© 2009, Patrick Hester. All Rights Reserved
Tales from The New Universe: In space, nobody knows which way is up
“Four minutes of reserve oxygen remains,” said the computer voice in my ear.
Mutiny. That’s what it was – mutiny! Do you know what they did to mutineers in the old days? Do you? …yeah, me either – but I’m betting it was bad and that it hurt like a sonovabitch!
Floating in the empty space between places, abandoned, left for dead and for what? I’m not such a bad captain, am I? Sure, I push the crew hard, but no harder than any other captain looking to make a profit these days. Times are hard; Raiders hitting ships of all sizes and shapes nowadays, and the Company is cracking down on freelancers anymore – they don’t like the competition (or the independence). Translates to there being fewer and fewer jobs available and if you don’t deliver more than what you promised and twice as quick, well, there’s no guarantee you’ll get paid, let alone get the next job.
Doesn’t mean I deserve to be left in the black of space no matter what I done!
I tap the oxygen gauge on my glove but it doesn’t move out of the red. The emergency beacon next to it is still blinking, which is good. It only has a signal strong enough to be heard within a few thousand miles, which is bad. I’m glad I’m not spinning – who wants to die dizzy? Or in a helmet full of your own puke? No, floating is bad enough, thank you very much.
Looking ‘up’, all I see is darkness. Getting cold now, too. I hate space. I should’ve stayed on the farm, should’ve listened to the old man. He’d love to hear me admit that.
Dammit all to hell, she tricked me!
“Captain? We’ve got a problem with the primary booster. Reb says the panel’s come loose again.” Cam. Short for ‘Camille’ and she really is short – a head shorter than me and I’m easily six four. Her voice grates on the nerves, always has. It’s like she’s pumping it through that tiny little nose of hers – the one I’d like to break for all the crap she gives me on a daily basis. It’s no wonder nobody tries to get in her pants – not if having to listen to her spew venom after was part of the deal.
“Dammit,” I sighed. It’d been a long few days of her bitching at me. “Can it be repaired?”
“Yes, but we only have an hour before the next scheduled burn. If that panel is loose, it could be touching the fuel line. If it’s charged, it could ignite and blow us all to hell.” Couldn’t be worse than where we were.
“All right, all right. Get Gem on it,” I said instead of what I was thinking.
“Gem’s in sickbay – we think he broke his arm. Dora’s cleaning the tubes and has Xy helping. I can’t go – we never patched my suit.”
“Dammit,” I sighed again. “Fine, I’ll do it. Give me twenty minutes to get suited up.”
Space walks are never fun. When you’re in the ship, you have a nice artificial gravity field keeping your feet planted firmly on the ‘ground’. Outside the ship, there’s no way to even know which way is ‘up’. I hook my carabiner into the eyelet just outside the airlock door – so I don’t float away. Everything you take for granted on the inside gets harder out here – even turning a screw to tighten up a booster panel. Tools help a little, proper tools help a lot. We don’t have proper tools – can’t afford em. Yet. Soon, hopefully, but not yet. It’s on the famous ‘list of things we need someday’ that I have posted in the crew commons.
“Cam?” I ask into my comm. “There’s nothing wrong with this booster panel.” There wasn’t – it looked good. I reached my hand up into the hole and gave it a little wiggle – tight as could be.
“Sorry about this, Cap,” came a gruff voice. I felt a tug on my tether and turned as I was yanked away from the ship. Gem was at the airlock door. He’d just cut my line loose and gave it a great heave. I reached to grab onto the booster panel but it was already out of reach. Gem pointed something at me, some sort of compressed air gun that launched a friggin potato at me! It hit me in the shoulder and the force of the impact pushed me further away. I reached for the control to my ‘oh shit’ thrusters and got hit with another potato, this one in the gut. Hurt like a sonovabitch!
“Dammit Gem!” I shouted. I got another potato for my trouble. I was a good fifteen yards from the ship now. Gem was getting back into the airlock.
“You’re fired, Captain,” said Cam with a laugh.
“Bitch!” I shouted.
I hit the booster on my suit but it was too late; my ship’s engines flared to life and it shot away. In seconds, it was a small dot in my visor, then it was gone.
“One minute of reserve oxygen remains,” said the computer.
“I haven’t lost yet, Cam. I haven’t lost yet,” I chuckled with my last breath.
* * *
“What do you mean the computer is shutting down? Get it back online!”
Cam was screaming at Dora, who winced at every word. Xy looked scared beside her, his eyes wide.
“You don’t understand, Cam,” Dora said calmly. “All the systems are going offline, everything. We have an hour at most of air and heat left, then we’re dead.”
The crew swallowed this news poorly, erupting in a shouting match until a new voice could be heard, a familiar voice. Everyone listened.
“If you are hearing this message, the ship has most likely been commandeered by raiders,” said the Captain through the ships intercom. “I hate raiders, so you can all freeze in hell. I have rigged the ship’s system to a central password and no one has entered that password in twenty-four hours which means you are dead. Every single one of you damned raiders. Justice for killing me and my crew. Die in the cold of space you bastards.”
Everyone looked at Cam, who had turned a horrid shade of green.
“That asshole…” she whispered.