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72:49:02

72:49:01

72:&9:00

The airlock wouldn’t open, even when she flipped the lever. Annie suppressed her urge to yell in anger, this just wasn’t the time. She had spent four hours worth of power on the scanner just to find a magnetic asteroid, nine hours on the sub-light thrusters just to get to it and none of that was including the two actual hours of time the entire endeavor had taken. Her life was fifteen hours shorter in exchange for an oversized magnetic rock.

And now the airlock wouldn’t open.

Her little hands pulled down the steel lever yet again.

Thunk.

She let go when nothing happened. She had shut down non-essential systems, but the airlock shouldn’t be affected as far as she knew.

“Voice command: Open airlock.”

Nothing.

The clock was ticking.

“Navigator?” She knew she was talking to a dreamer, but it was the best she had. Her lips felt dry as he spoke, “I need to get into the airlock. I won’t make it if I can’t get that asteroid.”

Nothing.

Well, it was worth a shot-

The doors flung open, rapid decompression flinging her out the airlock in an uncontrolled spasm.

The cold vacuum of space tore at the skin of her face, already she felt the fluids under her skin begin to revolt, the human body was not made for this. The saliva in her mouth began to bubble as it boiled away inside her mouth.

Knowing she only had seconds to live, Annie desperately shoved her helmet onto her head, scrambling with the seals as she tumbled end over end through the open void. Her little fingers slipped over the latches one by one, desperately hoping to close them fast enough to save her life. Once the task was done, she slammed two fingers on the suits pressure button. Her ears burst with pain as they made an unnaturally abrupt transition between pressures. She gulped down air in a frenzy of terrified breathing and yelps of pain. The agony was incredible, more than anything that she had felt before. The tough little captain’s tears spattered the helmet as she fell uncontrolled through the void. Her vision began to fade as she felt the pull of unconsciousness pulling her away from the pain and the panic.

But she couldn’t let that happen.

Focus or you’re dead, she told herself.

The pain was her friend, she focused on it. The red-hot needles were the only company she needed.

She had come so near to death. If her helmet hadn’t been in her hand…

But this wasn’t Annie’s first brush with near death, nor would it be her last.

Annie had far more to deal with than just the one crisis.

She hadn’t clipped in, that was meant to be done inside the airlock. Which meant she was currently getting farther and farther away from the ship as she tumbled into the interstellar blackness. There is no air resistance in space, nothing to grab, no way to stop yourself or turns yourself around. Fortunately, most pressure suits had a few small thrusters that allowed the wearer to maneuver. She activated hers and used the little blasts of fire to right herself.

This wasn’t the plan at all, she was supposed to do this carefully with a prepared approach to the asteroid to prevent being smashed to pieces by the gigantic chunk of metal that was hurtling through space. Apparently, caution wasn’t how her day was going to work.

She was disoriented, it wasn’t easy to tell exactly where she had gone, so all she had to work with were the visuals. The Nightingale was as dark as anything else without sunlight, but the airlock still seemed to be open, leaving a small beacon of light that let her see where she was going. It would have been lost among the lights of millions of stars, were it not for the fact that she was still just close enough to see that it was roughly square in shape. She was nearly a quarter of a kilometer away by her count, which meant that she had flown out at a terrifying velocity that she decided not to calculate.

Space was a bit odd, there was no air resistance, which meant that once you were moving in a direction you would not be able to stop unless you applied an equal amount of force in the opposite direction. Unless you hit something of course.

That meant that Annie only had to pulse her little jets for a few short moments in order to send herself drifting back towards the ship. The thrusters didn’t have much battery power, so any more than that was a waste.

Her suit was pressurized, her tumbling had been controlled and she was on course to connect to the Nightingale. If only that was the end of her problems.

The asteroid she had found was actually heading roughly toward the Nightingale, she had planned to snare it as it passed by. Unfortunately, that meant that she had a very limited window of time to pull this off before the big magnet passed them by. Sure, the Nightingale could chase after it, but that would waste even more power that she just couldn’t afford.

She pushed the comms button on her helmet.

“Spotlight on the asteroid if you please Mister Navi- uh.” She was so used to performing tasks like this while Nav was at the control panel that she felt vulnerable now without the big metal robot. “Voice Command: Spotlight projected at the passing asteroid.”

The ship light turned on, highlighting the rough-shaped magnet that was tearing its way through space. It was smaller than she thought, maybe half as large as the Nightingale. Of course, that still made it gigantic compared to her, so she’d need to be very careful not to collide with the thing. Not that that was the plan.

Reaching the ship, she opened up a small hatch near the outside of the airlock, largely full of tools and items that were only useful outside the vessel. First, she pulled a long chord out from a reel and hooked it onto her harness. She didn’t fancy a repeat incident of the last few minutes after all. Then she retrieved a large harpoon gun with a metal rope. The Harpoon was a military design, meant for use while forcibly boarding enemy ships. The tip was capable of piercing ship grade alloys, which were orders of magnitude stronger than most natural metals. The rope was equally as strong, having been built to drag other ships if necessary. If anything could catch an asteroid, it was this thing.

She didn’t have time to waste, so she kicked herself off from the surface and into the path of the asteroid. For a space object, it was travelling quite slow, maybe a hundred and fifty kilometers an hour, but that was enough to make it a nearly impossible target if Annie tried to shoot it with the harpoon as it rushed past.

No, Annie would need to be in front of it when she fired.

And then she’d need to get the heck out of the way before she became a very flat little girl.

She was in position, and let the thrusters bring her to a stop. For the first time since this whole debacle had started, she had a moment to rest and to think. About two minutes until the magnet was close enough actually.

Why didn’t the door open? And when it eventually did, why did it open both doors at once? She had just had it checked before they left port, and Kaori even claimed that it was one of the ships more reliable systems. Would this have been more sabotage from Milah and Nate? She doubted it, they didn’t seem to want her dead, they just wanted the treasure. For that matter, Nate really didn’t seem the treacherous type, was he really in on this? She doubted it. He really seemed like the type to just do whatever an authority figure told him to do, so this was most likely Milah’s doing. Although he did act way differently while they were in Chrysanthemum. He wasn’t at all like the weak-willed kid she had seen on Scrappis IV. Plus, the kid had just gotten his heart broken. In Annie’s experience that usually went one of two ways. People who were abused, betrayed or hurt either vow to never do that to someone else, or they find themselves becoming more and more like the ones who hurt them. Was it possible Nate had just been a little faster on the second path?

Either way, Nate was going to go down just the same as that wannabe-movie-star robot once Annie got to Relic. No one double crosses Captain Annabelle Constantine and gets away with it.

The asteroid was closer now, close enough to see the rough pockmarks on the surface. It was now or never. She hefted the harpoon up onto her shoulder and took aim. Annie didn’t really like space guns, she loved the look of a spout of fire emerging from the barrel of the gun when fired. Since there wasn’t air in space, that meant that guns designed to work in a zero pressure environment didn’t do that. The harpoon launched from the gun, making no sound in the void. Space guns were terribly anti-climactic. The spear drove right into the center of the oncoming asteroid, sending metallic fragments rocketing out into space, fated to drift endlessly. The recoil of the gun caused her to be pushed backward, but she compensated with a little blast of her jets. Or at least she meant to, the jets were unresponsive. She searched for the cause and found a low battery notification on the suits heads-up display. How was that possible? She had barely used it! She checked the battery, painfully aware of the space rock that was rapidly approaching. The answer was obvious once she looked. A screwdriver had impaled the battery, likely in the opening moments after she as well as any unsecured contents of her locker room had flown out from the airlock. Kaori must have left it out, neither Nav or Annie would have been so sloppy.

What a stupid reason to die.

Without her jets, there was no way she could get out of the way of the looming space rock, she couldn’t even use the communicator to order herself to be reeled in. But Annie wasn’t one to give up in the face of impossible odds.

She tossed the harpoon towards the ship for later retrieval, and then snatched at her safety line, pulling herself as quickly as she could back towards the ship. It was futile of course.

Maybe if she was older she would have been fast enough, but her tiny frame was just not up to the task.

But Annie would not go quietly. Aching muscles dragged her closer, her ragged breathing overcoming the intense ringing in her ears.

And then something odd happened.

The ship started reeling her in.

She hadn’t ordered it. No one could have ordered it.

Unless someone was on her ship.

The Asteroid rushed past her, soon growing taut on its line. Well, that was a success at least. Now to find out who the trespasser was to had saved her life. She yanked the screwdriver out of the battery pack and held it like a dagger. She entered into the airlock, her boots clanging on the metal floor. Her fist hammered the door closed, finally sealing the ship.

She saw the figure immediately. It was standing there, staring at a control panel that was connected to the ships outer tools. The figure was unnaturally still.

And Annie didn’t expect it to move, the more obvious question was how it got there in the first place. The empty husk of a droid stared at the controls, motionless. There was no light behind the robotic face. It was one of the spares that wasn’t being used by any of the crew members.

But all ai had been shut down aboard the ship, so how did an empty robotic body save her life?

;2:4?:06

72:41:<|

I2:WI:0L

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A note from WillCereal

I have to say, I really am enjoying writing the story in smaller pieces like this.
For me, writing is about momentum. It takes be a lot of time (and caffeine) to get a real momentum going on a scene, but once I’ve gotten it down I become a word factory, pumping out prose at an obscene speed. Unfortunately, my momentum is rather easy to break, and it’s usually gone when I switch to writing another scene.

Writing shorter pieces like this is much easier for me because I can get my writing groove on and not have to transition as much between scenes.

Either way, I hope you liked it, it took my brain a while to adjust to this arc, but I’m 100% in it now, and I’m excited to show you where the story goes!

-Will Cereal


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Ashcheul @Ashcheul ago

Thank you for the chapter!

It's great that you are in the zone Very Happy