused by the landing had torn open the Dora’s rear bulkhead and water was pouring in as she settled stern first then slid off the rocks heading for the bottom.

Mike, Laura, and the bots escaped with a jolt, shook up some but with no damage to the robots and only minor bruises to the humans. Janie said that she felt like she had been bounced around in a pinball machine and was on the verge of shock but when she saw me motionless with the side of the shuttle against my cracked helmet it was like someone else took over and she just went into automatic.

With the ship going down they all unstrapped and Janie blew the hatch on top. While the water kept pouring in the others grabbed what they could reach. Janie slapped my visor down and with the Jeeps help pulled me into the main cabin then through the hatch and up to the surface. Our suits were buoyant enough that making it to shore wasn’t impossible, just nearly so. My helmet leaked but Janie said she kept it mostly out of the water till she could drag me on land and pop the visor open again.

She told me how while she and Laura started making a shelter Mike and the bots went back to the submerged wreck and after multiple dives into the icy water were able to get two of the cargo compartments open and bring back much of what was inside. The other two compartments had been torn open and all of their contents swept down stream.

Despite the rain still falling they had managed a fire then stripped me out of my suit and gotten me inside and into a mostly dry sleeping bag.. That was the worst time of all Janie said, The side of my face was covered with blood and even after the bleeding finally stopped my pulse and breathing were erratic and no mater what she tried I didn’t seem to respond.

That was as much as she had been able to describe until I could stay awake no longer but this time drifted into a far more natural sleep.

Ten hours later:
When I next awoke I could feel the throbbing pain again; not as bad as before but bad enough. Laura Seaworth was seated cross-legged, looking very intent, and typing into her comp. I thought about it for a while and got a sentence ready to try out.

“Morning Laura, or is it afternoon?” My voice was slurred and it hurt like hell to talk. She gave a small startled jump then looked over at me and smiled. Her hazel eyes were shinny bright in the darkness of the tent as she brushed her shoulder length auburn hair backwards. Laura was fourteen and in a couple years or so was going to be an absolute knockout. With thoughts like that I guess I was gonna live after all.

“It’s,” looking at her wrist comp, “just after 11 local time Mr. Bartlett.” She spoke into her com unit saying, “He’s awake again Janie,” and then, “Ok, good.” I didn’t hear the other end of the conversation.

“Just call me Bart, its ok Laura I can’t stand on formality with anyone involved with saving my life.”

She blushed and said, “I didn’t do that much. It was mostly Janie and Mike,” and then she asked, “How do you feel?”

“Honestly not so hot. I’ve got a headache that’s on the other side of unbearable.”

She reached inside her parka and pulled out a small package and after pouring water into a canteen cup came over and gave me two pills. “Just regular strength painkillers,” she said. “Janie told us about the last time you woke up. She had you drugged to the max. At first even when you were unconscious you made an awful lot of noise at times and your pain was just tearing her apart. After last time, when you stayed awake, she stopped the injections and let me spell her. We were all so glad to know you were back.”

I struggled into a sitting position, and as the world stopped spinning, felt at the bandage covering my eye and the left side of my face.

“Janie said you’re not supposed to touch the bandages Bart. When she gets back she’ll take a look.”

“Where is she now?” I asked, still lightly fingering the cloth.

“Janie went out an hour ago to check up on Mike and the bots. She told me when I commed her that she was on her way in.”

I know I must have looked puzzled and Laura went on to explain, “We’re at the base of the bluffs overlooking the river here Bart. Mike’s up at the top on a small hill where there’s a view of the river valley and he has a fire going in hopes that anyone looking for us will see it. R.J.P. is up there with him acting as a sentry. EmyCee and I have been doing pretty much the same thing down here while Janie has been taking care of you.”

“Have you seen anything?” I asked.

“Oh we’ve seen a lot alright but nothing that’s getting us closer to being out of here.” she replied.

“Hey Quig!” Janie exclaimed, opening the tent flap.

“Jeez!, first it was Andy and now you. You hangout with the wrong kinda crowd Babe!”

I was feeling much better by late afternoon when Mike Reye came down from his lookout perch and was able to fill in more of the details of the Dora’s salvage, and he just shrugged it off as the words failed when I tried to express my thanks and admiration.

“How did it happen, Laura and I heard the explosion when the rockets blew, but why? What went wrong?”

I could only reply, “I don’t know Mike, everything was fine till the instance she cut loose and without the wreckage to examine we will probably never know.” In the back of my mind though some very dark suspicions were forming.

Good News and Bad:
If they hadn’t found us in almost three days, even with the weather as bad as it had been, I was thinking it unlikely we would be found at all. And certainly not soon. The sensors on the Mayflower and the orbital observatory were both up to detecting us. The problem had to be with the search area they were aimed at. The Mayflower was out of view and on the other side of the planet when we launched. With two comsats able to relay that didn’t seem like any problem at all. Our launch into a polar orbit heading north started out over land but as we gained altitude and the planet turned under us by the time of the explosion we were at least 100 miles off the coast and over the ocean.

All of the control, operational, and observational data for the entire flight was continually uploaded to the sats and hence the Mayflower so they always had a real time track of our progress. If a ballistic trajectory was calculated from the time we lost power and the telemetry shut down our splash point would have been 3000 miles north and 300 miles out to sea. And that had to be where any search effort was concentrated. There would also be close scans of the area on either side of the predicted trajectory.

But due to the damage we sustained and the tilted angle the Dora maintained during re-entry we drifted further and further eastwards from a true ballistic path. The good news was we came down, not 300 miles out to sea into frigid northern waters, but instead 150 miles from the coast in the landward direction. Our eastward descent also meant that we weren’t 3000 miles north but well short of that. But if the explosion that took out the engines left enough survivable debris, some would show up on the flight line where they would have expected us come in on and hence reinforce the search in that area and make it very unlikely that the spot where we did land would get any kind of a close scrutiny. And I wouldn’t have bet much on the likelihood that a small fire over a thousands miles from where we were thought to have been, and especially now when we were likely presumed to have died in the crash, would attract any attention.

That’s the way I later described to my fellow castaways what had likely happened, but being well inland we had no knowledge or the tsunami and the real problems back in Liberty City so I could hardly have been more wrong. Still it was a beautiful theory and since we hadn’t been found it was up to us to figure out our next step.

I would need better data to determine our exact location but had a plan on how to go about getting it. With the loss of the shuttle the only com-unit with the range and frequency response to link through the comsats was the military grade unit strapped to my left wrist; the one, mil-spec or not, that hadn’t survived being between my seats arm and the crumpling of the ships side when we hit the rocks. We had packed another ground unit but it wasn’t stowed in the compartments Mike and the Jeep had been able to salvage. Aside from being on the wrong frequencies every other communication device we owned, including the bots internal units, were short range devices. That was why Sabbu was so busy setting up cells back in Liberty City.

Good luck, planning, and a concern for weight distribution had caused us to stow our gear in such a fashion that in the two intact compartments along with some of our basic survival equipment both Janie’s and my pack and personal gear were recovered. Laura and Mikes gear was stored in the compartments that had ripped open and they lost everything but what was in each of their small carry on bags. I had been wearing my Glock and had two spare loaded magazines in the pouch clipped to the harness, and say what you will about it being a poodle shooter, (Oh I guess you would have had to read the old internet archives to get that reference), it was impervious to water damage and ultimately reliable. But better than that the Jeep had brought in the container into which our two plasma rifles and both of the Rugs had been packed along with 60 round worth of penetrators and expanders, slings and cleaning supplies.

We had food on short rations for perhaps a couple weeks but plenty of vitamin supplements and we knew that at least some of the local plant and animal life would be edible. The folks at the Bio Lab had put together a test kit which was in Janie’s pack, containing treated patches designed to turn color in the presence of harmful organics. The broth I had been drinking was prepared from the meat of a large otter like animal Mike Reye had captured by digging it out of a snow bank. He had cleaned the pelt and it was frozen now but if we were to keep it would need to be tanned. We had only two sleeping bags but we all were wearing ship suits during the launch. Once they were dry the skin-suit inner layer and outer protective covering, much like rip-stop nylon but ever so much tougher, were warm enough if the temp stayed above freezing. The outer suit pressure layers and their heating units went down with the Dora but even so it did look like we wouldn’t freeze. Very important smaller items included a mess kit, hand axe, and a 12 inch folding saw but most important of all both the Jeep and EmyCee had come through in perfect shape.

I was thoroughly impressed with the precautions Janie and Mike had taken to insure camp security, from the location chosen for the tent, made from the solar cloth tarps Janie and I had carried, to the stone wall barricades and open sight lines. I had managed to stand and get outside before it turned dark on that third day and saw that even the latrine was situated with security in mind. I told Janie I could take a watch outside the tent area that night but she knew better and insisted I didn’t rush things. The next morning when I awoke I figured I was at least up to 50%, and considering the alternative that wasn’t too bad.

What Next:
Janie was up on the bluff and Lara was outside the tent, Mike has stood the night watch and was snoring lightly as he caught up on sleep. I was using Laura’s comp, the only one that made it ashore, and trying to figure out exactly where we were. The comp was loaded with the easy version of much of the astronomical data relating to the Alchibah system and I had asked Mike to record bearings and altitudes along with time stamps if by chance it was clear enough to see either of the moons, Oliver or Carter, during his watch. I had gotten Janie to instruct EmyCee and the Jeep to do the same. Between the three of them and because the weather pattern which had been dumping alternately rain sleet and snow on us was breaking up, I had eight data points to work with.

It took a lot longer than it should have as fuzzy as I still was but by the time Mike awoke I had our location narrowed down to by my estimation to within fifty miles of out true location. A comparison of estimation with the recorded satellite imagery, which did show the river location, and I could even point out our campsite.

As Mike got up and made ready to take over for Janie I asked him to get us all into local communication and I described my findings. The short version was that we were 1640 miles almost due north of Liberty City and one hundred and fifty miles from the coast. The river that fed formed the lake we ‘landed’ in gradually increased in size and tending westward flowed into the ocean a few hundred miles to the southwest. The terrain south of us diminished from low mountains, kind of like the Appalachians back on Earth, to a high tundra and then, starting about twelve hundred miles north of Liberty to the mostly forested regions we were familiar with.

Mike and Laura let Janie and I do most of the talking but both, and Mike in particular, were free with comments when they had something to add. Mike did ask about the probability of our fire being spotted.

“Almost no chance,” I said, “Too many geothermal sources and lightning caused fires. If we could set off a really big fire they would certainly see but it would look like any naturally occurring forest fire and even if they examined it closely little old us would be lost in the noise.

Since waiting it out here, for the rescue that would never come, was out of the question, that left two us choices. Take the river to the sea and follow the ocean shore back, either by walking or after building some kind of a boat, or try a more direct overland passage. If we had been a larger party better supplied I think we would have split up and tried both ways, hoping that at least one would succeed and bring rescue to the other party, but that was out of the question in our present condition.

We just didn’t have enough information to go on. The satellite maps in Laura’s comp lacked the resolution to throw the decision either way. We decided to take the easiest course, just following the river down stream for the first seventy miles while it flowed generally south and then make the final choice where it’s direction changed to the west as it fell rapidly towards the sea.

I told Janie I was feeling good enough to take over for Laura and also that I could use the fresh air; she concurred. After Mike left to take over for her and she retuned to camp we resumed planning, keeping the com active so Mike could hear us while Laura slept.

If everything worked out, and my condition kept improving, we would make all the preparations possible and leave early in the morning two days from now. That would be at the start of the seventh day since the crash or Alchibah day 40.

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Colony: Alchibah is a science fiction blog novel.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Probably.

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