by Misty Mills
ENG 170 Winter term 2003/2004
It was an average, typical spaceship. Humans, after depleting their home planet, had spread across a small section of the universe in ships just like it. It was fast, it was big and it was ancient. And Locke couldn’t figure out why it was right in front of him.
He pressed a thumb to the communication unit in front of him. “Silvers, you seeing this thing?”
“Sure am,” the disjointed voice crackled back. “I’m not blind.” Locke should have expected that very response. After all, Jeff Silvers had been with him for the past nine years, ever since he’d managed to scrape up enough for his own ship. Silvers had been an old out-of-work navigator prone to bouts of insane ramblings and drinking. Nobody else would hire him, but at the time, Silvers was all he could afford. Now the ship held eight of them and he, Dustin Locke, was in charge. It was way better than being a grunt back home, spending every waking moment trying to coax the ground to give up precious food.
Even though he’d shaved the hair from his chin, Locke still found himself rubbing his thumb over where his customary stubble had been. He didn’t like it. Almost all of these ships had been replaced by new ones long ago. There was little enough reason to see it at all, let alone abandoned on a line used mainly by mining transports and suppliers like the Arrowhead. He sighed, leaned forward and pressed the button again. “Silvers, do a full systems scan. I’m going over there.”
Locke’s life scan had come up without a trace of a single life on the old boat, but there still might be something useful on board. Especially if it had been left by someone who had plans for it. Locke hated scavenging – stealing no matter how you looked at it – but he knew he needed parts and money and he needed them soon.
It took two hours for Silvers and his boys, Jo-Jo and Marchon, to finish. The whole time, Locke kept his eyes torn between studying the ship and studying the scanners for incoming ships. The last thing he wanted was to get caught with his hand in someone else’s cookie jar. The scan showed a surprising majority of the ship was in working order.
“Someone’s been working on her, but where’d they get the parts?” Locke didn’t really care too much, but it did nag at the back of his neck. The ship looked like it was pulled right out of the days of the war with the Norads, the only other ‘sentient’ race that humans had encountered so far. The war had ended a good century and a half ago when the humans had won. Barely, in fact. The only reason they could claim a victory was that they had pushed the Norads back behind a line of asteroids that now served as the treaty marker. The only reason they had accomplished that was because humans were only really good at two things: multiplying and blowing things up. They won by outnumbering their enemy.
None of the humans still alive remembered the war, but it was well documented. From a young age now, children were taught about the war and taught to fight in case they ever needed to. The Norads didn’t have that problem; the lifespan of a Norad was about five times longer than that of the humans, so most of the Norads still alive remembered the war firsthand.
Locke supposed he should be thankful for the peace between the races, but parts of him secretly longed for the old days he heard about where a good man and a good ship could really make a difference.
But, he figured as he strapped himself into the free-space suit, it never paid to be a dreamer or an idealist. It did, however, pay to be a thief.
He made his way through the airlock and out into the endless expanse of space. Each time he went into free-space, he had the same little thrill of excitement that had crept up his spine the first time. It never changed, never faded.
Pulling the coupling tube behind him, he shoved off and free fell to the airlock on the other ship. Three industrial snaps later, he was done and a tube stretched between the ships. It was really more of a guideline to keep anything they found from accidentally drifting off into free-space as they moved it to their ship.
“Okay Silvers, I’m going in. Send CJ and Jo-Jo over.” Jo-Jo was a big, burly genius. Certainly not the type you’d ever think could add two and two together without help. But he was brilliant and he had a way with machinery that even Silvers envied. CJ was Jo-Jo’s wife, just as big, just as strong and just as brilliant as her husband. Somehow the strength and short hair that would look butch on any other woman looked feminine on her. Maybe it was her smile. It lit up a room. Helpful when you’re, like her, the doctor onboard.
Locke was barely inside the ship when the couple came floating through the tube. So much for the soft solitude of space; it was time to get to work.
Jo-Jo was the one who found the ship’s control panel. There were four of them on this model, just like on the Arrowhead, each of them able to control the ship fully from the remote location. The brute of a mechanic flipped open the panel and set to work on activating the atmospheric controls for the ship, allowing them to save the oxygen in their suits.
“Six minutes until breathable air,” Jo-Jo said, voice muffled by the communication units. He smiled a smug little grin. “And I activated five percent gravity. It’ll make it easier to direct the stuff as we move it around.”
“And to think,” crackled a feminine voice. “I married you for your brawn, not your brains.” Locke playfully rolled his eyes at the couple. “Come on you two, plenty of time for flirting later.”
Locke felt the pull of the gravity tugging at him, annoyingly subtle at first, then suddenly making his body heavier, just enough of a pull toward the floor that he had to actually push off in order to float across the room and even then he could feel himself slowly drawn toward the floor. If he closed his eyes, he could almost pretend he was out there, back in free-space, as close to alone as you could get on a ship of eight.
“Stale, but breathable.” When Locke glanced over, he saw that Jo-Jo had removed his helmet and taken a breath and that CJ was doing the same. And he was right. The air was a bit stale, but that was to be expected when the air ducts had sat dormant for who knows how long. Still, you could breathe it, and that was what mattered. They could save the oxygen in their suits for a time when it might be mandatory to use it, not an option.
The trio drifted into the first cargo hold and found it full of parts, majority of them still usable in the Arrowhead’s model of ship. Half an hour later, they were on the fourth trip back to the ship when Locke saw something shimmer in the corner of his eye. He paused and looked around, finding no trace of anything out of the ordinary. Back at the ship, the scanners didn’t pick up anything unusual. “Must be my imagination,” Locke murmured to himself with a shrug as they entered the coupling tube. The airlock doors to both ships were open, allowing free movement between the two and Locke absently pushed himself back through the tubing back to the abandoned ship for another load.
Guilt. It must be guilt that was weighing on his mind. He shrugged it off, drifted through the empty room to the cargo hold. It was guilt that was clenching at his gut, making him feel sick to his stomach.
Or at least he thought it was guilt until CJ let out a groan. Jo-Jo was at her side when she started to go pale and limp, ignoring his own symptoms in favor of trying to figure out how to help his wife. Locke clicked on his communicator and tried to shout into it, but his throat was clenched and dry. The shimmering was back, only now it was closing in on his vision, giving everything a halo effect. He felt himself struggle to breathe, felt his fingernails ache, felt the veins in his arms and legs and face go as cold as ice.
Back on the ship, the nerve gas had leaked through the open airlocks to the rest of the crew. Each of them were caught in the web of death so painful that they felt close to nothing as their bodies and minds shut down. Locke’s grip on the communicator loosened and it slowly drifted toward the floor, caught in the faint hint of gravity that permeated the ship.
Meanwhile, the Norads came out, clad in suits that prevented their life signs from being scanned and kept the nerve gas from invading their own bodies. With a dark chuckle, the leader kicked at the dying human bodies and slid past them, leading the way to the Arrowhead, already planning on the best way to outfit their life support systems with the deadly gas trap.