The courier's environmental system was dying and so was Stephen. It was a miracle that the survey class ship was mostly intact after the surprise encounter with the unstable wormhole. Good old Murphy's Law did not care about the ship's advanced hull technology and put a meteor field in their path when exiting the unstable wormhole, pelting the thin skin of the craft. This was not some double-hulled military frigate with dozens of engineers capable of performing damage control. Instead, it was the smallest interstellar ship in service—with a pilot and a passenger, a small cargo bay and one massive engine.
The ship's sleek lines and pencil-shaped frame gave it an admired design aesthetic, along with great speed, but like other interstellar ships it could not enter a planet atmosphere. Once upon a time this was a prototype survey ship, intended to follow up on unmanned discovery probes and report back more detailed findings. The Wolfenstein ship design had lost out in competitive bidding to a larger but simpler ship from another manufacturer because the empire didn't like the "over-engineered design." Now the clan used it as a family courier ship.
Although these highly automated ships rated a clan "Webster" A.I., which was guiding the repair bots to find the hull breaches and patch them, the damage was too extensive. Whatever the A.I. had been doing wouldn't be enough to save him from a ruined and venting environmental system. When Stephen had crawled through what was left of the burnt out life support systems earlier, he could see they required a space dock's gentle touch.
Stephen realized the obvious: they were truly stuck—and then the "Webster" announced, "Robot visual inspection confirms the main engine thruster is crushed. Do you want to review the video log?"
Stephen shook his head and stated matter-of-factly, "That is not necessary. I felt the strike when the main engine went into auto-shut down."
They were out of time and the uncharted planet below was their only available destination. The A.I. did not need oxygen to run the craft in a holding orbit on guidance thrusters; it would keep the lights on long after the crew expired. As captain, Stephen launched the message torpedo with the ship's log, their status, and last known position at the wormhole with the hollow hope it could make it back to normal space lanes.
Webster reported, "The survey for the planet you have designated Von Haven is complete. The planet has a lower mass and density than our planet, so the gravity is lower then standard. It has larger seas and smaller land area. The two moons are small thus the tidal action on the oceans is moderate. Von Haven's axis tilt provides long summers and short winters. More importantly for you, there are human inhabitants."
Stephen gently touched the burn on his face and asked, "What is the executive summary on their technology and population locations?" The A.I. promptly answered, "This is largely an agrarian planet with a low technology base. The population is widely dispersed among numerous towns and villages. A few large cities are present on each continent. The primary form of assisted transportation is pack animal, horse and wagons. Primitive sailing vessels hug the coasts and move goods among port cities. Weapons are of the medieval era."
Stephen was scared now that the adrenalin rush had receded. The toxic smoke stung his old eyes and the gauge on the portable oxygen bottle blinked an angry red. He spit tiny blood drops into his mask with a cough, inhaling a deep breath. Stephen paused and looked at the floor a moment, pondering what the mother of the young man lying at his feet would feel when word reaches her of their disappearance. Actually, Von was unconscious because he had hit his head on the science survey console during maneuvers in the meteor field. This started out a simple transport mission—to bring an eighteen-year-old cadet home from his first year of military school.
He sighed, "My poor sister, her only son lost."
Stephen picked up Von in one fluid motion, expending the last of his strength as he moved them a short distance into the escape vehicle. Black charred material flaked off his burned uniform as Stephen dropped the athletic young man into the emergency evacuation pod seat. Stephen pulled down the yellow restraining harness straps on the unconscious boy's muscular shoulders. His nephew's forehead was cut above his sharp-edged eyelid, a little blood mixing with his vibrant black eye brow. The year at the academy had toned Von's body and Stephen felt unsettled that this man's life was in his hands.
Von had stepped out of the cadet uniform the minute he got on board. When you looked at Von in his casual, light-weight, black station clothes, you saw a little incongruity. He wore ankle high moccasin-style leather footwear with a clan knife strapped to his leg. Von called it the latest style. Stephen thought the shoes an odd and impractical selection for steel starship floors. The clan knife was, on the other hand, practical and reflected the young man's upper class style in society.
Stephen straightened his broad shoulders shaking off the dizzy feeling in his head. Stephen's fingers touched the command channel button on his chest. "Computer. Protective Protocol Alpha Omega One. Von Solon Wolfenstein."
A crisp monotone response answered through his intra-ship communication unit, "Affirmative.
As a ship captain, even if only on a courier mission, he is authorized to declare an emergency. In this case, Stephen just granted "Webster" temporary power to act in its own discretion until relief was assembled and Von was recovered by the Wolfenstein Clan.
Upon acceptance into the Imperial Academy, Von received the most advanced implant available. The device included both medical nanotechnology applications under A.I. supervision to keep him healthy and also a remote learning module that, when activated, flashed mental images, figures, or likenesses of things during REM sleep.
Stephen leaned back, eyes closed, commanding his thoughts to focus on what to say next to the "Webster" A.I. "Please confirm implant handshake with medical detoxification script and universal communication imagery."
The same crisp voice responded, "Full implant telemonitoring active. I understand your concern regarding Von's blood toxins and head injury.
Nevertheless, since you do not have an imperial implant, you must seek medical assistance immediately."
Stephen, the last Wolfenstein to attend the Academy before Von, had an outdated, standard monitor implant, which did not include the new active medical applications. The first generation implant's primary function was to enhance knowledge through a task related library intended to make specially train military personnel more effective and versatile.
Swaying where he stood, Stephen grabbed his oxygen mask and bottle from his face, throwing it violently back into the ship airlock chamber. It bounced rather loudly against the inner locking door.
"Unbelievable. Stupid. A moronic computer stating the obvious," Stephen said, unable to think of any other protest to utter. He slapped the command prompt next to the hatch to secure the pod.
Stephen's mind numbed. He blinked and shouted, "The only possible medical help for me is on that green rock we are orbiting."
Feeling lightheaded, he slumped into the nearest form fitting pod seat and buckled up. His glare swept the compact white metal walls of the pod and a tear rolled down his check. He felt like he had failed his nephew.
"Webster, watch over Von," Stephen whispered, pressing his burnt thumb to cycle the blast door and launch them to the world below.