Having said farewell to Isamura, Caroline thought about the kiss as she arranged an agenda in her head. She felt guilty about it, but at the same time couldn’t deny that she had wanted it, and that Isamura had given her a good reason to keep on going – the ship and her crew needed her.
She decided first of all to check on Rebecca. When she reached the deck for the infirmary though, Caroline noticed that the overhead lighting was off, the only illumination coming from emergency lamps. She made a mental note to mention it to Erica later on.
As she entered the infirmary itself, Caroline noted that it was not as busy as the last time she had visited, but a number of beds were still occupied and the patients vital signs were being monitored. Rebecca was at the far end.
“Doctor. How is Commander Ford doing?” she asked.
Jean Macaude, the Orion’s chief medical officer, glanced over at Caroline, considering his answer to the question. “Her condition is stabilised, but she hasn’t come out of the coma. There is some intermittent brain activity which suggests that she may be improving, but no sign so far that she is aware of her surroundings.”
“Any idea when she will recover?”
Jean blew out a sigh. “Days, weeks, months, maybe more.”
“Well I’d like to sit with her a little while.”
“All right then.”
Caroline made her way over to Rebecca and pulled up a chair.
She gazed at Rebecca, who was laid back on the bed and on respiratory support, and she couldn’t reconcile what she saw with the memory of her strong, confident and sometimes stubborn first officer.
Although the two of them disagreed about a lot of things, that was often the nature of the professional relationship between a captain and first officer. What some might perceive as a clash of personalities, was actually a very productive command dynamic.
She thought back to Rebecca’s advice when she was training to fly the shuttle. Caroline’s tendency to concentrate on what she was doing had worked against her there. With a little help and persistent coaching, she overcame that and learned to be in control of the shuttle without trying to control everything.
When Caroline had felt nauseous during the flight Rebecca had, with her approval, linked their neural transceivers using the shuttle as a relay. For a few brief moments, they were flying the shuttle together – two pilots working as one. It was such a strange and wonderful experience that she forgot about feeling sick.
She wished there was some way that she could help Rebecca. Because right now, she needed some of that calm confidence, that stubborn determination. But more than that, Caroline could ill afford to have her best shuttle pilot laying in the infirmary. She considered herself to be a distant second best.
Caroline had an idea then, and decided that second best would do. She squeezed Rebecca’s hand and whispered, “Got to go. Wake up soon, please.”
She spent the next twenty minutes tracking down Erica, who had her hands full working on repairs and trying to isolate the cause of the power outage.
Erica brushed a stray lock of hair away from her face as she greeted Caroline. “What can I do for you, Captain?”
“I was thinking about what you said – that you needed more time to study the dimensional portal technology. How would you feel about studying it up close?”
“Well, I’m a little busy here with the repairs but, they seem to be well in hand. So right now, I’m really just hunting for the elusive gremlin that’s messing with the lights and the comm system.”
“Any luck?” Caroline asked.
“Not so far. When we refurbished the ship, we replaced a number of damaged energy conduits. I thought that perhaps our replacements weren’t up to the job, but it seems that actually, they’re holding up very well. So I was looking at the power distribution systems, but they actually seem to be helping to keep the power outages away from vital systems like life support.”
“So it’s still a mystery?” Caroline said.
Erica nodded and frowned, wishing she had a better way to describe it, but she didn’t. “It sure is. I think I’ll kick myself when I get to the bottom of it, but as long as we don’t run into any more trouble, we should be fine.”
“I wish I could guarantee that we won’t run into any more trouble,” Caroline said, “but I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of the Siphen.”
“All the more reason to take a look at the portal, then,” Erica said. “As long as it’s out of commission, we can’t call for help, let alone bring in reinforcements.”
“Great. I’ll file a flight plan and then I’ll see you down in the shuttle bay in twenty minutes.”
“I’ll meet you there, Captain.”
Caroline activated the nearest comm panel. “Bridge, this is Trueman. I’m taking one of the shuttles out to investigate the dimensional portal, and Erica is tagging along.”
“With due respect, Captain,” Paul answered, “as your acting first officer, I suggest that we take the Orion in closer to conduct the survey. If you take the shuttle, then I cannot guarantee your safety.”
Caroline bit back a retort and cleared her throat. “I’ll take that under advisement and get back to you. Trueman out,” she said diplomatically.
While she certainly didn’t agree with Paul’s suggestion, Caroline wondered if she was blindly snatching at the first chance to try and fix things. She didn’t know if the portal was even salvageable, and her first instinct was to find out. Perhaps there was another alternative that she hadn’t even considered.
She knew just the woman to talk to.