Red Mercury

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


This is the fictional story of astronaut Anne Harris, the first female American astronaut. She is to serve as an inspiration and poster child for the Space Race, encouraging young people,
investors, scientists, and politicians to support American space exploration. Unfortunately, Soviet agents have determined that an "accident" in space, resulting in the beautiful young woman's
death, would end the space race or at least give the USSR an advantage.



Will Anne survive the plot to end her life? Or will she triumph against the cosmonauts sent to kill her?

Submitted: June 16, 2018

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Submitted: June 16, 2018

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"The announcement has been made today by the President of the United States: America's first female astronaut will be sent up in the next Mercury capsule! Early reports had said that the lady astronaut was still going to be training for several more months before being ready to fly because the selection process took such a long time. But NASA officials disclosed that the young woman, Miss Anne Harris of New York State would be the first American woman in space by the end of next month! Isn't that amazing, Tom?"

"It certainly is Mark, and who would ever have bel-"

"Turn it off, Yuri. That's enough."

"But Minister Krevenka, don't you see what this means?"

The room was dark, scented by the steady smoke pouring from Ivan Krevenka's cigar, and filled with the rich, finely crafted wooden furniture fitting a man of his standing in the Soviet Union. After all, being the Minister of Space Exploration at such an important time and after so many successes, he was almost a national icon. But even after everything he had done, all of the gains his people had made, the Americans were still unwilling to back down and admit defeat. The Space Race, as the world called it, had been going on for a few years. The Soviets had Gagarin, then the Americans had the entire Mercury program; Russia had Tereshkova, so now the Americans wanted a woman of their own. They were a step behind the Soviets, and now they wanted to level the field.

"It's a simple ploy, Yuri. Nothing more." Krevenka glanced at his liaison to the Kremlin while drinking slowly from his crystal glass, half-filled with the best vodka in the USSR. "They fear us, what we have accomplished, and they want to outdo us by sending this little slip of a girl into space. She hasn't had half of the training or experience our cosmonauts have had."

But Yuri was doubtful. "I know all of that, Minister, but this could galvanize the American space program. By sending up this beautiful, young and popular woman they will inspire their country for generations. The entire world will want to hear about her and see her. She'll be on television for months and be used as a figurehead for generations. This could be a disaster for us…"

Ivan stood up and turned on his heel, glaring out of his fifth story window as he puffed on his cigar in agitation. If only the world could see this for what it was, he thought angrily. The American government was using this girl as a plaything, a publicity stunt to reinforce their people's belief in their NASA. A child could see that, if it weren't for all of the media hype, the propaganda.

"Hmm," Ivan kept his back to the younger man. "This cannot be allowed to pass, Yuri. You know what must be done."

"Which protocol are we to use, sir?"

"We need to make sure the capsule never leaves the atmosphere. Get some of our people in there and sabotage it. Don't kill anyone, just delay the program. That'll get people cooled down for a bit."

Yuri cleared his throat nervously. "With all due respect, Minister, the Kremlin has made their position quite clear: they don't want the Americans simply cooled down, they want to break their spirits completely."

"What are you suggesting, eh? A tactical strike? Open war? Is that what they want?"

Yuri shifted again and procured a large sealed envelope. "This is for you, Minister."

Ivan just looked from the man to the envelope, then back to the man again. "What is it?"

"The details of our Red Mercury Project. It details what is to be done precisely." Yuri continued as the Minister opened the envelope and examined its contents. "The Kremlin has decided they want the woman to break the atmosphere and succeed with the first portion of her mission. While in space, however, her module will experience massive system failures resulting in her death. The U.S. government will be held accountable for the accident because of the girl's lack of training and their rush to get her into space."

"Why kill her? Why not injure her or sabotage the craft?"

"The Kremlin feels there will be a far greater psychological effect if the American public sees her corpse being pulled from the capsule after reentry. It would create a major scandal that the media would feed on for months at the very least. It might even get their space program cancelled completely for a time. Who knows? Just think of all you could accomplish with that time?"

"It says here that a team of our own cosmonauts while be in orbit when the American arrives, then they will intercept her, sabotaging the capsule and killing her, yes? How is this possible? What team will we use?"

Yuri sat down and helped himself to a glass of vodka. "We have a team for that already, Minister. A special military detachment was created at the onset of the Race in case such measures ever proved necessary. We had several candidates to choose from, but in the end it was agreed that two women would be used for the mission: Irena Spirikova and Katya Liensk. Both are extremely well-trained operatives who are familiar with this kind of work, apparently. You'll find dossiers on each in the envelope."

"It would seem, comrade, that you have this all set up. When do preparations begin?"

"They already have, Minister."

* * *

Anne Harris cut quite the figure in her silver Mercury pressure suit: tall, voluptuous and perfect in so many ways, she filled out the suit perfectly - especially since it had been designed to be a bit tight on her chest and backside! I seemed like every aspect of her attire had been made to enhance her femininity, from the snugness of the suit to the makeup she had been encouraged to wear, even how the circular NASA patch settled directly over her right breast, drawing attention to her. She had long auburn hair that had been meticulously tucked beneath the comms cap she would wear under her helmet, which also framed her face very nicely.

She knew it was a publicity stunt as much as the rest of the program, but she didn't care. Here she was, a struggling fashion model who happened to join the military at the right time. It helped that her father was a senator and friend of the President, but she had her own merits as well. Once she entered the military, she had shown remarkable aptitude and skill in every single field, so she was allowed to choose whatever specialty caught her eye. It just so happened she wanted to fly jets!

Then Valentina Tereshkova had made history and was the first woman in space. America felt the pressure almost immediately and decided they had to follow suit and quickly. There was no way that they would allow the backwards Reds to seem more progressive concerning gender equality! So NASA officials and political experts had put out the word that they needed female pilots and scientists as soon as possible! In just a few weeks, they had hundreds of profiles to look over, eventually settling on ten women. All of them had at least some background in flying, engineering or physics, but the most important aspect of these candidates was that they were young.

Young and attractive, a fine representation of the United States' youthful exuberance and willingness to explore and tackle all obstacles at despite their young age. It was almost a convention of models at the training site! Anne remembered all the looks they got from the male training staff and the majority of males on the base whenever they went anywhere. They stuck out, and Anne had always enjoyed being the center of attention.

That's why she never had an issue with the fact that she was being used mostly for her looks to make NASA appear more progressive and popular with the majority. A beautiful young woman risking her life for her country to go up into space was exciting to everyone, although of particular interest to young males. A calendar had been published showing all ten women in their spacesuits, one woman for each month along with group photos for the remaining two months. Anne had already signed on to have several interviews and more photo shoots when she got back, including some more erotic shots of her in various states of dress in her suit! Anne could feel goosebumps as she thought about it…

So here she was, waiting in the capsule for the final countdown. Attendants were helping here seal her helmet and ensure everything was prepared properly. She smiled as she thanked them while they scurried out of the cabin. With a final hiss, the hatch was sealed and Anne was alone. She would be like this for some time, she mused.

A voice crackled over her comms.

"How you feeling, Anne?"

"Just fine, guys," she replied. "All my systems a good to go and I can't wait to get going!"

There was a chuckle on the other end.

"I believe you, missy. Ok, so we've got the preflight checklist taken care of. And we've just gotten word from the ground crew that everything's all set. You ready?"

"As I'll ever be…"

"Alright then. Begin ignition sequence."

"Check. Ignition sequence commencing."

"Check your suit's airflow."

Anne tugged on the short hose running from her stomach to the cooling system next to her, then glanced over at a series of lights and gauges to ensure her air was being recycled properly.

"Roger that, Houston: air recycling units are green and suit airflow is good."

"Check hatch seal."

Looking at a gauge to her left that indicated cabin pressure, Anne could see that it was holding perfectly. Everything had checked out just as planned and she was ready for take off.

"Houston, pressure is holding and hatch seal is good. All systems are green for ignition."

A few more checks were made on the control room end, and then the countdown began.

"10...9...8...7...6..."

I'm finally doing it, Anne thought. I'll be the youngest woman in space and the first American woman. I'm famous already, set for life and ready for anything. I never dreamed this was possible. It's amazing…

"3...2...1...Blast off!"

Anne had thrilled at the rush of rocketing into space, but she enjoyed the feeling of weightlessness even more! Letting her arms float freely momentarily, she watched them simply lay straight out in front of her with absolutely no effort. The slightest shift in position could send anything not bolted down drifting off. And just a few feet away, separated by inches of metal that seemed so brittle in space, was the cold void of space! The thought made her nervous yet thrilled her completely.

She adjusted her safety harness slightly, accidentally pulling it against her groin; this seemed to trigger some inner spark in the young astronaut, some lust for the danger and excitement that she found herself a part of. The only thing that would save her in the event of the capsule being compromised was this thin, silvery suit that seemed to hug her closely in all of the right places. Anne let her hands drift down between her legs, the smooth material of her gloves almost gliding over her suit's stomach until they reached her crotch. Her eyes lilted slightly and she let out a soft gasp, soft enough so that no one back home would hear what she was doing. But Anne eased off before she became too excited.

All of her checks had been made and everything was showing up green, so she decided she should have some private time.

"It's so beautiful up here, Houston," she said softly. "I can see Earth through the viewport: it's breathtaking. I'd like to have a few minutes to myself to just take it all in, if you don't mind."

"A few minutes to yourself? You're totally alone up there, Annie!"

"It's Anne, Jack," she said almost seriously. "Sister Marie called me Annie in school. Haha. And you know what I mean. I'm gonna turn off my comms for a few moments, take in the sights and just enjoy it. I may never get to do this again."

"I dunno, missy," came the reply. "We need to keep in touch in case something happens up there. What if-"

"If something happens up hear, you guys will know right away, ok? I'll be back in a few! Ciao!"

And with a careful but quick gesture, Anne disconnected the communication wire running from her helmet from the longer cable that plugged into her craft. She didn't care what the regulation was: Anne was up there by herself, and no one could make her do anything! So she eased back into her heavily cushioned seat and let her hands trace over her body. She let her right index finger slowly trace around the edge of the Mercury patch that just happened to lie right in the middle of her breast. She could feel the subtle pressure on her hardening nipples, and her left hand slid lower until it was between her strong thighs.

Her hands fluttered across her body as she tugged on her harness, rubbing her pelvis against the broad canvas strap in between her legs and quivering with pleasure. Her helmet face plate began to steam up as her pleasure intensified, so she lifted it to let more air in. I should keep my suit sealed in case of trouble, or maybe turn down my air and limit my breathing; that always turns me on, she thought. Maybe later. Anne let herself get carried away by the moment, ignoring the shadow that was cast over her through the capsule's viewport.

At the peak of her excitement, but before the final pleasurable moment, Anne was knocked from her reverie by a sudden impact against the side of her capsule. Anne cursed her ill fortune and began checking her systems to ensure there had been no hull breach. She also took the time to reattach her communications cable so she could report to Houston.

"Mission control, this is Anne," she said, panting slightly.

"Oh, back with us are you? How was your nap?"

"Too short," she purred. "Something just hit the side of the capsule. Not sure what, though."

"Did it penetrate the hull?"

"No. Not that I can tell, anyway. But it gave me a start!"

"As long as you're ok. Last thing NASA needs right now is a picture of a dead astronaut on the pages of the Times."

"Thanks. Very nice to bring that up at a time like this. Jeez, Jack, no wonder you aren't married!"

"Same could be said of you with that mouth of yours, missy. Now, if you could ju-"

A moment of static followed, then silence. Anne checked her communications cable but, finding nothing amiss, tried to reach mission control.

"Jack? Mission control? Anyone there?" Anne rechecked her comms again, but she could find no faults. "Godammit! What's going on? Piece of shit!"

But before Anne could go any further with her tirade, the capsule's hatch suddenly burst open! An alarm sounded, accompanied by a flashing red light, as the air swept out of the capsule. Anne let out a shocked scream, feeling the oxygen ripped from her suit by way of her open visor. The astronaut clutched at her helmet with both hands as she frantically struggled to seal it. Anne was nearly out of air before she managed to snap the visor close and pressurize her suit.

Anne had no idea how the hatch had opened, but it didn't seem to be a malfunction of any kind. And hadn't she seen the handle turn just before it opened? But that was impossible! Or so she thought. As the astronaut caught her breath and checked her suit over, a shadow cast over her from the open hatchway! Anne looked up slowly to see the outline of a space suited woman in front of her! She wore a thick but close-fitting black suit with subtle red lines and a black helmet with a tinted face shield, which she raised as she entered the small capsule. The woman was very beautiful, with light skin, piercing eyes and perfect white teeth that flashed a smile both beautiful and menacing. On her left arm was a red flag with a golden hammer crossing a sickle: Soviets!

But before Anne could even react to all of this new information, the woman pushed herself forward, a long lifeline trailing from a socket beneath the left side of her ribcage. As she drew closer, Anne could make out the two patches on either side of the Russian's chest; to the left was a circular patch featuring a black sword over a red background, surrounded by Cyrillic writing; on the right was sewn a rectangular patch with the initials CCCP with more words stitched over the top, most likely the wearer's name.

"Who are you?" Anne demanded, terrified. "What do you want?"

But the woman made no effort to respond, she just looked around the capsule, slowly inching toward the astronaut.

"Houston? Jack, do you copy?" Anne tried to key her comms again, but she was still only receiving static. "Jack, it's Anne. There's a woman in here with me. Jesus, I didn't even know they could do this!"

"Well, now you do."

The voice was not Jack's. It wasn't even a man's voice, and the heavy accent immediately betrayed the woman's Russian heritage. But the suited woman in front of Anne hadn't spoken.

"Who is this? How did you get on this frequency?"

"I am Irena Spirikova, and that lovely woman in front of you is Katya Liensk. We hacked into your transmitter, cutting you off from your friends and opening the channel with us. Why don't you say hello, Katya."

"Pleasure to meet you, astronaut," the woman purred in a velvety Russian brogue. "Nice ship you have here."

"What do you want with me," Anne said cautiously, fairly certain of the intent.

Katya responded by drawing a glittering knife from a sheath on her left forearm. "I'm certain you already know the answer."

With a quick kick, Katya surged forward, grabbing a hold of the frightened astronaut, but Anne was no easy target and she fought back. The two women locked arms as one tried to slash into her victim while the other struggled to remove the knife from her enemy's hand. But Katya had the advantage in strength and skill, and she was slowly inching her way toward the short hose that pressurized the astronaut's helmet. Anne fought hard, but it was no use; she could only watch as the knife came into contact with the hose. The sharp edge sliced into the stout hose, and with a bit more force, severed it completely!

Air burst from the end of the severed hose, causing Anne to frantically reach up toward her throat. Air was pouring from her helmet at an alarming rate and the only way to prevent it was to free the hose from its coupling so the valve would seal automatically. Anne began tugging at the hose, unconcerned that the cosmonaut was simply watching her struggle with satisfaction. Finally, Anne managed to grab a hold of the wriggling hose near where it connected to her helmet and, with a quick twist, pulled it free of the coupling. The hissing in her helmet died out instantly with one final, high-pitched spurt of air.

The astronaut sat gasping to catch her breath after such an ordeal, inhaling raggedly and grasping her chest for several moments. She was too concerned with her breathing to stop the Soviet from running her hand down Anne's main air hose to the box-like object that recycled her air anchored next to her seat. After a moment of study, she turned a dial and smiled at the astronaut.

"Oh, I'm sorry little astronaut," Katya purred. "Did you need more air?"

"Wait. What are you…ugh!"

Anne was cut off as the airflow into her suit suddenly increased exponentially; Katya had opened the air supply valve all the way! In moments, the beautiful astronaut could feel her suit swelling outwards. It puffed out an inch from her body, held back at first by her safety harness, but then it bulged out further in between the straps, stretching the harness outwards until her suit was swollen a full three inches further! This caused discomfort, at first, but was also preventing Anne's arms from reaching her air supply because the pressure forced her arms away from her body. The pressure in Anne's silvery suit was so great that her body ached and it was impossible fro her to move her extremities.

Katya, still holding the air hose running from the left side of Anne's stomach to her air supply, began running her other hand over the astronaut's swollen suit.

"There, now, isn't that better?"

"Gah! I-I can't move!" Anne groaned.

"Yes, I see that." The cosmonaut smiled lusciously at her vulnerable prey. "So, what shall I do with you, Mercury? Eh? Play with you some more? No? you look a bit uncomfortable in that suit of yours. Maybe I should help you take it off? Here, why don't you try the air here first, and see if you like it as much as you thought you would."

Katya stepped to the side of Anne's seat and gently placed her hand on the astronaut's visor. Without the short hose to keep it pressurized, it would take little effort to raise the faceplate, exposing Anne to the vacuum of space! And that is exactly what Katya did!

Anne could see her air pouring out of her helmet into space before she could feel the effects. With such a tremendous amount of air built up in her suit, it would take a few moments more for her to even have labored breathing, but the fact remained that her helmet was wide open and her lovely face was unprotected! She could hear Katya's cruel laughter over her comms unit, and Anne felt something stir deep inside of her. She wanted to live; would do anything to live. And Anne knew that she could only get home alive if this Soviet woman never did.

Katya was enjoying herself so much that she didn't notice how the pressure had dropped in Anne's suit; it was down to the point where the beautiful woman could move again. Ignorant of this fact, Katya lowered the astronaut's visor and stepped in front of her to get a better look at her victim.

"Ah, you are a pretty one, aren't you?" she mused. "Such a shame. I wonder what full exposure to a vacuum will do to that face of yours!"

Katya placed both hands on the sides of Anne's helmet and began twisting it in it's neck ring, trying to tear the helmet off! But she noticed that the astronaut wasn't even struggling. She seemed to be fiddling with her own air hose, so Katya glanced down. She was right; Anne was holding the hose near its connecting point in her suit, then twisted it and pulled her own air hose free!

For a moment, Katya thought the woman was trying to kill herself, but then she felt the massive rush of air pouring from the hose. In the weightlessness of space, a small push could send her reeling, but with a continuous stream of air pouring out at such a rate, Katya was sent hurtling backwards into the far wall of the capsule!

"AAAAAH!" she screamed.

The cosmonaut's helmet smashed into the metal hull, stunning her. Meanwhile, Anne reached over and turned her airflow down to normal levels, then reattached the hose to her suit. She felt fortunate the her stomach coupling also sealed when nothing was attached, otherwise she may have run out of air rather quickly. Next, she unbuckled her harness and drifted over to the dazed Soviet drifting in the small capsule. The combat knife floated nearby, so Anne snatched it up and waited for Katya to come round. After a few moments, Katya's dark eyes flickered open, then went wide when she saw the knife if her former victim's hand.

"Wait a moment, astronaut," she said as calmly as she could. "Don't do something you may regret."

"Don't worry - I won't!"

With a flick of her wrist, Anne brought the razor sharp knife slashing across Katya's left bicep, not deep enough to even scratch her, but enough to break through several layers of her suit.

"No! My suit! Are you insane?"

Anne's eyes were like ice. "I prefer 'determined.'"

The next slash was into Katya's right thigh and this time it went all the way through her suit and grazed her soft skin.

"Agh! No!"

"Katya!? What's happening? Katya!" Irena's voice was anxious.

"The astronaut has my knife! She cut my suit!" Katya shouted in her native tongue.

"Oh no! Katya, I'm coming, ok? Hold on!"

"I'll try, but I'm scared! I think she's going to kill me!"

"Just hold on, my love! I'm on my way!"

"Please hurry, Irena. I love you."

Though Anne had no idea what was being said, she didn't much care either. She was looking over Katya's lifeline. It was thick and coated in a durable red cloth, but there was a second, far thinner cable anchored to the hose at various points until it split from the main umbilical and connected to the cosmonaut's helmet. Her communications line, Anne reasoned.

The astronaut gripped Katya's long umbilical near where it was connected to her suit and held the cutting edge of the knife against it.

"W-wait! No!" Katya shouted in a panic. "My lifeli-"

Anne quickly severed both the cosmonaut's air hose and comms line. Unlike Katya, Anne had no desire to hear her enemy's dying breaths; she just wanted to get home and, sadly, that meant Katya had to die. The deadly cosmonaut floated in front of Anne, her mouth agape as she screamed, but no one could hear her. She tried to unfasten the umbilical from her suit so it would seal, but Anne had cut the hose too short for her gloved hands to find a decent hold. Next, the astronaut set about tearing the patches off of Katya's suit in order to provide evidence and identification when she made it back home, the Soviet was too busy to try and stop her.

But while Anne was removing the patch with the other woman's name on it, Katya had managed to remove the end of the umbilical, sealing her suit save for the slash in her leg. But she didn't care. She was dead anyway, but now she had enough time to try and finish her mission. Anne had made a serious error and had released the knife in order to tuck her evidence away in a pocket on her suit's leg; when she looked up, the deadly blade was already in the cosmonaut's hand, poised to strike.

Anne reacted quickly, however, and kicked straight out into Katya's stomach, sending both women flying in opposite directions. While the astronaut tumbled back towards her seat and bounced gently off of the wall, Katya was less fortunate. Her back had been facing towards the open hatch and, with no way to catch herself, the assassin was sent hurtling out into space. Flailing wildly, Katya screamed in panic as she realized what had happened and also what was to come. She had only to look toward her thigh at the thin stream of oxygen escaping through the tear in her suit to foresee her fate.

Eyes and mouth wide with fear, Katya drifted further and further away from the capsule, as well as her own vessel. There was no point in calling for help; with her comms line severed, no one would hear her. She hoped Irena would be able to finish the mission, for the good of her people and as a way of avenging her own impending death. It was sadly ironic that the very woman the Soviets had been sent to kill had outmaneuvered and outfought one of her would be assassins. For a brief moment, Katya smiled at this thought, but then the icy grip of space tore her last breath from her lungs. Her arms and legs drifted apart as she released her last breath, her vacant eyes staring at the Earth she would never step foot on again.

"Katya! No!!!" Irena cried out. "I will kill you for this, astronaut!"

"Your friend said something similar, I believe," Anne replied smugly. "Hope you two said goodbye before she came over here."

Irena's furious scream sounded like some wild animal. Anne thought she may have gone too far with her last comment, but quickly dismissed the idea as she steeled herself for the oncoming confrontation. Anne was not the trained fighter that these assassins were, but she was clever and tough. She would have to calm herself, though, as her panicked breathing was beginning to steam her visor. She opened the inlet valve on her suit's stomach to increase the airflow enough to lower the condensation. Anne closed her eyes briefly as she caught her breath.

"Come on, Anne," she said as calmly as she could, her voice reverberating in the close confines of her helmet. "Pull yourself together."

"Trying to comfort yourself before I kill you?"

Anne's eyes snapped open to see another woman in the same suit as Katya standing in the open hatchway..

"Irena, I take it?"

"Correct. And you are a dead woman, so your name means nothing."

Irena drew her own knife from the scabbard on her wrist as she drifted in toward Anne. The astronaut looked about for some form of weapon, as the knife she had taken from Katya had blown out of the craft along with the cosmonaut. Irena was smiling when Anne looked back after her unsuccessful scan of the capsule.

"No luck finding any weapons, huh? Too bad for you."

Irena burst forward, tucking her shoulder in and smashing into Anne, sending the astronaut into the opposite wall. Irena moved with her, pushing her forearm up against the other woman's throat and pinning her against the wall. Anne tried to push the cosmonaut away, but Irena's knife came into view and the astronaut froze. Irena slowly raised the tinted shield that protected her from the sun, revealing her hate filled face. Even contorted as it was with rage, Irena's face was beautiful. She was slimmer than Katya had been, with sharp features, high cheek bones and large blue eyes that sparkled with murderous intent.

Irena grabbed the astronaut's short lifeline, raising it toward her knife blade. As the razor sharp edge began slicing into the tough rubber, Anne knew she had to do something or she would never make it home. Before she was able to stop Irena, however, the Russian seemed to change her mind. Her eyes became fixated on the zipper along Anne's waist that cut diagonally across her chest. Irena's left hand grabbed at the end of the zipper and she began pulling up in order to open Anne's suit to the vacuum! The young astronaut's hand locked down onto Irena's in an attempt to stop her, but Irena was skilled enough in Sambo (Russia's brutal style of mixed martial arts) that she was easily able to deflect Anne's efforts. With only a slight amount of effort, Irena opened the zipper all the way up to Anne's shoulder, exposing her nearly-naked body to the cold and airless environment!

Anne reeled in panic as a massive cloud of crystallizing air burst from her open suit! In seconds, she was out of air, struggling to seal her suit once more. Irena watched, amused by the astronaut's efforts, then turned slightly to key her communications link to the Kremlin.

"Control," she purred in her native tongue. "This is Irena."

"We read you, Comrade Spirikova. How goes the mission? Where is Comrade Liensk?"

Irena closed her eyes, fighting back tears. "She is…gone, Control. Killed by the American. We underestimated her."

"And what condition is the American in?"

The cosmonaut glanced back at her victim. "I'm afraid she's experiencing a major suit failure at the moment. I do not think she will make it."

"Excellent, although we feel the same way about you, comrade."

"What?"

"Well, we can't have the American's see one of our ships reenter the atmosphere so soon after one of their people has suffered a supposed accident. It would not look good for us. I am very sorry, Irena. Goodbye."

Irena felt panic gripping her heart. "I don't understand. Why are you doing this. My mission is complete and I did everything you asked of me. Katya died for this!"

"And so shall you. You have served your people with dignity and honor; try to die with some…"

"I don't understand." Irena shook her head disbelievingly. "Besides, you can't stop me from getting home. I'll just take the ship back anyway."

"Really? And how will you do that when the hatch magnetically seals from the inside with you out there?"

"What?!"

Irena rushed to the hatch and pulled herself out just enough to see her craft floating 25 meters away. She watched in horror as the airlock hatch began to close until it was pinching her lifeline. There was no way for the durable fabric and rubber to hold up against such pressure and, in a burst of white gas, the hose was severed!

"NOOOO!" Irena screamed, but no one heard her. Her comms were severed, as was her lifeline, which she removed from her suit quickly in order to prevent air loss through the open end of the long hose. She had little oxygen remaining in her suit as she turned to face the astronaut.

Anne was floating a short distance away, struggling feebly to close her suit again. The zipper was stuck, and Anne was unable to move her helmet enough to see what she needed to do to fix it. The astronaut was nearly unconscious from her lack of oxygen, her struggles weakening as everything began to go dark.

Suddenly, she felt strong hands grabbing her, and she could feel a tugging along her torso as her suit was slowly zipped shut again. It took a moment for her to come back, but when she was finally able to focus again, she saw Irena looking her over. But just when she thought she was safe, Anne felt her air hose come free! She was too weak to fight as she watched the cosmonaut plug the short hose into her own suit. Irena held up a hand, signaling for Anne to wait, to calm down, then she increased the airflow a slight amount, pumping extra air into her suit before she dislodged the hose and reattached it to Anne's stomach.

Anne was confused, growing anxious as Irena leaned close and touched her own visor to the astronaut's face plate.

"We can talk this way." Anne was surprised to hear the other woman's voice, slightly muffled though it was. "Sound cannot travel in space, but it can travel through objects and air. If we need to talk, this will work since the sound will go from one helmet to the next, ok?"

Anne nodded, breathing nervously before responding.

"What are you doing?"

"Excuse me?"

"Why are you helping me? A moment ago, you tried to kill me."

Irena's brow furrowed. "You should be a bit more thankful," she said as her hand settled on the zipper of Anne's suit once more. "We can always go back to that, although I'd also be sure to toss you put into space like you did to Katya."

The astronaut's eyes went wide. "No! I just don't understand what is happening."

"My country has turned on me. I'm expendable to them. So they planned to kill me after you were dead. They closed the airlock door onto my lifeline. That's why it took yours."

"But why didn't you keep it? Why did you help me?"

Irena shook her head slightly. "I need you. I can't fly this craft of yours. And I will need you to help me gain asylum when we get back to Earth. I can't go back home now. Not ever. But I can help you. I let you live so that I can live. Does that make sense?"

The astronaut nodded, her face expressionless. "Yes…"

"Good," Irena said, turning her back on the other woman.

She needed the astronaut to trust her, at least for now. She had killed Katya, but wouldn't anyone do the same in Anne's position? And the American's endurance; her suit had been opened wide for almost a minute, yet she had managed to survive almost unscathed. Of course, the built up oxygen in her suit as well as the increased air flow from her personal air supply had had much to do with that, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Irena felt herself abruptly swung around, the astronaut firmly gripping her arm with one hand and gripping an eight inch, serrated knife in her other. Anne leaned in so their visors touched.

"Almost forgot about this," the American said grinning.

"What are you doing?! I thought-"

"Quiet!" Anne snapped. "How does this feel to you, eh? Do you know how easily this knife could cut through your suit? And with it filled with all of that extra air you pumped in, I'd wager you'll fly out of here like a punctured balloon!"

"You don't have to-"

Anne laughed. "I know I don't have to do this. And I don't want to. I didn't want to hurt your friend, either. But I had no choice. It was her or me, and I want to go home. I didn't struggle for so long and put up with all of those idiot men to wind up floating off like a piece of space junk. I don't know if I can trust you, Irena, and I'm sure you're thinking the same thing. But I'll take the chance here. I will make sure we both get home alive, as long as you help me. Alright?"

Irena blinked momentarily. "I...yes. How can I refuse. I will help you. I'll seal the hatch. You get your ship running."

"What about your rocket? Isn't it tethered to us?"

The cosmonaut grimaced. "Dammit. Ok...I'll have to detach it manually. There's a cable attached to a magnetic harpoon that was launched into this capsule. There's no way to pry the harpoon itself free, but the cable is only thick nylon cable."

Without flinching, Anne gripped her knife (very carefully!) by the blade and handed it to the cosmonaut.

"Use this. It's serrated, so you can use it like a saw. Just be careful. There's a length of rope in my survival kit that we can use to tether you to the capsule, just in case."

Irena nodded as she took the knife while her new ally rummaged through an open canvas satchel floating nearby.

"A survival kit?"

Anne looked up, smiling as she handed over a coil of black nylon rope. "Where do you think I got the knife?"

Irena found herself smiling at the comment while she began wrapping the rope around her waste, tying it off with several knots. She looked up at the astronaut.

"Just in case." she said with a grin.

After tying the other end of the rope around Anne's seat, Irena slowly made her way to the open hatch. There would be no way for the two women to talk to each other so the risk was even greater; if something went wrong, there was no way for Anne to know unless she saw it happen! Irena knew the risk but she was all too aware that if she was unable to uncouple her rocket from the smaller capsule, it would be dragged into the atmosphere and drag the smaller vessel down. The result would be catastrophic.

Irena took one last deep breath to steady herself, glancing back to give a thumbs up to Anne, and then gently made her way out of the capsule. Small protrusions and rails provided handholds as she worked around the outside the conical craft, the only sound she heard was her heavy, nervous breathing. Just a few feet off she could see the harpoon jutting out from the hull, and Irena inched closer, unaware of the exterior camera on her own ship panning slowly after her…

* * *

"Comrade Papovich!"

Yuri glanced at the technician at his console. "What is it?"

"Cosmonaut Spirikova. She- she's alive!"

The tall man's eyes narrowed dangerously as he walked over to the console, peering over the technician's shoulder. "What? How?"

"I don't know, sir. But there she is. It looks like she means to detach the magnetic harpoon."

"IMPOSSIBLE! We cut her lifeline. She should have died from that, or suffocated in the meantime. Unless…"

The tech cocked his head slightly. "Unless?"

"Unless the American is still alive and is helping her. That's the only way she can get that capsule back to Earth. We made certain none of our operatives could fly a Mercury capsule so they specifically COULD NOT use it to reenter the atmosphere. She knew that, so she kept the astronaut alive."

"What do we do, comrade?"

Yuri grimaced for a moment, then leaned in close to the other man. "Ram her."

"Sir?"

Yuri placed his palm on the back of the man's head and, with a swift, brutal motion, bounced his head off of the table. "DO IT!"

The man wiped the blood dribbling from his nose away, in pain but glad that the man hadn't done worse to him. "Y-yes, comrade. I apologize, sir. I misheard you. Ram her, yes? I just have to patch into the controls again and…there we go. I have control of the ship, comrade."

"Be a bit subtle. Too fast and she'll dodge us. Use the side thrusters and give it a push toward the Mercury. That will be all we need. That astronaut won't have the brains or skill to evade the rocket, and she won't be able to bring the craft back under control after the collision. She's a simple puppet, some fashion model Army brat. No skills, no brains, just a face."

"Yes comrade."

"Irena's the only hope she has. Crush her."

* * *

There was no sound in the void; no noise to tell the unaware cosmonaut of what was coming her way. The sun was hitting both crafts straight on, and so the rocket cast no shadow as it lurched toward the Mercury capsule.

Irena had reached the harpoon at last. She was very careful to cut away from herself with the razor-sharp knife, lest she should cut into her suit. But she was so focused on not cutting herself that she wasn't holding the rope properly and it slipped from her gloved hand.

"Damn," she muttered.

Turning slightly to find a better position, Irena saw the oncoming rocket, its massive hull dominating her vision. Despite the danger, Irena still had to cut the cable free or it would spell the end for both women. Gripping the knife tightly with one hand and the cable with the other, she heaved upwards, severing the thick rope in a fluid swipe. As she did so, her body turned enough for her to face the rocket again. It was only a few feet away and closing fast. Irena had no time left! All she could do was drop the knife in shock. She didn't even have time to bring up her arms to protect herself.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" she screamed as the hull smashed into her, scraping along the hull of the capsule.

Irena was hit solidly, but at the far edge of the rocket. Instead of being carried along with the monolithic object, she was batted backwards, when her helmet collided with the hull and sent her hurtling under the rocket! As her short lifeline went taut, she was swung downwards like a pendulum, her back connecting solidly with the Mercury, then bounced back up into the underside of the Russian vessel! The impetus of this final blow was not enough to send her bouncing off again, and she was left floating a foot or two "under" the rocket.

The initial impact had knocked the wind out of Irena, since the rocket wasn't travelling terribly quickly. However, her helmet's faceplate had cracked when it was smashed against the rocket. When her back had smashed off of the Mercury, she had felt at least one rib pop out of place, but the final collision had knocked her completely senseless and had sent more cracks spreading along her faceplate.

Anne had felt the impact and had held on for dear life. The capsule was spinning in a barrel roll and was moving towards Earth's atmosphere at an alarming rate. She had to get the vessel under control quickly before she could make sure Irena was alright. She strapped herself into the flight seat and grabbed the joystick, holding it steady to the right, firing a booster in the opposite direction of the spin. This helped considerably, but it took several more subtle movements on the stick to have the craft come to an almost dead stop. Anne sighed, glad of all the time she had put in on flight simulators even though the program directors had laughed at her efforts.

"Never need it my ass!" she shouted triumphantly. "Irena!"

Anne unbuckled her harness and made her way to the hatch, gripping the rope the cosmonaut had used as a lifeline. Bracing herself with her feet, Anne began reeling in the unconscious woman hand over hand. In less than a minute, Irena's suited body appeared in the hatchway. Anne carefully rotated the woman so she could get her through the doorway. Once she had managed this, she turned Irena over and let out a gasp when she saw the condition of her visor.

"Jesus! Irena!" she shouted as she pressed her visor delicately against the other woman's. "Irena, wake up! Irena!"

Anne noticed that small wisps of air were leaking from some of the broader cracks, so she pulled her head back, not wanting to make things worse. To her relief, Irena's eyebrows twitched and she flinched. Her eyes began to flutter for a moment, but then stayed shut as she passed out again.

"Thank God," Anne said to herself. "I'm gonna strap you in. it won't be comfortable, and it is far from safe, but it's all we can do."

Anne propped the cosmonaut against the wall in a seated position, making sure that anything she could use as a cushion was under her rear end, then she made a makeshift harness with the lifeline and tied Irena to the wall. Next, she removed her air hose and plugged it into Irena's suit, pumping more air in.

"There you go, hun. Just keep breathing."

The astronaut made sure to inflate Irena's suit as much as she could without risking her helmet being compromised, hoping this would provide even more cushioning. Then she uncoupled the air hose and reattached it to her own suit. the final step was getting the hatch shut. With nothing to use as a tether, Anne was forced to wedge her air supply in the door frame as she reached out to grab the hatch handle. Anne was lucky and managed to grab the handle and haul the hatch shut without incident.

A bit more at ease, Anne went back to her seat, strapped herself in, and prepped the capsule for reentry. Through the single window of her capsule, she could see the Russian ship as it began to burn through the atmosphere. It was coming in at too shallow of an angle, and would burn up before it got far. Anne had to make sure she didn't do the same thing. She flicked a few switches and let out a sigh of relief as the craft began its automated reentry sequence. She was lucky the rocket hadn't smashed up any important systems. Houston would be able to track the capsule as it reentered and they would be picked up, safe and sound, in the Atlantic.

"Let's go home. You'll like the States, Irena."


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