Tunnel of Darkness Section 2

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In the pilot’s nest, clotted blood and torn flesh plastered the seat and control panels in thick, sticky mass that covered everything in a reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock creation. The co-pilot had dragged his captain and friend out of the seat. His place as copilot was behind the driver of the hybrid craft.

Tank treads under a skirt that used hovercraft technology, it was capable of smooth travel along different terrain. The tank tread could be deployed to keep with directional control on slopes, while the hovercraft skirt could let it traverse over marsh, water, broken ground with equal ease.

Throwing blankets over the blood-fouled seat, the backup pilot, using a foaming cleaner, cleared the control surfaces as best he could.

Ducking, projectiles hit all around the pilot dome. The large hole where AP shell had overwhelmed the polycarbonate shield.

The F-wits back at headquarters cost another life.

The Colonel had long recommended that crystallized, transparent aluminum in this area of the field units.

Polycarbonate dome was four fingers thick with a minimal distortion, corundum dome could do the same job with less distortion and be lighter by being thinner, perhaps as thin as a finger-width. Such a dome could stop a fifteen-millimeter exploding round, but the Advanced Med-trauma Rescue corporation deemed it as not cost-effective. Trading credits for lives.

Again.

Shaking his head, he came out of his cynical moment.

“Colonel, we have teams prepared to head out to the scene.” The voice over the radio sounded.

Fifty meters distant, between buildings, he stood and looked out the hole from the pilot’s advantage and sighed. It was between two buildings, they could fit.

But just. No room to maneuver, it was a kill-box if ever there was one.

“MCI treatment protocols are in effect, load and go only. Deploy.” The Safsy said into the radio quietly.

The Chief of Surgery on the Seraph said that when he gave a report and a patient was dying, his voice was as if he was making small talk. Lately inside his soul, he was always in a panic with a hair-trigger temper at home.

Home.

The last time he had been there, his wife acted surprised and a little disappointed that he had not been killed with his current state of mind. In her life, she could not stand knowing if he was going to walk through the door or come home in a box. She would be better off with the insurance money, financially. But, as she told him, she wanted the man that she married, back.

Now, he stood with his pilot in the small control room. Officially it was a one-person closet with a dome that allowed a three-hundred sixty.

“Strapping on.” The ship as the pilots would say. The pilot control was simply he turned the ship with his mind and used hand controls to fine-tune the different systems to keep the surgical, trauma, and rescue teams and their patients, safe.

Safsy saw a silhouette on the roof of a building, instinctively pulled James Cupri, the pilot, down out of the gaping hole as the intruder, while the sniper began shooting.

“Back-back-back!” Safsy yelled. “Our location is untenable.”

“Emergency reverse.” James yelled back. “Distance from team now is seventy-meters.”

“When the team returns with the victims, move us closer, load them up and get us the hell out of here.”

Four of the paramedic trauma-team walked with intent and speed, then breaking into a run when a whine of a particle weapon fractured and melted a large crater in the asphalt ten paces from the team. They followed the first route they took into the area, dragging the victims to the safety of the armored rescue units called ambulances, which was a bit of a misnomer, the true ambulances were fully stocked larger units than these small, heavily armored and speedy strike units.

But the teams were heading back to the hanger, James at the pilot controls watched the approach of the team and was ramping up the power in the engines.

In the lower level, just below the pilot, the Defense System, Radio and Radar operations was the primary job for the “Rear Seat” officer.

Although Safsy was in charge of the overall ship operations and now with two patients, his job was to get them back to the Seraph safely, making him the next up on the chain as the Radio Officer. They would be returning to the hospital ship with everyone.

Safsy took a deep breath of sad resignation. Once more, doomed to disappointment. He needed to speak to the social worker again, a badly wounded pilot that would weigh on his mind. The man would live, but he lost a lung. The report would be filed to answer why they entered into an unsafe scene. No matter the dispatch data stream, it was Safsy’s responsibility for the portable emergency room.

He would once again have the nightmares tonight.

The pilot…

Crap he could not remember the man’s name!

Moments like this he had so much fear building up inside him. Nothing he did could have avoided the pilot’s injuries, the man put the vessel in harm’s way with the information displayed on the screen. Still, reports needed writing and filing regarding all events that led to the wounding of the pilot.

Safsy wondered if there was a large bottle of rum at the Seraph. 

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Tunnel of Darkness

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Darkness.

It invaded him, all around. Some would say he was a cold soul, hardened from so many times responding to emergencies, seeing things that would make a Marine cry,  but he was numb beyond his ability to describe the feeling of sadness. It had been this way for as  long as he worked the out lying societies of the colonies. 

Outwardly he feared nothing, riding in the mobile emergency room towards, arguably, the capital of violence in the industrialized planet systems. This planet orbited a dwarf red star only a few dozen light-years from the home planet from where the first humans moved out into space.

He was Colonel Safsy Gliese. His father named him after the great explorer Safsy Riggs from earth that used the, then new, Type-D Alcubierre drive. His father- widowed by the war of religion when the religion of feared death-dealing terrorists triggered a supervolcano in the middle of a continent. After leaving Earth, Dad used a common last name when they left the planet for another brown proto-star for a mining colony, where his father struggled to make an import business succeed. 

Instead, it succeeded into sending the best father that could have walked into an early grave, crushed by a product transporter with a lift that was long overdue for servicing, the old man pushed it past the limits and paid with his life.  He left an eighteen-year-old son who had neither the knowledge or the desire to try and run an import business.  Safsy desired to study medicine, even keeping grades up for scholarships.  

But alas, scholarships were not enough.  His grades did not earn him a full ride, without his father, he could only go part way before the money ran out.  Leaving him frustrated and depressed.  All he wanted to do was make his father proud.

And he failed on all counts, even losing the business that was his dad’s dream for success for the family of father and son.  

Since then, Safsy had moved to the copper world of the orange-dwarf star called the planet Sapphire, in the constellation Sappho as seen from the planet in the stellar nursery fifty-light years distant.

A planet composed of high concentrations of copper, so much so that some mountain ranges had outcroppings of the metallic element. Beryllium rich outer planets in the system made for a natural industry and trade hub for the farmers of the other planets in the region.

Then the discovery of energy to mass conversion on the Gliese systems all but collapsed the economy of the Sapphire.

Right in the back yard of the Colonel’s work as Search and Rescue.

He looked out the window of the ship Seraph, captained by his friend and companion through frequent adventures over the years. Wings on the bow of the ship were against the protocols of the company, but the regional directors looked the other way as it was a gift of peace between two warring parties.

The pure gold welded to the hull of the ship made the wings sparkle without diminishing over time was no easy feat, as the hull of the Seraph was of metastable metallic hydrogen. Tough and superconducting, the simple element as a gas in space, came from the ship yards ready for any kind of action. Ship rescues near stars, high energy waves just slid over the hull, protecting everything within its walls.

Today, they were putting down on Sapphire, riots had broken out over the austerity programs, miners were out of work as the new technology had turned to converting hydrogen — the most common element in the known universe — into copper.

The once prestigious university of New Antarctica at the pole of the planet now sat in decay. Only the sciences seemed to stick it out for the duration, trying to create some alloy that would be a Sapphire Only creation.

Traversing the side of the green soiled hill, the team used a high-speed land-crawler to travel into the downtown area of Solstice, a large metropolitan area on the polar sea. A body of water ten-percent larger than the Terran Pacific Ocean and growing with the planetary tectonics.

“Medic-One, your victims are at school street and Twelfth Boulevard. Reporting two people stabbed. We have other units en route, law enforcement is also dispatched but have an ETA of half-hour. You will be first on scene, unknown location of suspects involved. Stage before arriving on scene at least five-hundred meters.”

“Copy, thank you for the information.” The Colonel specialized in off-ship rescues. The land crawler was capable of handling up to a dozen patients and have a surgical suite in the core with a team operating on victims.

“Medic-One, fire departments on scene report a riot on scene, stage at the one kilometer mark until law enforcement arrive.”

“Are they able to handle a riot?” Kimberly Suthlinder asked. “Maybe they should send out the peace force to stop this?”

Kimberly was a great surgeon, but this was her first tour and was fresh out of the University of the Sciences on Threshold, so named as it the planet that bordered deep space settlements.

“No, likely it is those peacekeepers that are fighting. They haven’t been paid for months.” The frowning Colonel said.

“Oh, no.”

“Oh yes. It’s all about food now. These people would hunt the indigenous life, except the only life native here,  is lichen. The economy fell to the technology that replaced their primary export. The two planets have teamed up, one processes beryllium,” He pointed to a spot in the sky.  “Sapphire process produces an uncommonly pure copper with a minimum of energy input. There’s abundant hydrogen, but they don’t have the process technology to do anything with it. Not difficult to obtain, this system is in the middle of a dark-matter cloud that has pockets loaded with nearly pure hydrogen that has agglomerated into non-reactive particles, it is easy to collect. The government here just has no way to process it.”

“Oh, crap on a cracker. This will leave the area as a ghost town.”

“It will, for all intents and definitions, be a ghost town. We are witnessing the death of a society if they cannot beg, borrow or steal tech to improve their position.”

“What about the University here?”

“They are working around the clock to come up with something. But so far, the Gleise consortiums are keeping tight wraps on technology, they can produce copper that is five-nines pure with less energy that they use here— and they produced copper here cheaply, but not cheap enough.”

“Arrival.” The pilot’s voice came over the speakers in their chairs.”

“Arrival?” The Colonel blinked, tapping the touch-screen opening the intercom graphic on the control panel. “Colonel to bridge, we were to post away from the event.”

“Negative, my display shows green for entry.”

Taptaptap echoed in the hull of the crawler, punctuating the pilots comments — someone had taken shots at the moving emergency department.

“Pilot, move us out of here.”

Silence for a heartbeat.

“I’m hit! Help me, ohmygod!” The scream could be heard from the pilot’s position without the intercom.

Tapping on his smooth panel control module, the Colonel alerted the surgical and rescue teams.

“Trauma teams to the bridge, medical emergency, pilot has been hit. Trauma teams to the bridge.”

The Colonel wished they had shot him, six surgeons on board, with two gas-passers and trauma medics that can operate in the field to bring the victims in. But they only had two pilots, now one.

If the second pilot was hit, Safsy had only a passing knowledge of this transporter, he could drive them back to the Seraphim, but not as smoothly as with a trained pilot of this tank-treaded/hovercraft hybrid craft.

He did not want any harm to come to his team and would challenge anyone to shoot him if it drew the danger away from anyone or anything else.

Nodding to himself, the Colonel was looking for a chance to commit suicide by proxy. He did not always recognize it, but he knew he was coming to the end of his career.

Anyone that was looking to die in the line of duty did not belong on duty. He knew it was only time before he would stumble and begin to have serious, self-destructive personal and professional effects.

He did not know if it would be ethanol that might force him to resign or perhaps striking someone who would then need treatment  in the Seraph.

 Violence had no place in the medical ship, but the Colonel could feel it building by increments every day.