2947-06-11 – Tales from the Inbox: Visitation in the Void

An anonymous member of the audience sent me an interesting file-cache which purports to link Sagittarian activity with sightings of KR-type vessels operated by Ladeonist radicals. I don’t have any way of verifying this information from Håkøya, but I have passed it along to Ashton at Centauri; hopefully with the data-feed aggregation of the Core Worlds, he can see if there’s anything to this theory. Perhaps the Ladeonists see in the Sagittarians a force which has a hope of annoying the Confederated Worlds? It’s an interesting idea, but not one which we have any hard evidence for as of yet.

This week’s entry of Tales from the Inbox features a nightmare scenario for any spacer: After an accident aboard the mercenary squadron carrier Sergio Lando, Johan M. found himself alone on the silent ship, the rest of the crew having swarmed into the launches and limped from their dying transport to a nearby world.

His story is odd, as he freely admits his sanity was not quite intact during the ordeal or afterwards. Many marooned spacers facing death have claimed to be visited by spirits in the void, and perhaps this is nothing more than an extension of that legend brought to life by a stressed and sleep-deprived imagination.

Perhaps, on the other hand, something did visit Johan. He is happy to admit that he is such an inexperienced spacer that without what the “ghost” said about vacsuits, he’d never have thought of breaking into the EVA lockers, and it is exactly this tactic which saved his life for the five weeks which he remained marooned before his crew returned for their belongings. Though Lando was a total loss, I am told that the mercenaries have since acquired a new carrier (which for such people usually means a ninety-year-old, stripped-down cargo hull) and are refitting it.

Johan kicked the half-disassembled terminal in frustration, then became even more frustrated as the impact pushed him backward slowly across the compartment, rotating lazily until he managed to catch one of the handgrips which had protruded from the bulkhead panels with the loss of A-grav power. A better circuitry technician might have been able to coax the terminal to life with Sergio Lando’s emergency power network, but Johan was a bookkeeper, not an electrician.

Of course, he didn’t have the opportunity of calling for the help of one of the dozen-odd techs of the normal crew. They had left, along with the rest of the crew and the normally hard-bitten and unflappable combat squadron. Lando’s corridors had become as lifeless as its reactor.

Based on what he could glean from the fragment of ship’s datasphere still online, Johan knew he’d been unconscious for almost fifteen hours after the blast, and that thirty-one hours had elapsed since he’d come to. That the big ship’s pressure hull and rad-shielding had survived a reactor containment excursion had been something of a miracle; that the dazed crew had elected to abandon ship in the company’s flotilla of launches and assault craft likely seemed only too prudent at the time.

The only problem was that, in their frenzied rush to escape a dying starship, Johan’s compatriots had left him behind. Since he was separated from his comm at the time of the blast and had taken pains not to have his movements noticed, there had been little hope of being found in his unconsciousness before Boss McKay cut his losses and launched the last boats.

After he’d stopped shouting incoherently out a viewport at the empty space through which Sergio Lando would now likely drift forever, Johan had decided that the situation was not entirely hopeless. A hasty evacuation would mean that much of the company’s equipment and stores were left behind, and McKay had come up through the mercenary ranks after a short career with a dubiously-legal salvage crew. He wouldn’t leave a hundred k-creds of perfectly good kit sitting in a derelict forever. All Johan needed to do was survive until someone came back to strip the hulk, and he would be rescued.

The cold comfort of this likely rescue had faded quickly, of course. Without main power, Lando could not run its atmospherics, and even the best insulation would surrender precious warmth to the interstellar void without the reactor’s waste heat to replace it. With full larders stocked for a crew of fifty, Johan had no fear of starving, and the water reservoir would last more than a month even if he didn’t get the wastewater recycler working. Air and heat were the only two problems that he had to conquer.

If only he was a born spacer like the rest of the company, there would have been no problems, but Johan had none of the skills of his starfaring coworkers. He had been hired because of his ability to balance the books to keep everyone (especially the strike-jocks) in the dark about the company’s financial situation, either good or ill. Boss McKay found his riotous crew far easier to manage if there was not daily drama regarding the outfit’s bottom line. Johan spent most of his shifts making weeks of both extreme profit and extreme loss seem to be average, unremarkable times, even though such times were all but impossible to find in the mercenary business. He’d never so much as popped the access panels on a terminal before, and now he needed to wire the emergency batteries into a number of systems designed to work only on the main reactor-power circuit if he was going to survive.

Smacking the bulkhead with one palm, Johan glared at the terminal across the compartment again. Without A-grav, cabling bobbed free in the open air, resembling the tentacle-arms of an Earthly anemone. Before he touched the atmospherics, he’d wanted to get enough of the datasphere online to retrieve walkthrough instructions on what he was about to do, but even this simple task had failed in a serpent’s nest of color-coded cabling. After all, Johan had never even learned what a red cable with black rings meant. A task carefully designed to be easy for a systems tech had defeated him completely.

As the marooned book-keeper considered whether to stake his life on a fifty-fifty chance of frying his only hope of getting instructions, or to bed down and hope that a few hours’ delay wouldn’t result in a slow death by asphyxiation, the whole ship shuddered slightly. Normally such tremors and vibrations would have failed to even rise to his attention, but Johan looked around wild-eyed, knowing that no system or person capable of causing it remained on board. Was it a precursor to further outbursts by the damaged reactor? Was he about to be blasted into a smear of unrecognizable goo by a cataclysm of strange-matter emissions?

The shudder repeated itself, and this time Johan realized the source was forward, away from the simmering wreck of the reactor. Somehow, this did not comfort him. Stewing in his own fear, he picked his way from handhold to handhold, heading for the access tunnel which would let him pursue the sound. It seemed to repeat every thirty seconds, and as he followed it Johan wondered whether some piece of heavy equipment had come loose and was bouncing about in a compartment.

The tremors led Johan to the cruise bridge, a wide compartment with a horseshoe belt of smart-glass allowing the crew within to see the empty vastness through which they flew. With only the weak emergency lights on, some of the stars beyond the glass glowed pitilessly into the empty command deck. There was nothing loose on the bridge large enough to make such a racket.

Just as Johan turned to leave and check the compartments one deck below, the tremor occurred again. He could hear more this time; a scraping of metal against metal carried through the structure of the ship rather than through the air. Nervously, he turned back to the armor-glass, peering out into the void around the ship’s blunt prow, and waited.

“Knock knock.”

At the sound of a voice behind him, Johan screamed and spun in place, body unable to leap as violently as his heart only because his feet did not touch the deck in zero-gee. Behind him, drifting calmly in the middle of the bridge, was a pale-skinned woman in an unfamiliar type of space-suit, helmet missing.

“No need for that.” The pale woman kicked off one of the crash-padded bridge chairs toward him. “What happened to your ship?”

“I…” Johan pressed his back against the cool armor-glass. The woman wasn’t armed, but he had every certainty that she could kill him. There was an insubstantial quality to her voice and ivory-pale skin which suggested more death than life, even as living mirth danced in her eyes and twisted her thin lips into a wry grin. “Reactor… problem. Don’t know much more.”

“Interesting.” This answer seemed to be a confirmation for the intruder. “Mind if I have a look at the problem?”

“You can… fix it?”

She laughed, and the sound carried enough of that same combination of lifeless cold and boundless life that Johan almost kicked off the window and bolted. “Nope. I just want to look and see how it failed.”

“I…” Johan knew he should ask why, but the question died before he formed it. “I suppose.”

“Excellent.” The woman put a hand on the glass next to Johan’s head to stop her forward drift, and for an instant her face was inches from his. “I’ll leave you to your repairs, then.” She pushed off and headed for the doorway at the back of the bridge. “Bye now!”

Johan almost watched dumbstruck as she disappeared, but his survival instinct kicked in just in time. “Wait!”

She spun around, but kept drifting away. “I can’t stay long, Skipper.”

“I can’t fix the ship. I’m going to die.”

The woman laughed again. “Probably not any time soon, with all those fully charged vacsuits in the EVA bay.”

“Suits..?” Johan hadn’t considered this. The atmosphere in the ship would soon grow cold and stale, but each suit battery and atmosphere canister would last several days.

“Good talk, but I really can’t stay.” The woman kicked off the door-frame as she left the room. Johan heard her kick off one more bulkhead outside. A strange sizzling sound followed, then silence reigned. Once again, Johan was alone.