Sweat dripped from his brow as he reversed the ship’s thrusters. He was low on fuel … again. Salvage was more dangerous this way but he’d had no real haul to speak of for 5 weeks. His ship slowed and the laser rangefinder pinged at 100 metres.
He would have to risk the lights, the blue glow of the console did not penetrate the darkness of the void. He doubted there would be any patrols nearby but you could never be sure. At least the dust cloud above meant they would probably only come from below; it was a small comfort.
Two small, LED searchlights on the prow sprung to life and focused where the rangefinder said the ship should be. The reflection off glass and steel was a welcome sight.
“At last, not another bloody asteroid,” he thought.
He moved the searchlights slowly left, tracing along the larger ship ahead until he found the identification plate. ICS Meldgaard was embossed on the brushed steel plate. He zoomed one of the ships cameras in to read the designation – SPC05679-ICS. He ran it through the database.
“This one’s been missing for months. They probably think she burned up in some remote planet’s atmosphere.”
The lights panned sideways along the length of the ship and he allowed himself some more light with several more searchlights flicking on. The ship was huge and completely dwarfed the small salvage craft below it. Its design was simple, a long cylinder finished in brushed steel that would never hold-up to the heat of a planetary landing. This ship and maybe some of its crew would have only ever known space from shipyard to the grave.
The rangefinder pinged gently as the ship moved slowly along the hull and then fell silent. A searchlight found a hull breach about ten metres across near the middle of the ship. There was a crew member caught on the metal, her lifeless eyes staring out into the void.
“Meteorite? A small one maybe. Or just decompression”
He never trusted these Ivarnian cargo ships. They cut corners everywhere. He always felt safer with a strong titanium-based hull around him, a ship he knew well.
“A ship that would be there for you come asteroid belt or gamma ray burst, was what the advert said.”
He piloted his ship closer to the breach and let the searchlights play across the room. The blast door to the cargo bay had failed to close but the majority of the cargo remained securely strapped in. Another crew member was caught in a tangle of cargo straps his neck at a strange angle, killed by the loss of cabin pressure.
If only the cared as much about their crew, he thought angrily.
On the wall the door console was still light. The ship still had some power at least. He pinged the ship with the standard request for access. The on-board computer replied asking for login codes. Now he’d see if that tip from Gerard would pay off…
* * *
Sara looked anxiously at the cargo door. She’d have lost track of the days if it weren’t for the shipment of tablet computers in the cargo bay with her. She’d turned one on after the first day and with parts from the others she had replaced the access terminal. The first thing she’d done was change all the access codes she could and turned off all systems in areas damaged by the accident. It was a frightening amount of the ship but she was sure there was no-one alive in there.
“What about...,” she caught herself worrying again. No-one could have survived that without a suit and then they would have called her over the intercom.
“I’ll go mad before I run out of food and power. I need to do something…”
She was walking back to the tablet when the screen clicked on. Someone was trying to access the computer! She looked over the screen output trying to work out who or what was out there.
“Please Lord, make it a code 1434. I’ll start believing in you then.”
The code appeared on the screen – external access. Another ship! She powered up the external cameras…
* * *
The code didn’t work.
“Bloody Gerard! That’s fifty dollars I’ll never see again.”
The computer could have reset. He typed in ‘admin’ as the username and ‘pAssw0rd’ as the password.
“Worth a shot. Where’s that connector…”
He scrabbled around under his seat for a cable and plugged a small black box in to the console.
“Oh well, time to do it the hard way.”
* * *
She watched the log in front of her as she panned the working camera over the salvage ship. Whoever was in there knew the original access codes that she’d changed and was doing a good job of trying to hack his way in now. She tried zooming in on the cockpit but the one-way glass stopped her investigating any further.
“I bet they’re no knight in shining armour. They can have this cargo though. I’m probably going to be fired anyway after all this. A ship is just a ship.”
The tablet flashed a warning message. The codes had been hacked. The ship flew out of the camera’s view piloted efficiently toward one of the docking ports.
“Whoever they are they’re good with tech. Maybe I’ll actually like them.”
* * *
“I love that little box,” he grinned. He’d never been one for learning about tech if another gadget could do it for him. He flicked a switch and the autopilot flew the small craft to the nearest docking port.
As the ship ran the docking procedure he donned the outer layer of his space suit. Searching around briefly he found his trusty pistol and placed it in the holster at his belt. Finally, he placed the helmet over his head with a slight hiss of compressed air as it connected and the suit’s systems came online.
He stepped into the airlock and then onto the deserted ship. The torches on his suit lit the dark corridor as he searched for a working terminal. Just around the bend he found one and brought up a floor-plan. A list of error messages scrolled along the top of the screen:
- half of the ship was out of power.
- eighty percent was without life support.
- the reactor had stopped working three days ago.
He grinned. The cargo bays were nearly all still operational with light and air.
“My luck’s beginning to turn…”
He continued further into the ship checking the occasional terminal to make sure he was on the right track. There was no more sign of the crew.
“Maybe they’re in the cargo bays.They’ve been here long enough to offer me anything to get off this rig though. Some extra easy money would be good.”
He grinned again, today was definitely a good day.
* * *
She tracked them using the working cameras. It was impossible to see their face with the lights on the suit but they were heading her way. She lost them for a few minutes but picked them up again on a lower floor. There was lighting here and the suit lights switched off allowing her to finally see his face. He was clean shaven with dark brown hair and eyes.
“He looks a bit like Kyle from engineering,” she mused. “Maybe I do deserve a knight. Thank you Lord. Maybe I should have prayed to you before.”
She saw him turn onto the corridor before the cargo bay and try the first door. It didn’t open and he tried it a second time before he made his way to her door. She released the lock as he pressed the keypad and entered the room.
As the door closed behind him he removed the helmet, smiling kindly. Studying his face, the first human she’d seen in weeks, she didn’t noticed the screen as a second suit passed into the hull breach.
* * *
He tried a cargo bay door but it was stuck fast so he moved to the next, gun in hand. This one opened to reveal a young woman in a technician’s uniform sitting cross legged on the floor. A tablet computer in her hands. He lowered his gun as the door shut behind him, studying her while she stood up.
She looked to be in her mid-twenties. The uniform fitted her well. She had short black hair and her blue eyes had a mischievous twinkle in them as she ran toward him. She hugged him fiercely and mouthed at him. He motioned at his helmet to show he couldn’t hear her and went to take it off.
The helmet let out another hiss as the pressure equalised. As he put it under his arm she looked into his deep brown eyes and regarded him with calculating eyes. A wry smile passed his lips and was lost in his short, brown beard.
“You’ve been here a long time,” he said. “You were lucky to survive an accident like that with no protection other than…” he trailed off as he saw another suit amongst the crates behind her.
“Five weeks, no days, four hours and about six minutes,” she said with an impish grin. “I’ll tell you now that I don’t care about this cargo … as long as you’ll give me a ride off this rust-bucket.”
“She’s not that bad. Just look at all this brushed steel,” his words dripped with sarcasm as he gestured to the boring interior of the cargo hold. “Only the finest for the Ivarian fleet!”
“Yeah well that’s what the brochure said,” she mocked, cocking her head slightly. “This has been an awful introduction to space travel. So do you want this cargo moving?”
He was warming to her and went to help her with the crates.
“This is definitely turning into a good day,” he thought as the crate in her hand began to slip. He caught it easily and smiled at her. It was only then he noticed the pain in his side where her hand was.
He tried to move but his limbs turned to jelly as the crate fell sideways. The poison acted quickly, the paralysis moving through him, searching for his heart. He hit the floor with a thud and his head lolled sideways while she began to put on the other suit.
With her suit on she lent down to look into his soon-to-be-dead eyes. He saw his own face looking back at him, a wry grin across it.
“I think I’m going to like this look.” she said as her voice changed to match his own. As she moved towards the door he saw a woman’s body behind the crate. Her dead eyes looked into his. He recognised her face and finally understood as the poison reached his heart and it began its final spasms.
“It was going to be such a good day…”
So I hope you've enjoyed my first story. More will be coming soon! Hopefully I'll get work down on Metacrisis - Part 1 and a speculative story this weekend! :)
I haven't come up with a proper name for my universe yet so it's the TAWKA-verse (named for the first story idea and a large corporation in it) until I can come up with something better.