Part III – Survival

Deep Space

Beeping of a time alarm wakes me up. I’m not dead so the life support systems held, the ship is still mostly depressurized and the emergency generator used up half of its fuel. It’s time to locate the rest of the crew and try to restart main power or refuel the emergency generator.

I’m not hungry but I force myself to eat an emergency ration, it’s a dried, dehydrated chunk of nutrients that doesn’t have any distinct taste. It’s not the best thing to eat but it will keep you alive. I flush it down with a pack of electrolyte liquid, it tastes like oranges, why can’t they make the ration taste like oranges…

First I make my way to the engineering deck again. A tiny flame of hope starts in my soul when I see a green blinking button on the primary generator. Humanity has plenty of religions, I’ve never been a big believer but I’m praying to all of them as I press the button. The generator gives out a high pitched sound that increases in intensity. I watch the power readout rise, hoping that it will enable me to get out of here. My hopes are short lived, as soon as the power level reaches 30% the generator dies in a shower of sparks. I think for a moment about what I can do, I remove the generator’s control screen, revealing a set of switches, fuses and dials – the manual controls. It’s not a standard model for this type of ship but I recognize the output limit dial, I turn it down to one third and hope it’s low enough. I try the start button again, the same sound repeats but this time the generator settles at 28%. It’s not full power but it’s about twice the output of the emergency generator.

Vital ship systems are booting. I float over to an engineering console and see that life support is running at full capacity save for artificial gravity, I leave that off because it would consume too much power. I try to bring the engines online but they fail to ignite, the readout suggests they are too heavily damaged. Comms array is also damaged, but I might be able to restore it at least to some degree. Fortunately the sensor suite seems to be mostly undamaged, however I lack the power I would need to get its full strength. For now I settle for the short range IFF radar and I route minimal power to the navigation computer to figure out where I am. I make sure my mobiGlas is connected to this console so I can monitor it remotely and I move on to my next task.

I know what I should expect when I get up to the crew deck, I’m not ready for it. Don’t be mistaken, I have seen death, but that was combat not people who suffocated in their sleep. I take four additional body bags from the emergency kit and make my way to the elevator. It’s stuck halfway up so I squeeze myself through the gap.

There is a gaping hole in the ceiling, way too large to seal, if i want to pressurize the ship completely I will have to seal the deck off. I look up through the breach…the stars are….beautiful.

I find the captain first, dried and frozen in his chair. His face has the same expression of horror as Jackson’s.  I too have to break off his arms and legs to get him in the bag. It’s easy, he is completely frozen. I try not to think about it. The rest of the crew were asleep when it happened. Their faces peaceful, unaware of how they died. I move the bodies to the mess hall and tape them to the floor, it’s the best I can do for them. Soon after that I bring Jackson’s bag here as well. I align them in a neat row one next to the other. If I don’t make it…I hope someone finds them here. I resume the recording.

“Accident log two of flight MS2178. Primary power partially restored. Only one survivor, myself. Distress beacon active. Jump drive, engines and communication array damaged beyond use.”

I grab my bag from my locker and descend to the cargo hold to see what I have at my disposal besides the emergency survival kit. I could have checked the cargo manifest but the ship’s data storage seems to be damaged. There are a few crates of broken tools and geological equipment sent back for repairs, not much I can use. Other crates are mostly minerals, some medical supplies which I can use. I’m delighted to find an undamaged crate of fruit, chances are it might still be edible. Finally I turn my attention to a large reinforced container.

I cut the lock with my multi tool and swing the doors open. It’s almost completely filled with weapons, explosives and other military equipment. I don’t need any of this. My Galant rifle is in my bag and my pistol safely secured in its holster on my hip.

“Contact”

The warning wakes me up. I fell asleep floating on the bridge again. A mag lock my boots to the floor and walk over to the sensor console. A single Aegis Vanguard is heading towards me. Not registered as UEE or corporate. It might be local security patrol vessel that heard my distress beacon, but I would expect those to travel in pairs.

The ship stops where the docking mechanism would have been if one side of the fuel storage wasn’t broken off. I observe the ship from the other side through a window. There is a marking on the side that I can’t quite read. Though I can see that there is only one person manning this ship.

Everything about this situation is a red flag. Then the ship shifts a little and light shines on the insignia painted on its hull. The flaming red skull of the Nova Riders pirate gang. I know them to be very ruthless and I can’t imagine this guy even thinking about rescuing me.

He disembarks his ship, gun in hand he is floating over to the catwalk airlock. He is probably trying to figure out what cargo is left inside and whether it’s worth looting or whether there are any survivors left alive to be captured.

I’m not about to get captured or let him take the weapons in the cargo hold.

I hide behind the cargo hold ceiling beams. I curse myself for leaving my rifle on the bridge. He jumps straight down into the cargo hold. I consider the idea of sneaking out and taking his ship. But I don’t want to leave a nasty surprise for any lawful rescuers and a ship with that marking and transponder that is potentially listed as a pirate I won’t get too far in the UEE space.

I’m thinking. There is too much stuff for him to take at once. If he decides to go back to where he came from and return with more ships it’s going to take some time. If he doesn’t go back there, it’s going to take some time for someone to start looking for him and some more time to find him here. And more time is what I really need right now. I don’t know if anyone heard the distress beacon, but eventually someone will and help will arrive.

“I don’t suppose you are here to rescue anyone.”
I broadcast that sentence over close range radio comms. He looks around for a while before seeing me standing behind him, pistol pointed at his back. He is starting to turn around slowly, one hand raised slightly holding a small black cube.
“Didn’t think there was anyone alive bro.”

His other hand is slowly sliding down his torso.
“Show me your hands!”

He doesn’t. Instead he reaches for his own pistol. I’m faster than him and I put six 10mm rounds through his torso and visor. He isn’t wearing any armor, all the bullets go through and

shatter on the crate behind him. His lungs, intestines and brain are immediately ejected into the vacuum. It’s a mess.

I notice the black cube he was holding floating away from his dead hand. I recognize it. A dead man’s switch. I dive behind a crate expecting the switch or something on his suit to explode.

The explosion doesn’t come from the body but from the ship hovering outside. The Starfarer is lurched into a spin as the Vanguard self-destructs. Thankfully all the cargo is still properly secured otherwise I would have probably been crushed to death.

I realize that he was not the last person to find me and that his buddies aren’t probably far behind. I need to prepare. The ship is spinning and I think there are too many hull breaches to patch. As soon as the G forces of the initial acceleration fade I set out to prepare for what’s to come.

Corporate listening station LST-X235R

“Sir, they should have arrived hours ago.”

“Do we have anything on long range?”

Several technicians are looking at the readout, trying to figure out how did a ship as massive as a Starfarer just disappear.

“What if the solar interference put them on a deviated course?”

“Then we would have no way of finding them until they show up.”

The quiet conversation is interrupted by another technician who is sitting across the room.
“Sir! We are intercepting chatter on Nova Rider comms. They detected a distress beacon, something big, seems that the person who went to investigate didn’t report back.”
The supervisor looked across the room.
“Do we have a fix on that beacon?”

“Negative, our arrays are pointed away from that sector.”
“Sensor controller, reposition the arrays immediately!”
“Yes, sir!”

Outside the control room, all around the 1km long structure of the listening station, maneuvering thrusters fired to shift the whole station into position. Company invested millions of credits into this high tech installation. State of the art close and long range ship detection arrays, communication interceptor antennas and quantum sensors.

“Sir, we have the beacon.”
“It’s flight MS2178, sir. It’s way off intended course. I can’t confirm its status, but it’s not in quantum.”

The room fell silent. The air was almost thick enough with tension to be cut with a knife.

“Raise fleet command and send out an ECN alert. Now!”

Back at the Starfarer

I’m tired and I realize I might not survive. Correction, I will not survive. I don’t know what will come first. Will I run out of food, water, oxygen or will the pirates find me and kill me. I start a new recording on my mobiGlas.

“Hey, it’s me. If you are listening to this message it means I’m dead and you were distracted enough to open it. But I think knowing this is going to bring you some satisfaction. I died alone, wounded in the cold dark space I wanted to explore so badly. You were right, I’m sorry, I should have never left…”

I stop the recording, wrap it into a message addressed to someone I knew a long time ago. I hit send. I’m not connected to the comm array network right now, but as soon as a ship with a powerful enough antenna finds the wreck, the message will be sent.

I eat and go to sleep, I figure I’m going to need it. I can’t bring shields up to protect the ship or the turrets to fight back or thrusters to stop the spinning. All I have left is to wait and sleep.

“Contact…Contact…Contact…Contact…Contact…Contact”

The most terrifying alarm clock in the universe. Several fighters, a Cutlass and a Caterpillar. Escort, troop carrier and a cargo ship to take the scrap. I pray that they don’t just blow the wreck up, that would be a sad ending.

I will fight until the very end and I will try to draw the fight out as long as I can. I still hope rescue will arrive. I opened the main cargo door to draw them into a kill box I set up. Landmines and remote explosives are placed between the boxes and on every bulkhead heading to the upper decks. The crew deck will be my final stand, the elevators and the hull breach are choke points I can defend easily.

Their radios are not encrypted and I listen in as they prepare to enter through the open door. I get ready on the catwalk above, a box of grenades taped to the floor along with some spare ammo for the F55 machinegun. I rack a round in as soon as they start their EVA approach.

Ten of them board, weapons ready. I have cleaned up the blown out remains of their friend. I wait for them to come in closer. As soon as one of them heads to the stairs he trips the first mine and then all hell breaks loose. I peek over the railing and unleash the depleted uranium payload of my gun. Five seconds later the clip is empty and the barrel is glowing red. The ones that didn’t find cover float around torn to shreds.

I dive back behind cover and reload. This time I’m not so lucky, as soon as I peek over the railing an energy round hits me. It knocks me back against the wall, it didn’t go through my armor but even with the temperature dissipation I feel my skin burn underneath. They are coming up the stairs, it’s time to fall back. I pull the pins and toss the grenades down into the cargo hold and the stairs.

Then I run upstairs. I killed half of them, I thought that they would fall back.

“We need to get this guy!”

The prospect of being tortured is not pleasant but I’m still buying time. I wait, peeing out of cover with a shotgun at the top of the stairs to the engineering deck. As soon as the first of them comes up I fire several shells. He falls, his visor shattered, his face reduced to pulp. The rest fall back, I throw a grenade and run. As I run to the blocked elevator upstairs I activate the last mines.

I wait upstairs, covering behind a table. Two grenades and my rifle left. The boarding team has been silent for over ten minutes now. I think they might have returned to their ship to figure out a new approach. They have the Starfarer suspended in tractor beams, they could just tow it somewhere. My chest burns, I also notice a piece of shrapnel sticking out of my leg. The blood has sealed the wound and the suit breach, but I spray some sealant on it and take a MedPen to keep myself from passing out from the pain. Droplets of my blood are floating around me. Through the hull breach I can clearly see the Caterpillar.

I wait for what feels like eternity before the Caterpillar’s turret turns to the Starfarer. It fires a blinding beam of light that cuts through several layers of the armor in the engineering section.

“Come out or we blow the ship!”
The ultimatum comes over close range comms, I don’t answer. Another blinding beam impales the bridge.

“You have two minutes to come out!”

Again I don’t answer. I know they won’t do it.

“Contact…….Contact……..Contact………Contact……..Contact”

I don’t look at what the new arrivals are, probably reinforcements needed to root me out. But suddenly I see the pirate fighters break off.

A fireball explodes against the Caterpillar’s shields, engulfing the whole side of the ship in light and flames. A Vanguard shrieks over the hull breach, I see it just long enough to recognize the company insignia painted on it. The pirate fighters are mercilessly cut down, the Caterpillar is trying to disengage but its shields burst out of existence and its hull breaks in half as soon as the massive Polaris corvette gets into turret range.

The sealant didn’t hold and I’m bleeding, out into space from my leg and into my helmet from my fractured skull. The battle is over and consciousness fails me just as my mobiGlas beeps to confirm that a message was sent.

I awaken aboard the Polaris, the medics are working me, trying to stabilize me on the way to the med bay.

I wake up again in the med bay, patched up, too tired to move, in pain, but they tell me I will survive. I will probably lose my eye because of my head wound. I will be transferred to an Apollo later to be taken to a hospital on Terra. They tell me I might get a medal….

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