A soft bristling noise, like an atonal chime, kept Jane awake. Every time she dozed off, the noise woke her up again.

She tried to calm herself by recalling it was just small debris from the Dhrakal, the patriarchist Harpy ship the Horizon had destroyed. Occasionally a larger piece bumped against the hull, interrupting the chiming noise with a loud “dong”.

It had been that way for days now, thankfully the debris had kept the momentum of the Dhrakal, and only slowly rushed against the hull of Horizon, instead of hitting her with the speed of a bullet, since the capacity of taking damage from impacts was significantly lower after the suicide impacts by Dhrakal’s fighter pilots.

Tossing around on the bed she looked at Wolfgang, peacefully sleeping. Snoring from the other room told her that at least one of her children was fast asleep as well.

Giving up on the idea of sleeping that night, Jane slipped out of bed, got dressd and left the quarters. The big Admiral’s quarters were gone, taken out by a suicide pilot. Even if they hadn’t, she probably would’ve given them up to other families.

One couple from alpha had not only to take care of their own children since the attack, but of their nieces and nefews, since both the husband’s sister and the wife’s sister and their respective spouses had died in the attack.

Jane’s son Wolfgang junior had gotten away with a broken arm and a few scratches, her daughter hadn’t sustained any injuries at all.

Late night strolls always were interesting to Jane, as she turned up places she hadn’t expected. Laying her eyes on an open mess hall, that hadn’t been converted to a shelter for the now homeless, Jane sighed.

Exhaustion weighed heavily on her, she sure could use a dose of caffeine, or two.

Inside there were plenty of people, in uniform and in casual outfit. None seemed to take notice of her, for a change she was glad for that.

She got up to the vendor, who looked into her face, nodded before she could say anything, and served her a cup. The smell alone seemed to increase her pulse, she took the cup with a thankful nod and trod off.

“Mum?” Wolfgang seemed astonished to find her in the mess hall, he too held a cup of the caffeine laced drink. “Wolfgang. What are you doing here at this hour?” Teenage boys out after midnight, not uncommon, but she didn’t like it if it was her son.

“That noise. Constantly it sounds like a shower of nails on metal plates, occasionally interrupted by a bell being tolled by an evil sadistic hunchback in some tower close by!” He drank from the cup.

“Too many movies for you it seems.” Benignly smiling she too took a sip, she had heard that Wolfgang had a blog somewhere in the Horizon net, where he published stories and poems, but had never found it, hearing these words from his mouth, she however knew that it must be good.

“Mum, it’s driving me insane. Can’t I sleep over at Jackie’s place? They live on alpha, in the wake of subalpha, no noise!”

Ah. The infamous Jackie. Jane wanted to meet that girl for what seemed like ages now. “If her parents agree, who am I to stop you? Obviously you can sneak out in the middle of the night without me noticing, although I couldn’t sleep either.” Winking she felt only little effect of the drink, longing for another one.

“Thanks.” He was stunned by her reply, apparently he had thought she’d be a little less linient.

“Now, young man. I believe there is a relatively quiet spot for you to rest your head, after all, it’s a school night.” She tucked her arm in his and pulled him out of the mess hall.

In the aft section of subalpha, in a crew bunk room she sent him to bed. Not very comfortable, and three men already slept in the other bunk beds, but compared to the constant bristling noise in their quarters, it was relatively quiet.

Pondering about the possibility of taking a bunk bed herself, Jane found herself wandering the hallway outside the command centre.

“Admiral! Didn’t expect to see you here for another four hours.” Julia Dimarco, night shift’s commanding officer greeted her.

“I’m just,” distracted by the bristling noise Jane looked around, seeming a little spooked, “wandering around.”

“Kept awake by that noise, Ma’am?” Just by looking at the other woman Jane knew that Julia was plagued by the same thing.

“Doc gave me tranquilisers. I must say, they work just fine.” The man at the post of the first officer said with a docile smile.

Suspecting that they had an effect on him even while awake Jane raised an eyebrow, but decided not to launch an investigation into that matter. A crew deprived of sleep was less functional than a crew that needed medication to sleep, even if that influenced their awake performance.

“Either way, I think I’ll try to get some sleep now.” Jane greeted them, turning on her heel.

“Ma’am?” Julia called her back as she almost had reached the door, over the bristling noise she had overheard the beeping of her console. “There is an incoming call from beta.”

Beta.

That could only be an engineering crew, since that ring was shut down completely.

“We have dismantled the suspensions in the faulty section.” Immediately Jane recognised the voice as Jake’s. “Better get me the Admiral.”

“I’m here Jake. Couldn’t find any sleep with the hailstorm of debris banging against the hull. What do you need me for?”

“Better take a look at this Jane.” Squinting her eyes at the small screen Jane sighed internally. Not enough sleep always had a negative, although temporary, effect on her eyesight, she laid the image on the large view screen. “What am I seeing here Jake?”

“The worse case scenario.”

The camera followed a trace of weakened material. For years on end the magnetic suspension of the unevenly rotating beta ring had worked on the material, wearing it out.

“We will attempt to patch this thing, but I must say, I have little confidence in the success of that.”

Jane closed her eyes. For a short moment her exhaustion played her dreams before her eyes, she opened them gasping for air, trying to snap out of it. “See what you can do, but don’t forget to take breaks and get some sleep in beween.” The line dropped.

Should she too pay a visit to the infirmary?

No, she decided, her shift began too soon. “If someone would be kind enough to go to the barracks and wake me up at 0530?” Whirling around on her heel Jane headed out of the command centre.

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