USD: Date Unknown

Location: Unknown Yellow Dwarf


Suppressing a third yawn, Alex looked at the back of the helmet. The sleek design had a single large gauge on the back, and it was all the way in the red, reading 0 psi.

The earlier thought she had that someone had collected up all the EVA helmets for their oxygen had been correct. They’d used it all in this room. Why’d they lock themselves in here when the rest of the ship still had oxygen?

Realizing it didn’t matter, and that she had no idea whatever the hell ‘Supplemental Nanite Oxygen’ was, she rapidly put the helmet on and snapped the locks into place. It would have been nice to grab one of the emergency heaters, but there wasn’t any oxygen in her new helmet or the armory.

Her trip through the breach was much easier with the helmet on, even if it did threaten to fog up on her for a second as she pushed through the hole and into the workshop. She’d forgotten to turn the stupid thing on; electronic systems, lense heater, and all the other things had been inert. Not that it had any oxygen stores left.

Thankfully, she was still protected from rapid depressurization. The small amount of dead air inside the bubble was enough insulation for the few seconds it took her to make it across.

That was going to be a problem if she was going to go out on a spacewalk long enough to grab the reactor rods.

|SNO2: 15% |

|SNO2: 14% |

|SNO2: 13% |

Realizing she was still breathing the dead air, she quickly undid the helmet and tore it off, taking several quick deep breaths.

[Notice: Oxygen Levels Nominal.]

“Nameless, what the fuck is ‘Supplemental Nanite Oxygen’ and why didn’t I pass out? Why didn't you warn me as soon as the levels started dropping!”

[Notice: Avatar functions include nanite performance enhancers, including NAO2, which provides calibrated Avatar enhancement in adverse conditions by acting as a collector of CO2 and distributor of O2 to maintain cerebral function.]

[Preference: User Preference for Immediate Environmental Hazard Warning Noted.]

Alex watched as the [SNO2] element rapidly returned to 100%. It had likely managed to help her navigate and survive the de-oxygenated armory, but it was still alarming that she had things like nanites inside of her. She had a deep feeling that it wasn’t normal.

“How long can the [SNO2] keep me breathing without air?”

[Warning: Inaccurate designation of [SNO2] function. [SNO2] does not---]

“Nevermind that, how long can the [SNO2] keep me conscious beyond normal?”

‘Fucking literal computer.’

[Warning: Numerous Variables preclude an accurate assessment of performance enha---]

“Just give me your best guess, fuck!”

Even if the computer couldn’t give her a more accurate number, from her experience in the armory, she knew she’d been in the vacuum and an oxygenless compartment for only a few minutes. It wasn’t going to be enough for the spacewalk. She was going to have to figure out how to refill the helmet canister. She was pretty sure that whoever had left the corpse in the armory had scoured the ship for whatever oxygen they could find.

[Supplemental: Best calculation of [SNO2] function en--]

“Nevermind that. Where is the ship getting oxygen from? Life-support wasn’t working before or they wouldn’t have locked themselves in the armory. Unless there is something else I’m missing. I need to get O2 into the helmet canister, asap.”

[Informative: During ship life support failure, the auxiliary life-support module in ShipCore has been operating for 27.5 cycles to replenish the ship's atmosphere. Reduced efficiency of ShipCore module is incapable of supporting current consumption. Estimated Consumption 770/lpm. Current O2 density of---]

Yikes, Nameless was getting a bit too wordy compared to how much time she had left, and Alex cut it off again.

“Nevermind all that. Can whatever it is refill the life-support canister. If yes, where?”

Nothing for a few seconds. Then an orange box highlighted a section inside the ship.

The non-verbal reply after being so wordy before almost had Alex thinking Nameless was sulking, but if the computer was going to be moody, that was a worry for later.

It turned out the section with the ‘Auxiliary Life-support’ was the first room Alex had emerged from. The solid white walls were utterly different from the rest of the ship and just felt… alien and wrong. Something told Alex ships weren’t supposed to be so… organically smooth like this.

“Well, I’m here. I don’t see where I can refill anything, though?”

That was when Alex realized the bench she had woken up on was completely missing from the room. Her first thought was someone else was on board the ship with her, but she was rapidly left re-evaluating that when a metal hose suddenly dropped from the ceiling on its own.

[Informative: Life Support Canister Model FH/2 standard connector, available.]

She could see that the hose had a standard connector, the added bit of information wasn’t needed. What Alex stared at in confusion was the way the hose had melted from the ceiling and formed in real-time.

That. Was. Not. Normal.

She hesitated to connect the hose to the EVA helmet when the time remaining until battery failure switched from a solid yellow to a blinking red as if Nameless had noticed her hesitation and was pushing her to move on.

[Interrogative: Gas Selection for EVA refill?]

Several different selections appeared, but Alex realized this likely wasn’t one of her areas of expertise because she had no idea what the various options meant.

“Just pick whatever is the best one.”

[Confirmation: Choosing Enhanced Gas mix for PLSS conversion via LiOH. Estimated enhanced efficiency of conversion: 107%]

That was gibberish to her; whatever she was before, it was more mechanist than chemist, so she ignored it and focused on the back of the helmet.

There was no need to remove the canister; an access port was located conveniently on the back for refilling or connecting to other suits on the fly. The feel and sound of high-pressure gas hissing through the line, along with the gauge rapidly tilting toward green, confirmed that it was working normally.

Alex’s stomach leaped for a second as she had a horrifying realization; she had not checked the helmet’s power level in the rush to get out of the armory. A single tap revealed it was green, though, and she managed to relax slightly. The corpse in the armory had needed all the helmets more for their oxygen rather than their power.

[Recommendation: Acquire Flight Suit before attempting extra-vehicular activity.]

“Do I seem crazy to you? I was going to pick up the one in Airlock H-1.”

[Determination: Analysis of Avatar's mental state is inconclusive.]


It was only a short walk to the Airlock, and the flight suit was still in a locker. They were more popularly called ‘Clamshells’ for some reason, though, being made up of a rigid upper torso with miniature plasma thrusters built into the surface. The addition to her suit was bulky as hell, but it had still been designed to be equipped while solo, so instead of impossible to put together, it was just annoying. Mainly because it took longer, and time was at a premium.

It would turn her ‘space walk’ into a miniature ‘space flight’ at least, which, as the ship shook again from another impact, was looking like a more and more critical variable. The outside of the ship was likely to be in worse shape than the inside; handholds were probably missing and being beholden to a tether would be a nightmare with debris flying around.

“Ok. Clamshell fully operational. O2 canister 3000 psi - green. Helmet Cell reads 98.5% - 3:26:55. Flight Cell reads Power - 99.9% / Propellant - 99.5% / FSI - Nominal / USRFA - Nominal. Everything seems good to go.”

Alex felt like she should have been calling this out to a flight controller, but she was alone… well, almost. Nameless didn’t have anything to add. She tapped her helmet twice for some arcane reason, then hit the airlock cycle.

The door opened with a buzz, then she moved inside and pressed the internal cycle lever. A hiss of gas escaping the small room vibrated inside her helmet before the sound of the ship was replaced by the quiet hum of her suit’s PLSS.

The skinsuit had ultra-thin magnets layered along the bottom of her feet, and they clicked on automatically. She was still in A-Grav, so it wasn't strictly necessary yet, and as she started along the long access catwalk from the Airlock to the ship’s outer shell, each step felt sticky.

The outer hull was a fair distance away and looking sunward had her pause in shock at just how battered it was. Even with the earlier sight of the massive gaping hole in Engineering, she hadn’t been prepared for a third of it being missing.

The side with the big hole facing engineering was the half that was in better shape, considering it was still attached to the inner ship… but that wasn’t much recommendation. The plating more resembled holey cheese than actual hull.

She could see three of the four attachment points that wedded the inner and outer segments together; they seemed to still be in good condition even if one ended abruptly at the end.

She didn’t see how the ship would ever be able to fly again, at least not on its main thruster, aside from a complete rebuild in a shipyard. It looked more like something any but the most desperate system fleet would scrap. Maybe it would be possible to get the Vernier thrusters working to maneuver, but even that would be risky without more repairs.

[Warning: Battery depletion in 14:59.]

It would take her at least five minutes to reboot the reactor; she needed to move on and worry about the rest later. Even if her suit’s life support systems would last longer now, she didn’t think restarting the reactor would work without ship’s backup power, so time was still critical.

“Nameless, do you have access to the ship systems? Can you shut down the A-Grav on the catwalk. I’ll just fly out.”

[Affirmative: Catwalk A-Grav can be deactivated on your command.]

Alex deactivated her mag-locks and then activated her flight controls on her palms and fingers without thinking about it, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Cut it.”

The second the gravity died, she pushed off with her feet. Prograde and retrograde markers on her helmet's HUD flipped around, and a flight interface appeared.

Her overlay added a lot more detail that she hadn’t expected. Little pieces of debris were suddenly highlighted in orange or yellow boxes with tiny white lines showing their trajectory.

There was a lot of it, just in between the Shrike’s inner and outer hulls. Well, that should have been expected, considering the rate of impacts and that the front third of the outer was missing.

Rotating her hand slightly, she nudged her course to avoid a collision with a steel beam and weaved her way through the hull's opening before flipping herself around while still moving away so she could get a view of the ship from the outside for the first time.

The hull that wasn’t pockmarked with holes or missing was a matte black; whatever decals or embellishments having been long faded away by the distant sun’s weak radiation. Weapon mounts of various sizes still dotted the hull, but most were empty with damaged or destroyed turrets stuck in a half-deployed state.

The sleek look indicated that the corvette had likely pulled double duty as atmospheric capable, with an outer edge that tapered into short, stubbed wings and a massive engine cowl that looked like it had been capable of vectoring thrust at one time.

That gave her a bit more hope about getting the ship’s maneuvering thrusters back online at least, there were dozens of them across the hull, and it was likely at least some of them worked. The trick would be balancing the thrust in a way that would not send the ship spinning in a drunken spin from off-balance forces.

[Suggestion: Keep flight vector in line with field of view to minimize collision probability.]

“I know what I’m doing--”

She cut off as two red lines suddenly shot through her vision and instantly recognized the danger. A single burst from her flight pack took her out of trouble, and seconds later, two pieces of metal almost too small to see flashed through where she would have been.


She centered her view on the Icon showing where the reactor rods were supposed to be; they were on the opposite side of the ship from her, so she fired herself on an oblique vector that would give her a chance to view the hull from that side.

It was darker, and the matte black made it hard to make out the hull. Some blocked memory told her that the ship's skin was supposed to be lit up by lights all over, that at the very least, the nameplate should be under a spotlight. Instead, nothing but two yellow and red lights were visible near one of the central airlock pillars that led to the inner hull.

Except as she looked at the locations the reactor rods were supposed to be floating at, she frowned. That part of the ship was still lit up slightly, and they were inside!

The angle of the hull was all wrong… and then she realized what she was seeing. Not just her ship, but a second ship had its nose embedded in the one she had just exited.

“There’s a second ship! You told me they were outside the hull!”

[Negatory: Your previous question inquired if the reactor rods were located inside the ship’s hull. They are not. They were located on another vessel.]

She wanted to curse at Nameless, but it was just a stupid computer. Glancing at the battery timer, she was down to thirteen minutes. The other ship’s hull looked like it was in much better condition despite having at some point rammed nose-first into the other. The few white lights still alive even indicated that it still had an operational reactor.

Alex felt herself relax a bit. Nothing required that she had to repair and revive the Shrike. This ship was smaller, almost half the corvette’s size, and likely would be easier for her to manage and repair.

She could abandon the reactor rod retrieval and figure out jury-rigging this new ship instead.

[Warning: Failure to restore power to Shrike II-Class will result in death of Avatar Alex with probability of 99.99%]


“What do you mean?”

[Warning: Failure to restore power to Shrike II-Class will result in death of Avatar Alex with probability of 99.99%]

“Why, dammit!”

[Informative: Failure of Power to Core Processing will result in Nanite Control Failure. This will result in a nearly inevitable cessation of your function.]

She still wasn’t sure what had been done to her; she’d put off thinking about it until there wasn’t impending death. Now, for whatever reason, the nanites that had been put in her while she’d been in cryosleep were putting her at risk.

She wanted to yell at the computer, at anyone. She didn’t remember agreeing to anything, couldn’t remember anything really. Who was she? There was nothing but a fuzzy cloud and assumed aptitudes that she'd pieced together. So many things felt familiar and kept coming up that she knew, but not how she knew. It had been eating at her and still was, but she’d been suppressing her emotions.


There wasn’t any time left. Alex would have squeezed her hands into fists, but that would have sent her flight pack into convulsions. A deep breath had to do, and she found her center again, shutting everything else down. It was time to do or die.

“Highlight entry points of the ship.”

She fired off a burst of speed toward the ship without waiting for the highlights, then nudged her trajectory to the one that lit up closer to the reactor rods.

Nameless was somehow able to read her thoughts when she focused, so she stopped verbalizing and just started thinking of her questions to save time.

‘Do you have schematics of the ship?’


‘The Airlocks will be locked, can you open them?’

[Notice: Remote access granted.]

[Informative: Ship schematics acquired. Airlock Cycle requires physical contact for an override.]

Alex frowned, but she pushed her vector’s speed until it turned red, and then she flared her braking thrust to maximum. It was a wasteful usage of propellant, but time was more important than fuel at the moment.

She grabbed hold of one of the bars around the Airlock, deactivated her flight controls then pressed her palm into the access point.

[Electronic Assimilation Routine: Success]

[Access Granted - Shipcore, Alex]

[Engineering Data: Processing]

[Data Readout, Begin.]

|Hound Class Gunship |

|Primary System Status Screen |

‘Cut it--- show fastest route to reactor rods. Is there an automatic rod control system?’

Suddenly an overlay of the ship's internals blurred over her vision, allowing her to see through the hull and where everything was supposed to be. That was very useful, and an orange line shot through things showing her the exact path to take to get to her target.

There were, unfortunately, a lot of doors between her and the reactor, or rods, even if the ship was smaller.

[Negative: No Rod Control System is present. Reactor rods currently in use are at 21% power. Rod storage shows three new reactor rods at 98.5% capacity.]

That seemed low to her, the rods should have been at 99.9% if unused, but she didn’t have time to calculate plasma rod decay rates.

‘Cycle the lock.’

It was agonizingly slow, and she realized going through the normal process would eat precious minutes of her time.

‘Atmospheric purge, override the airlock.’

[Affirmative: Raising Admin privileges to initiate Atmospheric purge.]

[Access Granted - Shipcore, Alex - Officer]

[Access Granted - Shipcore, Alex - Commander]

[Shipwide Atmospheric purge initiated.]

Alex slid to the side, out of the way of the door, and seconds later, the two heavy doors let out a hiss of air and opened. A torrent of debris and air exploded outwards out of the hatch. She didn’t risk moving back around or trying to look at whatever was being shot out like a cannon. Anything hitting her coming out would likely be as fatal as flying shrapnel.

Five minutes for rod install. Three minutes to get back if she flew through the hole in engineering. She looked at the clock.


She couldn’t wait for everything to finish venting, so when it was just a trickle, she levered herself around and onto the catwalk. A-Grav was still on, so many items had managed to settle themselves and avoid being purged, but as she studied the schematics, she noted that all the doors to the rod storage were opened and made a decision.

‘Shut off the A-Grav. Entire ship.’

[Affirmative: A-Grav offline.]

Gravity died, and she fired up her flight suit, shooting off down the catwalk at a stomach-churning speed before anything floated up into her way. As soon as she was to the inner ship, she cut her speed in half, then cut her velocity completely to make a 90 degree turn down another corridor.

The ship was in much better condition than the Shrike, which she was very grateful for as she dodged two pieces of debris as she shot down the hall. She felt like giggling; one small error in her flight path was going to decapitate her.

As she blew through Engineering, she had to cut speed from assuredly fatal to merely hair-raising, passing by the reactor and cutting toward the primary storage. The heavy braking blast brought her to a stop right in front of a rod array.

It was, of course, closed and locked.

‘A-Grav, on.’

It obeyed without the need for confirmation, but that didn’t help with the problem.

Of course, no one would store something as crucial as reactor rods in the open where anyone could grab them. They were behind heavy ballistic glass, and cycling the thing open typically took several minutes; there usually wasn’t a huge need to change them since they could last years before needing to be replaced depending on usage.

Those were minutes Alex didn’t have. There was thankfully a long length of steel lying nearby.

Using it like a spear, Alex slammed the pointier end into the ballistic glass. It didn’t punch through, but a spiderweb of cracks appeared.

[Notice: Performing visual analysis of material integrity. Weak points highlighting.]

Alex aimed the second and third strike on the yellow dots, and the fourth punched through, plunging between two of the rods. She pulled it back out slightly then used it as a lever to pry sideways, and a large section split away. It still wasn’t enough to slide out, but a few heavy overhead bashes later, the glass had mostly given way.

She’d need all three rods eventually, but she only bothered to grab the easiest one to get. The rod was annoyingly long anyway, almost as tall as she was, and it was going to make maneuvering while holding it a pain.

‘Cut A-Grav.’

It took a bit more care to fly through the ship this time, things were tossed about from the gravity flipping and atmo purge, and she was essentially carrying a long lance under her arm that could easily snag her if it hit something. That almost happened when a toolbox bounced off a wall and into her path. Luckily it only clipped her arm as she spun herself around in a half rotation.

The rest of the way out was about the same as the way in, and then she immediately vectored toward the hole in the Shrike’s engineering on the other side of the ship.

[Warning: Incoming Debris field detected.]

Couldn’t she get a fucking break?

Her HUD suddenly turned into a cloud of red blips, with crisscrossing red crosshatches going in every direction. They cut off at a thought, the mess being useless for dodging. There wasn’t anywhere to dodge to.

She could see them sparkling against the black of space and the shell of debris that covered her view, a sea of silver and white metal and ceramic with her name on their hit list.

She'd almost made it; it really wasn't fair.

[Recommendation: Transfer Flight Control Immediately.]

[Recommendation: Transfer Flight Control Immediately.]

She could see the sea of streaks and glares coming toward her even without the HUD; there were thousands. What was the point? Still, Nameless was spamming her frantically, and she mumbled a fatalistic affirmative.

The sudden thrust threatened to dislodge the reactor rod from her grip, and she found herself shooting off in a random direction. Suddenly she was ripped another way and was forced to use both arms to clench the reactor rod to her as tightly as she could.

A third turn had her pulling more Gs than any human had any right to attempt while conscious, but the question of why she didn’t black or redout immediately was interrupted by another brutal course correction.

Her entire world narrowed down to nothing but clinging to the rod against her chest as she was callously ping-ponged in a wild frenzy.

[Recommendation: Arrival imminent, take control.]

[Recommendation: Arrival imminent, take control.]

She was too dazed to do anything, so as soon as she passed through the I-field and entered the Shrike’s Engineering, the A-Grav slammed her into the floor.

Alex groaned and tried to move but found it impossible. Everything hurt; she felt like everything was broken, and her head was pounding like a drum. The familiar whine of the Shrike’s distressed machinery called to her, but it took another moment before she managed to lever herself to a sitting position.

[Recommendation: Install Reactor Rod - 4:53]

[Recommendation: Install Reactor Rod - 4:52]

[Recommendation: Install Reactor Rod - 4:52]

[Recommendation: Install Reactor Rod - 4:51]

She felt giddy; it was getting obvious to her that the computer had some emotions, at least. Desperation was evident more and more by the volume of spam it sent at her.

“Shut up, I know, I hear you. I’m trying.”

She used the reactor rod as a prop to get to her feet, then moved drunkenly toward the ship reactor.

“Cut the power to A-Grav everywhere but Engineering. Turn off all non-essential systems. Keep the lights here on.”

The clock mercifully ticked upward.


Just enough time. Alex was glad she had purged the rods earlier, because the high G force maneuvers made her feel like someone had knocked her out repeatedly, or she'd had one too many cocktails at a bender.

[Notice: Cerebral Function restoration in progress.]

It was good to know something was being repaired, because she fumbled the first set of commands of the rod insertion procedure, despite being sure she had done it a million times before.

Things started to go smoothly after that, although she didn’t feel much better. Just as she clicked the final activation command, she felt the urge to puke but only managed several dry heaves as she slid down onto her knees. Probably because she hadn’t eaten or drank anything since waking up.


[Notice: Power restored, Displaying Reactor Readout.]

|Reactor: ONLINE |


||| R1: 98.5 | R2: 0 | R3:0 |||

[Notice: ShipCore Systems Reboot Initiated]

[Notice: Nanite Command Module Activated, Ship Assimilation Recommencing.]


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About the author


  • West Virginia, USA
  • Author

Bio: Still alive, yes.

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