I spent the first half of that fateful day struggling with paperwork and the second half in the 'Drive Room at the far end of the ship; we'd managed to get the #2 power amplifier tamed but #3 had been steadily losing output over the past month and was now below the 80% level, something that was sure to be an issue on the Inspection. ("Inadequate safety margin," and never you mind that one power amplifier alone can form and control the 'Drive bubble, though I admit things might get a little crunchy out at the extreme width of the hull).
That meant I missed the first official announcement, which contained nothing rumor hadn't already covered, and the first hint from the medical subcontractor (one tiny "hospital" and two clinics, Central, Port and Starboard respectively. You might remember my experiences with the slow-moving staff at Portside Med. when I got tapped for a random alcohol test) that the unusual death might be even more so. The first clue I had was my phone ringin' at Much-Too-Early-Ayem. I slapped the button in the dark and muttered, "Association for the Prevention of Sci-ence," picking up intelligibility along the way.
"What? Bobbi, it's Mike."
"Sorry. Um, Mike?" (Still not quite awake).
Now I was awake! Sat up in my bunk, still in the dark, "Uh-oh. Look, if that idiot in E&PP is still freaked out about the shooting range—-"
"Not that! No, look, what do you know about the body Greggo found?"
"About that much. Why? ...Unh, you think I...?
"No. Geez. Listen, I need your help with this. 'Drive radiation is fatal, right?"
Ohcrap. "Eventually. It'd take one helluva— You think that's what killed her?"
"That's what doc Poole and I are tryin' to find out. Your boss said to ask you. How soon can you be at my office?"
Thanks, Chief. "About—" I ran a hand through my hair, tangled "—Can I have an hour?"
"Not really. Need you soon as you can."
My quarters are about halfway between the Tech Core and the 'Drive Room and a bit to Port; it's a fifteen-minute trip if you take time to grab coffee and a roll on the way. I didn't; twenty minutes after hanging up, I was in Mike's office, wondering if there was a coffeepot close by. I didn't wonder for long; Doc Poole called up some images on Mike's computer and swivelled the monitor toward me.
"Have a look."
I wished I hadn't. The first picture was just head and shoulders and her face looked...cooked. The display cycled through several more views. "Doc!"
"That's 'Drive-field exposure, isn't it?"
"If she didn't jeep the interlocks on a walk-in microwave oven, that's the only other thing I know that'd do it. But Doc, surely you've seen this before?"
"Never this bad — and that sailor lived."
Doc's another Space Force "legacy," but the good kind — he's seen just about everything.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
1. We have a "no-martini lunch" rule. Also not for breakfast. Off-duty, if you wanna get wasted, have at it.
2. Another story to be told. The Lupine being ex-Space Force, of course there is a range. It took a lot of careful work to convince the Starship Company to open it up to anyone other than Mike's staff and some crewmembers are still wigged out to have learned there are g-u-n-s aboard, let alone that not all of 'em are in the hands of Security.
3 months ago