Commander Vo'ptinh Za'tolbh, 40, was the Commanding Officer of a Vh'rilot Union freighter.
He was a widower. His wife and children had died ten years earlier in a robbery on their home planet, Xe'vas. Xe'vas was the governmental seat of the Vh'rilot Union.
Vo'ptinh was a bear of a man, tall (6'5"), with a deep resonant voice. Like most Vh'rilots, he had dark brown hair that came down to his waist.
He was extremely muscular, with six-pack abs and a chestful of dark brown hair that peeked through his uniform shirt. At 40, he still had a physique that could take your breath away.
His First Officer and best friend, T'ovedokh, was built the same. They'd been roommates in the Union's Flight Academy, and had risen through the military ranks together.
Ke'zulah, a widow who was a member of the ship's Housekeeping Staff, was just barely 5 feet tall, very buxom and curvy, with medium-length reddish-blonde hair which she usually wore in either a ponytail or completely down.
She held no rank, but did wear an abridged Vh'rilot Union uniform. Her shirts consisted of short-sleeved tshirts and tank tops. Her pants were slacks as well as knee-length shorts. Occasionally she wore floor-length skirts. Ke'zulah's footwear was usually athletic shoes. She absolutely abhorred boots!
Rarely did she not wear some type of makeup or do something fancy with her nails. Her fingernails and toenails were always painted in bright colors.
When off-duty, she could be seen around the ship wearing sandals, flipflops or her preferred choice of footwear...completely barefoot.
One evening, Vo'ptinh saw her vacuuming the bridge.
“Excuse me. You're out of uniform.”, he said.
“Pardon me, Commander?”, she asked politely.
“You're out of uniform. You're not wearing boots. You're wearing casual athletic shoes. They're not regulation.
”I realize you're new here, but I expect my crew to follow protocol, including military uniform protocol. You can continue your shift in those tonight, but from now on I fully expect you to be in uniform compliance.”, he said.
“Sir, I'm not military. I was told by the head of Housekeeping that I wasn't required to wear boots if I didn't want to.”, she replied.
“Well military or not, I'm your Commanding Officer. This is a military vessel, and you're required to wear boots when in uniform. After tonight, whenever you're on duty I expect you to be wearing boots.”, he said.
“That's an order, Miss...”, he said sternly.
“Ke'zulah, Sir. My name is Ke'zulah.”, she replied.
“Ke'zulah, I expect you to be wearing boots next time I see you on duty.”, he said, then turned to leave.
“Commander, I'm afraid of being in space. Boots contribute to that fear. Wearing them reminds me I'm in space rather than on my home world where I feel safe.
”Athletic shoes calm me down. Please, Commander. I respect you, and truly want to obey your order, but I'm so scared otherwise.”
“Why are you on a ship in space if you're so afraid?”, he asked, not really wanting to believe her.
“My husband was supposed to be assigned here but was killed a few weeks before his transfer was completed. I volunteered to join the crew as a way to honor his memory. I thought I'd be okay here, but I'm not when I'm wearing boots. Please, Commander. The athletic shoes help keep me calm so I can do my job. Please, Commander.”, she said.
They talked things over and, in a compromise, she agreed to clean Vo'ptinh's cabin twice a week for him as well as to put his clean clothes away for him once they'd been dropped off in front of his cabin. She also agreed that, when necessary, she'd make his bed. He regularly sought her out on the ship to thank her for her help, occasionally bringing her a carbonated drink or iced coffee.
They weren't a couple, although Vo'ptinh did have romantic feelings for her, deep romantic feelings which he fought with every fiber of his being. He had no idea if she felt the same way about him. They'd never spoken about her feelings for him.
He'd expressed his love for her and had kissed her passionately early one evening while he was shirtless and getting ready for an evening of cards with To'Vedokh and some other officers, but she'd been in too much shock to say anything. She did seem to respond positively to his kisses, though, despite her shock.
“She didn't slap me, so that's a plus!”, he'd said to To'Vedokh later that evening, smiling broadly.
One reason for fighting his feelings for her was due to not wanting to allow himself to get close to another woman after his wife's death. However, try as he might, he simply couldn't help himself. He found her to be irresistible.
Another reason he tried to fight his feelings was due to their 12-year age difference, something that was looked down upon in their culture.
Vh'rilot couples rarely had more than a two or three year age difference. A 12-year difference was completely unheard of, and considered quite scandalous!
Another reason was that he was her Commanding Officer, even though she wasn't military. Vo'ptinh was, for the most part, a by-the-book, rules-and-protocol-following officer.
He knew the Union's rule book every bit as well as he knew his own name; even better than that some days, he'd sometimes joke.
Vo'ptinh was a very good and fair man, and one of the most honorable men you'd ever want to meet...of any species!
He was dearly loved and respected by his crew, and by his superiors as well.
One day, shortly after breakfast, the ship's alarm sounded. Vo'ptinh swiftly ran to the bridge.
“REPORT!”, he exclaimed as he arrived.
“A ship is heading straight towards us, Commander! We've been trying to hail them. There's been no answer!”, said the helmsman.
“TACTICAL ALERT! EVERYONE STAY AWAY FROM THE WINDOWS!”, Vo'ptinh said over the ship's intercom.
“Shields up! Take evasive action! Get us out of here!”, he told the helmsman. “Hold on, everybody!”
It was too late. The underside of the oncoming ship scraped the hull of Vo'ptinh's. The other ship tipped to the right, taking out one of its nacelles as well as four of Vo'ptinh's ship's six nacelles.
The other ship flew away without stopping to render aid to Vo'ptinh's crew and ship.
“DAMAGE REPORT!”, Vo'ptinh exclaimed.
”Widespread, Sir. There was no reason for what they just did to our ship!“, said the navigator.
”Sir, we're down four nacelles. Our other two are damaged, but hanging on! We've got maybe 1/4 power, that's IF they don't come back and take another swing at us!
“Our hull has major breaches. Decks four through six are having depressurization problems.”, the ship's engineer said.
“Those damn fools just left us out here, stranded in deep space, with only two barely working nacelles, Sir!”, his First Officer, To'Vedokh, exclaimed.
In typical Vh'rilot fashion, Vo'ptinh spewed a slew of expletives in Vh'rilot at the news. A Vh'rilot attitude was similar to a Cardistanian's. However, their level of “attitude” could give Cardistanians a run for their money!
“All crew experiencing depressurization, get to sick bay immediately!
”Security, do a welfare sweep of decks four through six. Those decks are experiencing depressurization. Fully pressurized suits, guys. Carry oxygen for yourselves and for those unable to get to sick bay!
“Doc, you're about to get busy! If you can spare someone, send a med tech with them.
“All crew either injured or on depressurized decks, if you can hear me, hold on. Help will be there soon!
“I'm proud of each and every one of you! Take shallow breaths and try to stay calm.
”Expend as little energy as possible. Help is on the way to all of you.
”No matter what happens, you're the best crew our Union has. I'm so damn proud to be your Commanding Officer...and your friend!”, he said over the intercom, calmly reassuring his crew.
“Open a channel, Lieutenant. I want to talk to that ship's Commander!”, he then told the communications officer after turning the intercom off.
The other ship was long gone, and not answering.
“SHARKHT!”, Vo'ptinh exclaimed, uttering another expletive.
Taking a deep breath, he said to the communications officer,
“Contact Union headquarters. Tell them we need help immediately! We need to get to the nearest space dock right away, or have another ship tow us there!”
“Yes, Commander!”, he replied.
“Turn us around and set a course for the nearest planet. Take it slow and steady.
”One quarter impulse power. If we had emergency blinkers like transport pods do, I'd tell you to put them on. Fly slow, like my grandmother does when flying her glittery purple pod.“, Vo'ptinh said, using light humor to help his bridge crew stay calm.
Everyone knew the danger they were in, especially with two barely working nacelles and depressurization on three decks.
“I've got the Director, Commander. It's very glitchy though.”, the communications officer said.
“Onscreen.”, Vo'ptinh replied.
“Vo'ptinh, what the hell happened out there?”, the Director of Starships asked, calling him by his given name. The transmission was going in and out.
“Some damn fool ship collided with us, Sir! We hailed them before and after, with no result. They've got damage on their bottom hull and are missing one nacelle. Our top hull's severely damaged.
”We've got depressurization on Decks 4 through 6, four of our nacelles are gone, and our last two are in bad shape. They're holding on, but just barely.”, Vo'ptinh said.
“Vo'ptinh? I can't hear you. Come in?”, the Director asked.
“We've got some casualties, Sir. We're getting those on the depressurized decks to sick bay.
”We've set a course for the nearest planet, but we'll need help getting there, especially if any more decks become depressurized.”, Vo'ptinh replied.
“I lost them, Sir.”, the communications officer said.
”Try again, please.“, he replied.
”Still nothing, Commander.“, he said after trying for two minutes.
“Alright. Keep it slow and steady. Keep trying to see if we can find anyone.”, Vo'ptinh replied.
For the next nineteen hours, the ship flew slowly but unassisted.
Ke'zulah had been off-duty and vacuuming her cabin on Deck 6 when the collision occurred. She'd quickly packed her clothes and some other things and, after having been rescued, given oxygen and checked out in sick bay, had brought her belongings to his cabin.
His cabin wasn't on a floor with depressurization. He'd told her she could keep her belongings there in the meantime until the ship was repaired.
A day after the collision, the last two nacelles failed completely, setting the ship adrift in space. There were no ships in their vicinity of space.
“Commander,”, To'Vedokh said to him quietly, “may I see you in the Ready Room?“
”Sure.“, Vo'ptinh replied.
”Commander, I've been looking at the maps and stars around us. Nothing in this vicinity is near anywhere I'm familiar with. We didn't pass through this way before the collision. We've NEVER been through this way.“, To'Vedokh said.
”To'Vedokh, are you telling me what I think you're telling me?“, asked Vo'ptinh.
”Vo'ptinh, there are no records anywhere for where we are right now. As far as we know, this area of space is uncharted territory. We don't even know if it's populated or even if we're still in our galaxy...or ANY galaxy, for that matter!
“I can't tell you how to get anywhere because I don't know where we are.
”Even our most ancient documents and charts have no information about this area. I've no idea how to get us to help. I'm sorry, Vo'ptinh. We're quite literally lost in space.“, To'Vedokh said.
”How did that happen? We turned around and started back the way we came.“, Vo'ptinh asked.
”The only thing I can figure is that our navigation system was knocked out during the collision.
“Our communications system seems to have been affected as well.”, replied To'Vedokh.
“Alright. Let's keep this between us for a few more hours. I want to give us a little more time to see if we can get in touch with anyone. If we can't, then I'll address the crew. I don't want to start a panic.”, Vo'ptinh said.
Over the next several days, Vo'ptinh never left the bridge other than to use the bathroom or when inspecting areas of the ship to personally assess the damage.
Vo'ptinh ate on the bridge, slept on the bridge in his Command Chair or even on the hard floor at times, rather than in his cabin. He never slept for more than two hours at a time. The bridge crew chuckled at his loud snoring.
He changed clothes and showered in his cabin, occasionally grabbing a cup of coffee from his replicator, then stopping in engineering and other parts of the ship to inspect repairs. He also stopped in sick bay two or three times a day to check on injured crewmembers.
Ke'zulah brought the bridge crew meals, snacks, and drinks, playing music for them on her small-screen, trying to keep their minds off just how dangerous a situation they were in. She continued working her housekeeping shifts, even working double shifts at times.
She made sure they were all taken care of, doing her best to keep the bridge crew fed, comfortable, and their minds off the very real possibility that they weren't going to survive to be home to their families or home planets ever again.
Despite being a housekeeper, and non-military, she most definitely earned the respect of the bridge crew!
For the most part, they traveled through blackness. There were no other ships or even a space station to be found. They were alone millions, or possibly even billions, of miles from any charted territory. This continued for two weeks. The crew had absolutely no idea where they were.
The situation grew extremely dire. Crew members were dying from injuries suffered in the collision as well as the aftermath of it. Ke'zulah and Vo'ptinh held the hands of each crew member as they passed.
Two weeks after the collision, a collision with a rogue asteroid occurred, along with several explosions caused by it.
It was complete and utter devastation! There were mass casualties and fatalities, including To'Vedokh. The ship simply continued to drift. There was absolutely nothing the crew could do. Repairs were useless.
Four weeks later, due to the food supply being ruined and no drinkable water available, everyone was either unconscious, dying, or dead.
Obrigado pela leitura!
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