“Good thinking,” Nathan commended. “Cameron? I assume you’ve already plotted a course into the system?”

“Of course,” she responded. “Hours ago.”

“Doctor Sorenson?” Nathan turned to face her. “You have an escape jump plotted?”

“About a dozen variations, all along our proposed route into the system,” she assured him.

“Very well.” Nathan thought for a moment, hoping that they weren’t about to make a mistake. “Let’s get underway. Communications, alert all hands to prepare for acceleration.”

“Aye, sir,” the comm officer acknowledged.

“Helm, take us to Haven. Bring her up to maximum velocity as quickly as possible then start a gradual deceleration curve. I want us to look like we just dropped out of FTL on our way in.”

“Aye, Captain. Bringing her up sharply to maximum sub-light velocity.” As Cameron began entering commands at the helm station, the comm officer’s voice could be heard in the background as he warned the crew to brace for sudden acceleration. The Aurora’s inertial dampeners were still not fully repaired, and Nathan had to hold on to the tactical console to keep from falling over as the main engines were quickly brought up to maximum thrust levels. The ship lurched forward and began to accelerate quickly, forcing Nathan to shakily make his way to the command chair in order to avoid falling.

“How long will it take us to reach Haven?” he asked as he plopped down into his chair at the center of the bridge.

“About six hours.” Due to their insufficient numbers, Cameron was forced to serve as both pilot and navigator, on top of her responsibilities as executive officer. Nathan had offered to handle the navigation for her, but unless the situation warranted otherwise, she felt better managing on her own. Although there was no denying Nathan’s natural piloting abilities, she had never been impressed with his navigational skills.

After a short period of acceleration at full power, the ship reached her maximum sub-light speed. “Velocity at point seven-five light,” Cameron announced. “Mains are offline, beginning deceleration burn.”

Cameron brought the main engines offline, and began a slow, steady deceleration burn using the forward braking thrusters. The burn would take nearly five hours to complete, bringing them down to just the right velocity and allowing them to be captured by the gravity well of the gas giant that Haven orbited. Compared to the main engines, the noise and sensation of the deceleration burn was almost non-existent, making it easy for the crew to move about the ship without fear of losing their footing.

“Very well. Secure from acceleration stations.”

“We are now entering the Haven system, Captain,” Ensign Yosef announced.

“Let’s hope that thing works,” Nathan muttered.

The Medical section, although still full of patients, was at least clean and orderly once again. The chaos that had lasted more than twenty-four hours had finally subsided, and Doctor Chen and a handful of volunteers had managed to get a workable routine in place. She had expanded her facility by having the crew quarters nearest to medical evacuated in order to turn them into long-term care rooms, nearly tripling her capacity. But it was a challenge to routinely check on every patient under her care, even with the assistance of others as well as every piece of monitoring gear they could get their hands on. She had even taken some of the bio-monitors from EVA suits to monitor patients in nearby rooms.

Despite the young physician’s best efforts, they had still lost another three members of their crew over the last two days. One of them had not been expected to survive his wounds. But the injuries of the other two had not been that severe. They had succumbed to infections due to the lack of medicine on board, something that never would have happened in a proper hospital.

Nathan had come by to check on Doctor Chen and her patients at least once per day, usually under the guise of having his own wound checked. But she knew better. He was coming to check on his crew. She knew that he still felt guilty for every one of their injuries, and even more so for the ones that had not survived. Admittedly, she had also blamed him at first. But as details of the chain of events that had befallen them became available, she realized that he had done the best he could under unbelievably difficult circumstances. She knew it had not been his fault, as did most of the crew. She also knew that he would continue to blame himself for some time to come.

She was not surprised when Nathan again walked into the main treatment area, stopping by each bed to spend a moment with the members of his crew. She expected that he didn’t really have the spare time to spend visiting patients. Surely he had many other things to attend to that were of higher priority. But perhaps he needed these visits as much, if not more so, than her patients did.

She had seen this type of behavior before. During her internship back on Earth, she had spent time as a volunteer in a field hospital located near a border dispute between two warring tribal nations. Despite the global unity that had come about due to the discovery of the Data Ark, there had still been a few places on Earth where lands were controlled by the tribes that had lived on them for centuries. A group of about fifty soldiers had been overrun by the enemy, and the unit’s commander had also spent considerable time in the treatment wards visiting his wounded soldiers. The look on his face had been similar to the one she now saw on Nathan’s.

She waited at the far end of the room for him to make his rounds, using his visit as an excuse to take a break herself. She sat in the utility room on the far side of the treatment area, watching through the doorway. She had a stash of nuts and dried fruit on which to nibble from time to time. She hadn’t sat down and eaten a proper meal in several days, and sleep had only come in short naps at best.

It took Nathan nearly half an hour to visit everyone in the treatment area. She had no idea if he ever managed to visit the others recuperating in nearby cabins. She simply assumed he had.

“How’s the leg?” she asked as he entered the utility room.

“Pretty much healed, I expect,” he bragged, bouncing slightly on it as if testing its sturdiness. “I’m not limping any more, and it only throbs a bit from time to time.”

“Yeah, it’ll probably do that for a few more days. It’s a side effect of the bone-knitting serum. It’ll pass.”

“What about you? How are you holding up?”

“I’ve been better,” she chuckled. “But I’m managing to snack here and there, and take quick naps. Eventually everyone will stabilize enough that I can get a bit more rest. But until then, I’ll survive.” She took a sip from a bottle of water before continuing. “So how’s it going out there?”

“That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. We’re headed for a world called Haven.”

“That explains the acceleration. You might want to give us more than a few seconds warning next time. It takes us a few minutes to prepare for something like that down here,” she scolded.

Nathan suddenly felt guilty. “Sorry about that. It never occurred to me,” he admitted.

“So why are we going to this place, anyway?”

“We’re using a local contact of Jalea’s to try and get some food and supplies. I was wondering if there was anything in particular you might need.”

“Another doctor would be nice,” she said, only half-joking.

“From the sounds of this place, I doubt that’s possible.”

Doctor Chen shrugged. “Real food would be nice. I’d ask for medicine and such, but I don’t like the idea of using strange substances on my patients. I’ve got enough trouble as it is.”

“Food is at the top of the list,” he told her. “And as much as we can get of it.”

“By the way,” she added. “Make sure anyone who goes down to the surface comes by for medical screenings when they get back. We don’t want to bring any strange diseases on board.”

The idea had also never occurred to Nathan, just like a lot of things recently. Every time one of them came up, it served to remind him how unqualified he was to be in command. “Yeah, Doc, I’ll make sure we do that.”

Despite the fact that they had no prepared meals left to eat, Nathan and Vladimir still managed to meet for lunch each day. It was an excuse to take a break from their seemingly endless duties, and it provided Nathan with a way to keep up on the status of repairs without having to constantly nag Vladimir for progress reports. Although he was a gifted engineer and systems technician, getting him to write even the shortest of reports was like pulling teeth. Considering all there was to do just to keep the ship running-let alone trying to repair her-it was understandable.

Until this morning, they had been down to nuts and dried fruit in the pantry, and even that had needed to be rationed. Cameron, who was turning out to be quite a resourceful executive officer, had realized that all the escape

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