The Gentry-class space liner Lady Caroline accelerated smoothly on its way, departing the planet Winter, en route to the hyperspace limit from which it could safely jump the five light-years distance to the planet Dumas. The ship was small, as liners went in the space lanes of the Talaveran Empire. A long tube, rounded at either end, the Lady Caroline offered a selective passenger list and quiet comforts. Ships of her class were the choice of those who wanted to travel in comfort and not be disturbed. The Third Officer made his way along the narrow access corridor that ran the length of Lady Caroline's port side. It was a cramped passageway, but it was the quickest way to get to Engineering. The basso hum of the fusion plant was louder here than in the passenger staterooms on the other side of the bulkhead but the officer preferred it to tiptoeing around staring at the ceiling to avoid upsetting the privacy-conscious passengers with unwanted eye contact.
He came to a section of the corridor where the ceiling was lower, as it passed underneath where one of the ship's lifeboats was housed. As he ducked his head, the Third Officer noticed a large tool case against the exterior bulkhead. One of the maintenance crew must have left it here, he thought as he picked it up so that he could give it to the engineer. The crewman would get a stiff reprimand from the demanding engineer.
The officer never made it to Engineering. Instead he vanished as that section of the ship's hull was ripped open in a ferocious explosion. The blast wave tore down the corridor and into the engineering compartment, spraying debris. Lady Caroline shook from bow to stern as the explosion threw her into a wobbling roll to starboard. Her thrusters died as the debris peppered the machinery. The ship's power plant failed, then flickered back on a few seconds later. The emergency backup power was a fraction slow and the internal artificial gravity vanished for that second; crew, passengers and everything not bolted down were thrown against the starboard bulkheads as the ship rolled around them. In that mad second everything and everyone tumbled about like loose change in a clothes drier. Even when the power returned, damage to wiring and hardware left parts of the ship with little or no internal gravity so people and furniture continued to be tossed about. Damage alarms wailed in every compartment as Lady Caroline tumbled helplessly through space.