SOS (part 3)

This is the third installment of my SOS story, the first of which can be read here (and the second there but who in their right mind would start reading a story in its middle?)

Aboard the spaceship Locust, Val and Sam have picked up a distress call. On site, Sam has gone looking for survivors inside the wreck of the Scintillating. He's just actually heard one.

I switched back to Val’s band. “Val, you there? We’ve got a survivor. She’s the one talking on band eighty. She’s completely tripping. I'm switching over for three minutes tops, to try and locate her.”

“Understood.”

I switched back again. And again, the terrified voice.

“… here, if you don’t come and get me! Listen to me! Don’t leave! I don’t know—”

“This is Sam Foster, of the Tin Locust. Can you hear me?”

The voice stopped completely. For a time I thought I might have lost the signal, so I tried again:

“Can you hear me?”

“Y-yes! I hear you! Great gods, I hear you! Come get me! Get me out of here!”

“Getting you out of here is the plan, uh, what’s your name?”

“Flora. Flora Kesler.”

“Hi, Flora. I'm Sam. Do you know where you are? In your cabin?”

“No. They took us somewhere after the first explosion. The officers really wanted us out of there. And then there was a second explosion. I lost consciousness and when I came to, I was alone in this room...”

“In which direction did they take you? Towards the bow? “The what?”

“... towards the front of the ship?”

“I don’t know… they... they took us to the bridge! Near where the captain’s quarters were!”

The bow it was, then. I kept walking, placing my relays at each intersection, continuing my little chat with the chick. From her description, they had left her in a life support room, probably because they were out of suspension pods. The door out was locked. She’d found the survival rations, and the blankets, and she’d discovered the sanitaries, as they dare call that.

But when it came to me locating her, I was sh—ort on luck. I’d reached a junction at the end of the corridor: one door to the left, one to the right, one dead ahead, and a staircase. The girl didn’t remember which way they’d followed. Where she was, there wasn’t a single text or number on the walls or on the door to give us a hint. Total dark. I needed a map.

I told the chick that I needed to switch back shortly to Val for routine checks.

“Val, did you download the ship's blueprints, by any chance?”

“I haven't received them yet. Why?”

“I've zero lead to find the girl, and it's going to take a long time. Mind you, she said she's still got rations for two days, so there's no real hurry–”

“I'm afraid there is, Sam. With the Locust locked on the wreck's trajectory, I've been able to estimate that it's on course to cross Hawking' surface and in thirty hours, the wreck's overall inside temperature will have become unbearable for life.”

Great.

“Can we stray the wreck from its course?”

“We could try lighting up the remaining thruster and turning the fall into a slingshot around Hawkins. She might survive the lesser temperature rise, but she would literally run her water reserves dry too soon.”

“Ok, so the plan becomes: forget about ID-ing the dead, locate the girl and bring her aboard the Locust as soon as possible, then ferry her to the closest station. How long until we have to move the Locust away?”

“Twenty to twenty-five hours. Priority on finding the girl, but you can record identities for any bodies you find on your way, provided you don't need to search for too long. And don't tell her about the deadline.”

“Ok.”

I resumed walking the corridor and switched back on eighty.

“Sam? Are you still there? I can’t hear you!”

“I’m here, Flora. Everything’s fine. Only hitch is, I can’t head straight toward you because I don’t have a map of the ship, and even if I had one, I still don’t know where you are.”

“Don’t leave me here!”

“I won’t. I’ll find you, it’s just going to take a bit of time.” The door ahead led into the rest of the corridor. The stairs led up to a maintenance shaft and the main corridor. Chances were that the doors on each side led to cabins or storage. On a hunch, I decided to open the door to the left.

It was another airlock, but this time, there was pressure on the other side. Good sign. I closed the exterior door and equalized.

“Val, I’m in the airlock of a pressurized area of the ship. I’m going to try to see if I can breathe it. Pressure... zero ninety-five, O-two twenty. Breathable. Let’s see what that gives.”

“Copy that.”

I put my hands over my helmet’s lock, took in a deep breath, and took off my helmet in one swift movement. No point hesitating.

To call the air breathable was overstating it. The undefinable smell that saturated the air could only mean one thing: death. When a spaceship depressurizes, bodies are ejected, and there’s no air to carry scents anymore. But in a part of a ship that’s still airtight, it’s awful.

I opened the interior door of the airlock and walked in. It was a vault. Sixteen suspended animation pods in two rows. All without power. Not a blip. Not a light. I closed in on the first pod and looked inside. Checked out, of course. I didn’t need to look at the others to know they were all dead cold. The stasis sequence had screwed up, probably from power loss.

I didn’t tell the girl what I’d found; instead I said that I had to renew contact with the Locust. I switched to Val’s frequency band.

“Val?”

“Here, Sam. Did you find her?”

“Not yet. But I found a stasis vault. I’ve got sixteen stiffs here.”

“Ready to record IDs.”

I inspected each pod, one by one. Thankfully, these deads were pretty conscientious, as they all wore their identification badges. I recited the first fifteen names, then stopped at the last pod. After a while, Val spoke:

“Sam, I’ve got fifteen names here. Weren’t there sixteen of them?”

I looked again at the pod. And its occupant’s badge. After another long moment, I answered:

“Val… Do you believe in ghosts?”

Continue to part four

Albert