sleepover under fire

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


Andre was drifting off further and further. With the last drops of fuel of his space suit thrusters he had tried to countersteer, but in vain. The explosion had thrown him far out into the void. It had been an insidious trap.

His life now hung by a thread - a thread he had yet to fire. The ultra-thin plastic halting fibers his space suit could launch were his last hope if he didn't want to suffocate all by himself in the nothingness. Hitting fixed spots was difficult enough - but none of those were even in reach anymore. His comrades had reacted quickly and fired their own fibers after him, but he had been out of reach already. Now those lifelines were the targets he had to hit to survive.

JJ had aimed best - his fiber was closest and the one Andre was aiming for.

But every second of aiming narrowed his chances further. He fired.

A barely-visible filament shot out of the glove of his suit and flew and flew. Hitting a moving target as small as JJ's fiber at this distance was impossible of course. But these fibers were the work of geniuses and they offered one more straw to grasp at.

Andre sent the signal. It raced down the fiber and made its tip explode into a thousand even smaller filaments, flying off in all directions. JJ followed suit.

It didn't look good. Actually, there wasn't anything to see at all. But against all odds: Andre felt tiny vibrations on his wrists and his sensors showed voltage. A few of his and JJ's filaments had found each other magnetically and glued themselves together. There was hope.

Then the filaments tore. A few dozen held on. A dozen - A handful - All torn.

But the yank - it had sufficed. He was drifting back towards the others ever so slightly. A sigh of relief. More fibers found and embraced each other.

He had made it.

JJ pulled him in slowly.

JJ - of all people. But he had saved him.

The planet Mars ahead seemed to be getting bigger and bigger, seemed to welcome him back. So did the gigantic bola of the space tether in its orbit and the endless rows of space containers it was steering and accelerating towards new destinations.

While Andre was slowly getting back to safety, the others had started going through the contents of the fateful container - those that the trap had left undamaged anyway. That was the livelihood of their little group out here - robbing containers.

It was not the most noble way to make a living, but the corporations they robbed weren't any more honorable really. That one of these corporations had been after him even before made it even easier to silence any scruples Andre might have had.

Unfortunately it was also a rather dangerous way to make a living. He hoped that the trap at least meant there were riches to be found in that container. It didn't necessarily though.

And from what he heard over radio, Ruby and Ianic hadn't found anything worthwhile yet.

Only a dozen more meters.

With great relief he grabbed what remained of the container railing.

JJ patted him on the shoulder encouragingly. He wouldn't make a big thing out of saving him - wouldn't even mention it. That only made the whole thing worse.

Another thing clouded the joy of not dying yet. Nothing from the cargo the others had mentioned so far explained in any way why Andre's sensor configuration had singled out that container.

He himself was responsible that they had chosen this container with the trap instead of one of the hundreds of others the space tether was guiding down this path.

He had programmed the sensors to look for fuel and radiation protection equipment - tried some new approaches instead of the old and rather coarse one of Ianic they had used before.

He must have overestimated the accuracy though or blundered in some other way.

So much time wasted and nothing to show for it.

Ruby emerged from the container. She wore a party hat on top of her space suit helmet - seemingly the only "useful",loot they had found. It looked cute on her. What didn't? But no, he had no feelings for her. That would have just been a distraction - and pretty one-sided too.

After her, Ianic left the container. Judging from the look he gave Andre he was already thinking of new ways to torment him with zero gravity training units.

It all felt so unreal. He could still be a reasonably paid programmer back on earth, if only he hadn't pieced together a bit too much about the true fields of business of his employer.

Ianic sent a whistle over radio - the sign to pack up and leave. The control drones had gotten more frequent recently.

But Andre couldn't resist. He had to take a look himself - after all the trouble that container had caused him.

He peeked inside, carefully avoiding the razor-sharp edges the trap explosion had left behind. Clouds of shredded packaging were all he could see.

He dove in further.

A large undamaged box caught his eye. It was full of warning signs advising cautious handling of the delicate computer system inside. Bulky and difficult to fence, but beyond that: Not the hardware you'd expect in a container heading for Neptune. It would be pretty onerous to maintain with the radiation profile there. Worth a closer look.

Hopefully the others wouldn't leave him behind here without fuel.

He maneuvered into the back and burnt a hole into the packaging with his plasma torch. And really... what appeared behind the charred plastic didn't look like sleek computing hardware at all. With the rivets and the dark green paintwork... more like chunky armor.

What was it? He ripped away more packaging. There was a viewing window of sorts - and behind it: Whoa - a woman? Eyes closed and sleeping. A cryopod?

That was insane... sending it hidden in a loose freight container like this. Those should really only be used for raw materials, party hats and other easily replaceable stuff. Too many got lost due to collisions, bola inaccuracies... or piracy.

Ianic sent another whistle - an angry one and directly to him.

Andre forwarded an image from his helmet camera in response - a view of the cryopod.

"We can't leave her here", he commented. She wouldn't survive reentry on Mars.

"Puhh", replied Ruby.

"Let me see", said Ianic and squeezed by him. "Damn... the last thing we need."

He hesitated.

"The more the merrier", said JJ.

Ianic sighed and helped Andre maneuver the cryopod out of the container. They pushed off from it without further hesitation.

JJ and Ruby had already taken the lead.

Ianic had to sacrifice valuable fuel for extra thrust with the heavy cryopod and a fuel-less Andre.

The flight back to their corner of the debris field seemed to take forever. He eyed the girl in the cryopod - unperturbed by it all. The armored cryopod at least explained why the sensors had been triggered - extra radiation protection. His code wasn't completely worthless.

Slowly the amount of rubble around them increased. You had to be more careful with maneuvering, but it also provided cover.

Years ago there had been orbital factories here - and shipyards and pulsating life.

But competition among the corporations was ruthless. A bit of espionage here, a bit of bribery there... and as a finishing move: some sabotage on the tri-fusion reactor of the main station. A small explosion later the Scarlon Holding and all its orbital facilities were history.

Now there was nothing of note left in the sector besides the space tether and a bit of nostalgic Mars tourism. That and irradiated space station ruins - their home. Or for Ianic: Home. Like always he smiled a bit as they arrived at their torus - despite its more than battered state.

Ruby and JJ were already waiting. JJ assisted them in getting the pod through the rip in the outer walls that they used as cargo entrance. Then Ruby took over for Ianic and helped Andre steer the pod through further rifts and holes deeper into the structure.

They secured the pod in one of the cargo alcoves in what had been assembly hall 8.

Ruby examined the newcomer in the pod.

"Girl looks horrible", she said.

"Hmm, yeah."

The girl did indeed look pretty sickly.

Also she was likely upper class or she wouldn't be in a cryopod and Ruby had a special distaste for the rich. That she used to work in Mars tourism probably explained most of that distaste. That she had to flee from there for some undisclosed reason likely made up for the rest.

"Well, laters", said Ruby and pushed herself off.

Judging from the direction she took, she now slept near JJ.

And all that despite JJ being somewhat upper class as well. That's what Andre strongly suspected anyway. One of those spoiled brats looking for a bit of adventure before taking over daddy's board seat. Andre shook his head - this aversion of his towards JJ was actually kind of silly. A pointless distraction too, when he had that intriguing cryopod right in front of him. There was much to find out about it, its systems and its occupant.

A warning signal from his suit stopped him though and reminded him to restock fuel and oxygen.

Laying low for a while was kinda recommended as well after a container raid. Well, he could probably use the rest after all that had happened.

A last questioning look at the girl and he shimmied off to his own sleeping spot in the remains of an old shipyard rescue capsule that hadn't made it out.

He belted up inside and hooked himself up to his oxygen and fuel tanks. Some of the oxygen he used to inflate the space suit by half - enough so he could move his arms and legs around a bit inside. That felt good. He tried to doze a bit then.

That didn't work though.

The cryopod - he couldn't stop thinking about it.

He went over the few details he had recorded.

No logos, serial numbers or the like anywhere. Somewhat armored and with extra pressure suit and zero gravity adaptions.

It would certainly be worth a fair bit. If it turned out to be too difficult to fence by itself, they could still do so in parts. Or even use some of the components themselves like the biofilters or the CPU.

For now though the pod was still occupied of course. These pods usually didn't contain the more complex wake-up systems, so there wouldn't be a way for them to wake the girl up without damage. And even if they could wake her up - what to do with her? She might bring in some money of course - a reward, a ransom or something like that.

How they'd handle that though was a different question. Better to wait what the whole thing would really amount to before wasting any thought on that.

Impatiently he waited for his tanks to fill up.

There was little fuel left though and the pumps had to scrape it out of the last corners of the storage tanks.

They really needed to score some fuel soon.

For now it had to do. He made his suit shrink back to normal size and released himself.

With the help of old railings and grips hidden along the walls he made his way back to the cryopod.

He attached himself to the wall next to it and connected via data cable to the computer of the pod.

The girl looked as peaceful as before - also vulnerable in the thin pressure suit and lost a bit with her small skinny body in the full-sized cryopod.

The output of the pod connection popped up on the interior of his helmet - projected there by his suit.

Beyond a bunch of security barriers there wasn't much to see yet. Fortunately quite a few of those weren't exactly state of the art and so he managed to gain some access to deeper layers.

The technical documentation that popped up then was quite interesting, but after he had glanced through it a bit, he turned his attention to something more interesting: The case file of the occupant.

He skimmed the projected data - no name was on record for the occupant - no other personal information either. Except for an age setting. According to that, she was 60 years old. Could that be right? Judging from looks he would have guessed 25 at most.

One option to find out more presented itself: biometrics. The system provided access to her blood type, eye color, skull measurements and more. Enough to maybe get a match from some data hoarder. Andre sent a cautious search request out into the net.

The next tab offered health data. It confirmed what he had feared already from her looks. Worse even: the lady was done for.

Vitals, brain waves... irreparable damage everywhere. As far as he could say with this limited medical knowledge anyway. But still, the readouts were clear enough. Poisoning was listed as the cause.

Any chance of cure or regeneration could be ruled out pretty much and waking her up would likely be the end.

Despite everything, the brain was still active and being stimulated by the systems of the cryopod via an induced virtual dream world. Andre had heard of those.

But after sustaining that much damage... what would that brain even be capable of anymore? The mental capacity of a two year old maybe?

What would a dream world for such a brain look like?

It felt wrong, but he just had to take a look. He logged in.

The projector in his space suit helmet only allowed a coarse flat image. For a moment, all he saw there was darkness, then: something else. A world of chaos - like a turbulent sea of balloons in all colors of the rainbow.

Something vaguely recognizable formed then - a face of sorts. A face of balloons. It gave him a somewhat puzzled and confused look, or perhaps that was just what balloon people looked like.

That took some getting used to in any case.

Was it her? Andre tried some calming words and introduced himself. Whether any of it came through was difficult to tell.

He took things a step further and piped through the camera of his helmet. Perhaps a friendly smile would help.

The eyes in front of him widened in horror and backed away.

So much for that. Not exactly a compliment.

Any face would have scared her probably, after who knew how long... and what. But yeah, he did look somewhat scrubby too.

And something else wasn't right - something in the real world.

Andre noticed a slight vibration that was transferred by the walls to him.

He looked around the assembly hall. Was there something? Or was something wrong with the cryopod? But then he saw: something was gliding around the corner of the alcove. It was a drone - a menacing black something full of antennas. Not a container control drone - larger. Two meters diameter easily. It was moving sideways but it looked directly at him and the cryopod.

How had it managed to pass through the labyrinth of debris and past all their guard sensors unnoticed? That was not a good sign. Something on its underbelly opened - not a good sign at all.

Hostile? When in doubt: yes.

Andre could only think of one thing: He pulled off the safety from the cryosystem of the pod and activated the gas discharge.

A loud warning signal and a scream from the virtual dream world followed. Sorry - but she'd survive it. A cloud of cryogas crystallized around the pod and shielded them from view.

But already he could see flashes lightening up the cloud. It was not a rescue mission.

Projectiles struck the wall with glowing hot impacts. But above them and climbing.

Andre saw it through the dispersing gas: Ianic had come to their rescue and had pulled the drone upwards with a halting fiber. Just in time.

The drone's tumbling was Andre's chance:

He pushed off from the wall and towards the drone.

The data cable slowed him for a moment before it snapped and warning lights blinked as ricochets seared his suit.

But he made it over and glued himself to the whirling monster. He slammed his plasma torch into what he assumed would be the CPU-core.

Success.

The drone was tumbling further and throwing him around like crazy, but it wasn't firing anymore and its thrusters were stopping.

Andre's suit had managed to seal itself as well.

Ianic fired some more halting fibers from his suit and slowed the tumbling, then made it stop.

After a few awful seconds, Andre's dizziness subsided. He hadn't vomited either this time. Perhaps he'd still get to grips with all that zero gravity stuff after all.

He made his way back to the wall along one of the filaments. That felt better.

He checked up on the cryopod. Its life support systems were still running. The pod had ample reserves and was already replacing the lost cryogas.

By now JJ and Ruby had arrived as well and were checking out the intruder.

Ianic inspected the damage in the wall shared with his workshop. He looked pissed. He had worked here, back when it had been a proper shipyard and gotten stuck somehow.

"We have to run", said Ruby then. Ianic shook his head. What did she mean? She pointed at a small logo on the side of the drone.

"Endettar" A moment of silence followed.

Those weren't the third tier container security types they knew how to deal with. Endettar was a whole different league - far beyond theirs.

"Container surfing won't do to escape those guys", said JJ. The sonny-boy seemed to take it relatively easy nonetheless.

He was right about the container surfing in any case. JJ had arrived like that some weeks ago, looking all stylish. Andre as well - somewhat earlier and minus the "stylish".

To escape from the likes of Endettar though, the containers were way too slow and too easy to trace.

Theoretically they had other options, like their old cargo barge. But even that lightweight thing would need more fuel than they had to get anywhere at all.

Perhaps if one could trick the space tether bola somehow...

An incoming message interrupted that largely pointless line of thought. The results of his net search from before had arrived - quicker than expected.

Andre read and swallowed.

"Octavia Evison-Ritacco."

That explained the drone and why the cryopod had been hidden.

Andre shared the result with the others.

"Ugh, a Ritacco?", asked Ruby. A spitting sound could be heard over radio.

"Adopted child of a distant cousin", said Andre, "but bad enough." Close enough to the core family to make her a pawn in the war of succession of the Ritacco corporation.

Whole continents and space-sectors depended on the particulars of the board of that company. As a result, early deaths from accidents were somewhat common in those circles. Even open feuds and assassinations weren't unheard of.

"Damn", said JJ. And if JJ used words like that, you knew things were bad indeed. Ruby was hugging him.

The drone alone had spelled bad trouble, the name Ritacco spelled utter disaster.

Andre glanced back at the search result. She was really 60 years old - with decades spent in cryosleep. Someone had paid a lot to keep her alive all that time - likely less to save her as a person and more to use her as a bargaining chip.

For a second he entertained the thought from before: that they had gotten lucky, that they could turn the lady into hard cash. But this was so much bigger than their little group. No matter which side got to them first - they wouldn't let anyone live.

Ianic had worked his way into the guts of the drone in the meantime. Could it help them get out of here? "Can't do much with it", he said "engines too weak, barely any fuel." So much for that.

Then Andre saw him cast a longing glance in the direction of the old reactor core. You could see its remains through the huge crack in the wall its explosion had caused back in the day.

The tri-fusion reactor itself had been blown to pieces, but some fuel leftovers were still down there in the pipes.

Ianic had been trying to get at that fuel for some time now and had even narrowed in on the most promising reservoir.

It was the good stuff and would make all the difference now.

So far, all their attempts to retrieve it had failed miserably however. The radiation around the reactor shielding was still hellish enough to fry everything they had sent down there.

Then Andre's and Ianic's eyes met... and their minds as well:

The cryopod.

With the amount of armor and shielding of that thing...

Calculations popped up on Ianic's helmet visor, illuminating his scruffy face. Andre grabbed his backup data cable and hooked his suit back up to the cryopod to start his own research.

Ruby had caught on as well. "So... we throw her out?", she asked, "and take the pod to the reactor?" She seemed to like that idea.

"That's what I'm planning to do", said Ianic.

JJ had wandered off to one of their sensor relays.

Andre kept silent and kept pondering.

The cryopod had good shielding and biofilters - with some luck and daring you could make it to the reactor pipes - maybe back out even.

It would be up to him to get the software of the pod to go along with the plan though.

"It won't work", he said then, "...getting the systems to work without her in the pod."

Ruby cast a him a skeptical glance. It wasn't completely true, but it wouldn't be easy to adapt the system either. Not in a hurry.

But was there any alternative?

Then: Alarm. JJ signaled that something was approaching. Much sooner than they had hoped for.

He relayed multiple contacts from the sensors.

They were approaching with hell of a speed, but already decelerating. They'd arrive any moment - one bigger ship - two smaller signals. And many even smaller ones... projectiles. They had already opened fire.

Damn Damn Damn.

The Endettar ship would vaporize the entirety of the station within minutes, even without the two smaller mercenary ones.

"Counter measures!", screamed Ianic.

Ruby had already hurried to a console hidden on the other side of the hall.

A swarm of tiny rockets flew towards the ships of the attackers. The rockets looked so promising on the sensors - then they just vanished without any visible effect.

The same couldn't be said about the projectiles of the attackers.

Andre could feel the station rearing up through his gloves.

He had to do something.

JJ had grabbed a particle gun and seemed to be looking for a firing spot. Ruby was busy on the console trying to get more rockets going. Was Ianic still holding unto the plan with the pod? He looked torn.

"Girl is half dead and the pod has reserve", said Andre, "I'll just jump in with her." He didn't wait for Ianic's reaction. He unfastened the pod and pushed himself off with it - heading in the direction of the reactor.

He'd fit in somehow - as opposed to Ianic. Projectiles were buzzing past left and right.

Would it be any use still? It didn't matter - it couldn't be any more dangerous than here.

The whole shipyard was torn to pieces around him.

He held tight and accelerated some more with the thrusters of his suit, then opened the pod and climbed in.

He squeezed in above the spindly body of Octavia in her thin pressure suit and forced the lid shut above them.

He felt panic-stricken shivering from below. It was terribly tight, but the space suit was somewhat deformable at least.

Her vitals were going crazy. Understandable.

It was her life as well though - there were no alternatives.

He logged in again to her virtual world to calm her - and himself. He explained the plan with steady measured voice. As steady as he could make it anyway.

The whole dream world was pulling away from him into a small corner.

Andre tried to give her as much space as possible - both virtually and physically. Thanks to zero gravity he wasn't pushed down unto her at least.

He had to intrude on her still further though and hook up his suit to her biofilters. They would have to work for two against the constantly increasing radiation and the damage it caused.

He risked a look back at the others. He couldn't see much thre narrow window. But there: an explosion of sorts.

"JJ!", screamed Ruby.

She sent the view from her helmet: JJ spinning away. A cry for help.

Andre didn't know what to say. No response from Ianic either. There was nothing he could do. There was nothing anyone could do.

The attackers didn't even bother to turn their fire unto JJ.

He was flying towards a cloud of glowing debris with high speed. He was lost.

A weird dancing glow filled the cryopod. The reactor was getting close – Andre had to concentrate on that.

A last message arrived from JJ. Andre wanted to dismiss it, but then he saw what it was. A conditional transaction? He was bribing them... trying to. Trying to get the attackers to back off. Seems he had really been well-off.

But the firing continued without interruption.

And for Andre things got serious. There was no time to hesitate.

He burned two holes through the viewing window with his plasma torch and stuck his arms through quickly. The sharp and glowing edges shredded his suit - he was losing oxygen.

Repair fluid was pouring into the holes from both his suit and the cryopod - it was enough to seal them for the moment.

Now unto the difficult part.

From his gloves he fired off two halting fibers to get the pod in position.

Ianic's tube for the connection upwards was already in place at least.

He managed to grab it and from there fire another filament.

Via that he pulled the tube closer to the reactor pipes.

So far so good, only his arms started to itch badly.

An expensive drone from one of their earlier attempts blocked the way. He pushed it aside and pulled himself up to the valve.

The valves should hook together easily. They didn't - deformed a bit most likely. They wouldn't budge. His arms... the burning got unbearable. It wouldn't work. He screamed in pain and frustration. His head was getting groggy.

Then a voice: "Shh, shh." What? Octavia. He looked at the screen. She had emerged from her corner - Tried to soothe him. He gave it one last desperate push. Nothing. "Shhh." One last last push - and: closed. He had made it.

"We did it", he answered her.

Time to flee.

He reoriented the pod and cut their anchors.

To get them moving he only had the small thrusters in his gloves now - and only the left one actually fired. But nonetheless... slowly the pod accelerated. He wasn't able to steer much - didn't feel much at all anymore in his arms. They rammed a lot of freshly glowing debris.

But that was the least of their concerns.

Was there even anyone still left?

He couldn't see much through the window. Because his arms were in the way and because there was nothing left of the station. Nothing between his pod and that big looming ship of the attackers right ahead of them.

One of Ruby's defensive rockets must have had made it through though. Their gun turret moved only haphazardly - jammed by a thousand sticky fibers.

A minute more to live or so perhaps.

A channel opened - carrying the signature of their Endettar attackers. "Well... as we still have a moment", said the growling voice of a self-satisfied enforcer.

"Wanted criminal Ianic Ambras and accomplices - due to resistance against the arrest for piracy, lethal force has been authorized."

As if they had even given them the chance to surrender.

"Though piracy is almost too much honor for parasites the likes of you", the guy continued with a chuckle. "Shouldn't pirates at least have a ship?"

"Well, as for that...", replied Ianic. He was still alive! And more than that:

From the glowing debris cloud behind the attackers somehad risen. A ship! A Scarlon Corsair - in all its beauty.

Resurrected from the remains of the shipyard and cobbled together with the help of a thousand plundered containers – and now at last: fueled.

Ianic had done it. A decade after the end of the shipyard he had gotten one of their ships to fly again.

"What?" The attackers hadn't expected that.

The moment of shock was enough.

Ianic fired... and tore the ship apart.

Wow.

"Great shot", said Ruby - though with subdued enthusiasm.

"The smaller ships?", asked Andre.

"Flying to L5 to fetch the bribe from JJ", answered Ianic.

They had made it. The price had been high, but they had made it.

"Time to leave", said Ianic.

The Corsair was approaching the cryopod to pick them up.

One last scream of pain as Andre had to pull the pod towards the airlock.

"Shh, shh", whispered Octavia.

THE END


Submitted: May 13, 2021

© Copyright 2021 r.f. krammer. All rights reserved.

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