Here’s a sneak peek at my story, “Spaceberg.” Pew! Pew! – Sex, Guns, Spaceships… Oh My! releases this Friday, June 1. Not much longer to wait!
by M. Pax (excerpt)
The hum of propulsion burst into a louder whine. The ship accelerated, and Nikili Echols’s heart raced. Out of the transparent hull surrounding her, she studied the environs of Orcus, especially the standard approach from Serenity Sol Station. “Where are you, Captain Castillo?”
“There!” Lucy Ashida pointed. “He’s just past the shadow of Vanth.” Vanth was Orcus’s solitary moon.
“He’s way off flight path. That’s quite a gash in the hull. Why isn’t hull damage in the file?” Nikili frowned at the propeller-shaped hauler and at the data before her. This mission wouldn’t end in an unexpected surprise. “E51.” She addressed her vessel’s AI. “New scans. All codes. Do them twice.”
She set a braking sequence to dock with the hauler. The clear bubble in which she sat rocked. E51 blared with an error and refused to dock. The sleek tail of the Huey shuddered.
“Until scans are completed, docking is unsafe, ORS Echols.”
“Don’t be such a drama queen.” Nikili switched to manual override and coasted the Huey to the hauler. She swung the teardrop-shaped vessel sideways and deployed the magnetic field on the hatch. The hauler sucked onto the rescue ship without a groan. “I don’t get why that was so hard for you, E51.” She wouldn’t leave Captain Castillo hanging by being overly cautious. Her instinct told her to step it up and not wait for the meticulous computers to tell her it was safe enough. If it wasn’t, Castillo needed her. Now.
She stood and grabbed for her gear. The interior lights flared brighter, chasing away the shadows inside the Huey. Most of the ship was a dark shade of red. A brilliant chrome ladder beside the airlock led to the lower levels: bunks, living quarters, medical bays, engineering, and extra rescue equipment.
A set of lockers right behind the command seats held protective suits, medical supplies, and emergency repair gear. Nikili blinked at the first aid kit. “How are Castillo’s vitals?”
“Heart rate is erratic.”
“Thanks, E51. Lucy, do you want repairs or medical?”
Lucy slid on her shiny yellow spacesuit and smiled. “Grease over blood, if you don’t mind.”
“I’m good with that.” Although not heavy, Nikili had a broader frame than Lucy. Taking up more space on a tiny spacecraft wasn’t always ideal. She whacked an elbow against the lockers and cursed. “Daughter of a wind fart! Why do I always do that? Every freaking time.”
Lucy giggled. “Be more mindful, Echols, or you’ll have to rescue yourself.”
Shaking the sting out of her elbow, Nikili trudged to the airlock, slinging the medical pack over her shoulder. “Is the hauler’s AI speaking to you yet, E51?”
“CIT’s heart rate and respiration are elevated. Advise immediate medical attention.”
Nikili wondered if the hauler’s AI had been upgraded and had contaminated E51. An AI should always reply to a direct inquiry. “Answer my initial question. The hauler’s AI?”
“She refers to herself as Harene.”
“A she, huh?” Yeah, the hauler’s AI had to have had an illegal upgrade. “What’s she saying?”
“What?” Squinting through the hazy porthole of the Huey then through the scuffed up porthole of the hauler, Nikili gained no insight. “An AI can’t shiver. What’s going on?”
“Reporting what Harene is communicating without deviation.”
“Hmm.” Nikili grabbed her helmet off the shelf by the airlock. “Helmets and comm. links on, Lucy.”
“Aye. You can take the lead, Echols.”
“You need to step up more often if you want to transfer with me to Deep Space Rescue.” She needed to escape the ghosts of a mission gone wrong two years ago. It didn’t matter whose fault it was, or that it was the only CIT she’d ever lost. She saw the faces of that family every time she sped off with E51.
Leaning over, Lucy pecked Nikili on the cheek. “You’re not leaving me. Not ever.” Her smart tie had quite a time taming her shellacked waves into a ponytail. Her hair just didn’t want to move. She shouldered the pack containing emergency repair equipment. With one arm, she swept her helmet off the shelf and set it into place.
Two metallic clicks with ensuing green lights around the necks signaled both of their helmets were fastened correctly. Lighter clicks with a pop of static announced the powering on of comm. links.
“E51 check. Lucy check,” Nikili said.
“I hear you, ORS Echols. ORS Ashida’s comm. is working properly.”
Lucy rolled her eyes at the AI replying for her. “It is. For the record, the third wheel in this relationship isn’t me.”
Despite standing next to Nikili, Lucy sounded a planet away through the headset.
“Rescuing we go.” Nikili placed her gloved hand on the hatch. The section she touched lit up in red. She tapped it, and the chamber sealed her and Lucy inside. A moment later, the seal broke on the hauler, allowing them entry.
Pausing on the threshold, Nikili searched the immediate environs. Rime coated the walls, floor, and ceiling. Lighting was off. Nikili’s gloved fingers brushed along the hairy frost. The rough texture left scratches in the glove. Just how cold was it?
She glanced at Lucy. “Stay close, Ashida.”