You know what I’ve always hated about this sort of thing? The lack of sensation. You’re flying through the empty void of space…and, yes, mister smarty-pants, I know that space isn’t ‘technically’ empty. There’s radiation, fine particles of space dust and ice, black matter or dark matter or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days, so I get it, but it’s practically empty. Anyway, you’ve jumped or been pushed or shot out of a tube (as in this particular case) and are nothing more than a projectile. An incredibly accurate one, as there’s no wind or gravity to alter your trajectory, so you’d best hope that whoever programmed the aiming and firing solution knew what the hell they were doing.
But, so, anyway…there’s no friction, no wind whipping past, no sound except the constant huff of your own breath and the occasional bit of communication in your helmet. “200 meters. Almost there.” Motia’s steady voice kept me from puking or shitting my suit or both. The Patagonia was coming up fast, and the whole thing was surreal and deceptive. She had no external lights on her hull, which was some dark steelskin anyway. That meant that just the slightest outlines and edges were going to be visible until we got closer. The faint glint of starlight tracing the edges of the massive derelict was all we had to gauge not only the girth of the thing, but how fast we were approaching it.
“100 meters. 75.” Damn, we were moving.
I hate this stuff, but Ray fuckin’ loves it. Of course he was the first one to the hull. The ship grew until it filled most of my vision, but it was still so dark that I had that terrifying sensation of trying to find a doorway in a pitch-black haunted house, your hand just out there in the void, flailing around until it touches something, then you nearly scream, before your synapses relay the information that what you came in contact with was, in fact, drywall, and not, as your primitive brain stem initially guessed, a monster with rows of serrated teeth. That’s what was going through my mind right before I got confirmation of Ray’s touchdown.
“Oh, yeah, you big black bitch! I’ma walk all over you and not even take my shoes off!”
“Ray, you’re almost there. Don’t forget—“
“I’ma seriously fuck up your carpet and drag my ass across you like a dog with ringworm!”
“RAY! Inertial recoil, NOW!”
“Oh, shit, watch! Cannonball time, suckaz!”
“Don’t ball up, god damn it!”
Then I felt, more than heard, the soft thud of Ray’s suit deploying his IDAR system, which stood for Inertial Dampening Anti-Recoil. We’d copied it from some old alien weapons, and it was a pretty crafty bit of reverse-engineering. It was currently saving Ray’s life, but if the fool didn’t plane out, there was a good chance he’d still skip off the hull and careen into the far reaches of space. But Ray lived for the rush, so there was no telling how it was going to go. We hadn’t lost him yet, but we all sort of knew that it was a matter of time, even though I felt that his end would somehow involve a flaming broadsword, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and about a thousand pounds of TNT. Skipping off a derelict spacecraft just wasn’t his style.
Shit, I hadn’t even been paying attention. Motia was chirping in my ear.
“Any time now, dude. You ain’t Ray. You need to stick this.”
POP POP POP POP POP went my suit as the IDAR rig did its thing, followed by the PUFF-UFF-UF-FFF and all of a sudden the big ship in front of me didn’t seem to be growing as quickly, and then there was a soft clanking noise…and that was it.
“Okay, you’re there. Bolt on, please.”
The whole trip is surreal, because, again, you have no sensation of speed. All of a sudden you’re just there. Without the IDAR system, I’m not sure how we would have done it, except maybe with bulky thrusters…but those would require fuel, along with a fine-tuned and well-timed deployment. Way above my abilities. No matter what, though, I was eager to use the “bolt poker” (really sort of like an old pneumatic nail gun, only this beauty fired rivet bolts into the skin of the craft, one, two, then I was able to attach my lanyard, double-secured, to insure that I wouldn’t float off. I mean, I was still anchored to an abandoned space ship. We were still careening through space. Without my suit, I’d suffocate, freeze, and be burned by cosmic radiation. We were still a million miles from Earth (our Earth!) But in that moment, I felt as secure as I was ever likely to. So weird, the things one gets accustomed to whilst jaunting through multiple universes and star systems.
“All accounted for?” Motia was doing a headcount.
“Here!” I offered. “But I think you forgot to assign homework.”
“You know I’m ready, guys. Let’s do this!” I looked over at Ray and he had wrapped his lanyard around the gloves of his suit, tightly. He proceeded to extend his body out in a straight, perpendicular line, away from the hull. “Look! I’m Atlas! Or one of those old gods, you know? Like, if you looked from like, over there…and you were upside-down, it looks like I’m lifting this fuckin’ ship! Like Superman with a semi truck! WOOOO!!!”
“That’s great, Ray. So, what next?” Motia had a video screen on the inner part of her suit’s left arm. It gave her readouts on all the team members’ status; oxygen, energy, etc. She checked it and pursed her lips.
“Whelp, once Bru-meister cracks this bad boy, we slip in and make our way to the bridge. My guess is they don’t know we’re coming.”
“Wait…’they?’ Who is ‘they?” I sputtered.
“Well, I don’t know ‘em personally, but hell, figure about fifteen crew?”
“Ray! Are you fucking serious?” Motia stared at him, gape-mouthed and incredulous.
“Yeah, but, you know…surprise, motherfuckers! We’re here!” Ray laughed.
“This was supposed to be a derelict vessel! Abandoned! Ours for the taking! That’s how you described it! ‘Ours for the goddam taking!”
“Yeah, and we’re gonna take it! If it was empty, I’d have said ‘ours for the finding’ or some shit. Taking. That’s what we’re doing. I thought it was pretty clear.”
“Fucking shit.” The rest of the crew expressed their exasperation. But we all knew that there was nothing else to do except cut open a hole, hope it wasn’t right in the middle of their rec room or whatever, glide in, and make our way through the cabins until we either killed, subdued, or captured all the occupants, then seize the ship and its contents. I really hoped there wasn’t any more killing. I had grown sick and tired of it. I guess that meant that my soul was still there, somewhere. Some guys just get numb to killing. It’s like they almost do it absent-mindedly, like a toddler picking his nose and wiping it on the couch. I just got sick of it, like I got sick of baloney when I was young and poor.
“Whelp, here we are. Brubaker, if you would be so kind as to create an entrance into this not-quite-abandoned space vehicle, we’d be much obliged.” Motia looked at her readout again. Her face told me she was doing calculations in her head. She must’ve come to a satisfactory conclusion to whatever problem she was working on, internally, because I noticed her nod, slightly, like she was telling herself. ‘Okay. We’re good.’
Brubaker began his cut. Again, it was disorienting to see the laser torch, but not hear it. Not hear the hull being sliced open. The good news was that nobody else would hear it either, hopefully…but the atmosphere inside the Patagonia, if life support was still operational, would conduct a lot more noise. Nothing we could do except wait.
I looked over at Ray. He was now ‘laying’ on the external hull with one arm drawn up under his head like a pillow, his legs casually crossed at the ankles. I heard his sigh in my headset.
“Guys…whatcha all thinking about?” he asked dreamily as he stared at the stars
“Murder.” Motia, through grinding teeth.
I noticed a dark shape float away from my vantage point, and realized it was the rectangular chunk of hull cut away by Bru’s torch.
“We’re in” he said, quietly, like he was already worried that the crew would hear us.
“Okay, let’s go.” Motia was first through the breach. I was so very relieved it hadn’t been Ray.