Scrap And Bone

This is another long short story (about 20000 words). It’s also a return to Sci-Fi, which is no great surprise as that is mainly what I write. But that’s enough from me. Take a look and see what you think of Scrap And Bone.

“Just how long is it ‘til we get to this Helen station that we’re headed to?” Peter Von Haug, one of the six person crew of a thirty metre long starship known as the Barrett, asks from the discomfort of the high backed upright seat which he is strapped into on the open bridge.

“You mean The Helix, not Helen.” Imran Siddiq, captain of the Barrett replies with a roll of his eyes and a shake of his head.

“Yeah, whatever.” Peter Von Haug, referred to more commonly as Von by the crew of the Barrett, says as his brown eyes linger on the rear of Imran’s seat. He can’t see the face of the man, who is his captain, but he doesn’t need to to know that he’s just rolled his eyes at Von. He can tell by the tone of his voice alone that that is was Imran has done. Though, none of the crew refer to him as Imran or captain, instead he is simply Im. In fact, all members of the crew have shortened names. It’s a by-product of needing to convey orders, instructions and requests in as short of a time period as possible.

“Not long now Von, hold your horses.” Lester Bell says with a smile spread across his round face as his blond hair hangs down over the upper millimetres of his eye line. His blue eyes are focused entirely on the view beyond the wide canopy of the Barrett even though the view is simply smeared white lights blurred across the canvas before him.

“Why do you insist on using that outdated remark, Les?” Von asks with a shake of his head as he fidgets against the harness straps that are keeping him pressed against the cracked material that covers the cushions on his seat. Alongside him is Werner Brent, nicknamed Ren as it appears twice in his full name. That was an obvious statement that Von had pointed out when the man who is equal in height and build to him first joined the crew. Von can’t remember how long ago that was and he takes that as a good sign. In fact, Von can’t remember how long it’s been since this crew changed personnel. That was a testament to how Im treated his crew even if he was as bald as a coot but liked to make out it was a personal choice.

“Just so I can grind your gears mate, you know that.” Les remarks seconds before his free hand drifts over the raft of knobs, switches and levers on the console before him to run through a bunch of checks. The results of which are being displayed on the heads-up display that he is wearing like a pair of glasses over his eyes. It’s how he avoids ever having to look at any of the console inputs. The result however is that Les often looks like he is staring blankly into the void. It’s a habit he’s perfected outside of the flight seat as well and has resulted in more than a few unwelcome and unintended confrontations which the muscle of the crew, Bogdan Robar has had to step in to prevent.

Bogdan, or Dan as he is more often called, is sat behind Ren absentmindedly flicking his tongue against a tiny gap between two of his front teeth. It’s a habit he has when trying to get a morsel of food free seeing as he has nothing else for him to do while in flight. Like most of the crew, except for Les that is. Though, Im has at least the capacity to issue orders. Not that he does that often because Les isn’t a novice pilot on his first run with this crew, or any other.

“Do I get a straight answer though?” Von then asks trying to goad a response out of either Les or Im. A wide mischievous smile plastered across his face as he ignores the possibility that there is a need for silence while Les performs whatever checks or calculations are necessary to ensure their approach to The Helix isn’t disastrous.

“You ask too many questions Von.” Dan adds with his thick accent which is the big man’s way of telling Von to shut up and be patient.

“Just trying to pass the time is all.” Von says trying to pull himself forward far enough so that he can look round and over his shoulder to get a glimpse at Dan. He can’t really but still his struggle to attempt such a feat makes Dan and Ren chuckle.

Ren says nothing mainly because he hates space flight, which is odd when you work on a starship that jumps around the Aurora Sector of space looking for scrap to salvage and sell on. But his reasoning for braving the flights is that he earns in a single salvage what he’d earn in a month back on the colony worlds. None of the crew can argue that as no truer words could be spoken. To a point it is why they are all here, on this ship. Plus their paydays were about to get much bigger now that they have landed a salvage job for the expanding Unified Mining Confederate, or UMC, who have recently embarked on diversifying their interests in the hopes of advancing their power, reach and most importantly profit. The crew of the Barrett are under no illusions that the UMC will sell the scrap they recover for perhaps three times what they’ll be paid for it, but seeing as the UMC have the buyers they aren’t that fussed. Especially, as those buyers are likely other divisions of UMC themselves. None of them quite understand why a division of UMC will pay such a premium when they are part of the same corporation but then that is why they work as salvagers and not as corporate suits.

“If only your mouth would stop so we could pass the time in peace.” Alicia Mars, the only female member of the salvage crew, says taking a jab at the fact that Von is probably the most talkative person that anyone could have the misfortune of having aboard a salvage ship like this one.

“Hater.” Von calls back after having lifted his chin high into the air.

“Von shut ya mouth.” Im demands only for Von to raise both his hands and turn his head left and right as he feigns feeling hurt by the order. He is trying to silently point out that everyone has spoken, except for Ren that is.

“And stop with the mock shock while you’re at it.” Im then adds before the left side of his lips are pulled into a smirk. Im keeps his focus dead ahead as he waits for the mass of the abandoned space station, The Helix, to come into view. It will be the first time Im will have seen the abandoned station, that rests between the Weaver and Krane systems, in the flesh, but he knows the stories.

Dan roars loudly at the admonishment but receives no reprimand for his actions which only further exasperates Von’s feeling of being singled out. He isn’t really hurt but as he leans forward, having finally managed to strain against the harness that had been holding him in the seat, so he can continue his show of forced pain. Von can’t see Alicia, as she is sat directly behind him, but he can see the faces of Ren and Dan. Dan is still chuckling, his massive shoulders jumping up and down as he looks over at Von, while Ren is simply wearing a wide smile and shaking his head. They all know that is as much as Ren will be able to manage until they dock with The Helix. He is trying every trick he has to keep himself from over-thinking his situation but would have to admit that it is barely working as his left hand squeezes tight. If the man had something in his hand it would have long since been crushed, but he doesn’t. Though, he has at least got his breathing under control, which is more than he can say compared to the first time he’d been on a space run. That had been some years ago but he can still remember it like it was yesterday.

He’d punched the captain, who had been the pilot, of the crew and then tried to open a door which just so happened to lead out into the void of space. Two of those aboard had managed to stop him by putting him in a head and arm lock. Now Ren could laugh at it, but back then he’d been too terrified to see the funny side of it, even once it was over and the crew had learned of his fear of space flight. That was a few years before he’d joined the Barrett and had been the last time he’d stepped foot on that particular vessel, mainly because of the broken jaw he’d given it’s captain, but not owner, Travis Klein. The man had not been happy about the broken jaw, but he’d been more pissed at Ren’s attempt to open the ship and its crew to the airless vacuum beyond of its hull plating.

“How long, Les?” Im then asks, paying no attention to the four other members of his crew who are somewhere behind him. Though, he can guess full well that Von is playing to the crowd. All the proof he needs for that is that Im can still hear Dan snickering away quietly, which for a man of his size, a little over two metres, is quite impressive indeed. His right hand absentmindedly stroking at the short well groomed, perhaps too much so, black beard that runs along the edges of his jaw. It’s a subconscious habit but one that he is often fully aware he is partaking in. He knows what Von would say if he were not faking injury at Im’s chastisement. But all the remarks, jokes, taunts and insults are all just a part of their banter. None of them mean anything by it, which is why they don’t take it to heart, unless it’s Von and he wishes to play to his audience, that is.

“Few minutes, if that. Station isn’t where the old recs said it would be.” Les replies without taking his eyes off the display that is being beamed directly across his vision, or the view through the canopy a metre ahead of him. He flexes the four fingers of his right hand as his thumb keeps the joystick control of the Barrett steady. Several of his digits crack, audibly, but not loud enough for any other member of the crew to hear.

“No surprise there. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be anymore.” Im offers with a snort that tells the other five members of his crew that he is only half joking. The comment isn’t aimed at anyone, at least aboard the Barrett anyway, but the other men and woman around him know he has a disdain for the corporations, even if they are now working for one.

His disdain comes from a time when Im had first started working in the mines of various peripheral worlds. It’s the name for newly established planets and mines are often one of the first things established due to a need for raw materials to manufacture and produce equipment, habitats and other infrastructure. In those mines Im had seen the seedy exploitative side of the corporations who didn’t have a care for how many of the miners died in cave-ins or from sudden explosive gas combustions that were a result of a reaction between the metallic tools and the metals or rocks they were digging through. That is why as soon as he’d been able to Im had bought a ship, struck out on his own and never looked back. Especially, as corporations tend to have more care for the salvagers who the suits see as being valuable, intelligent and hard to replace assets that have knowledge which they see value in. Unlike miners who the corporations, UMC included, see as a body suitable only for manual labour without an ability to think or learn. They can always hire just another body to dig and shovel through the crusts of the planets which are next on the list for habitation as there is no need for intelligence, in their eyes, to perform such tasks. Im knows better than the suits. The dumb die quick in the mines, usually a result of their own stupidity, but those that carve out livings, spend day in and day out working through the filth, they have brains. It might, Im thinks, be more brains than is required for salvaging work. Not that he’d ever let, or be believed by, the suits if he told them. But he’d never tell them.

“Dropping in three, two…one.” Les then announces calmly. His voice shaking Im out of his introspective thought and wanders down memory lane.

The Barrett then suddenly and harshly decelerates out of hyper speeds and back to those of sub-light. The transition takes a few moments for the eyes of the crew, except Les who is very used to the transitions, to adjust to the change of view. Ren gulping with more than a small amount of relief now that their transit in nearly over, while beyond the canopy the dual twisted metal shapes of The Helix space station loom in dark grey straight ahead of them.

“Oh my…” Ren says now that he is focusing on the view and not how much he hates hyper travel speeds.

Von simply whistles, loud and long. It’s a wet whistle that is slightly jarring to the rest of the crews’ ears.

“Always have to be the loudest in the room Von.” Dan says with a jab as he releases the harness across his broad chest so he can get a better view of the shape of the space station before them.

It’s an action that Alicia mirrors without thought in the moments before she jumps to her feet, using the headrest of Von’s chair as a wall for her to brace her weight on.

“Hey, get your own space Ali.” Von says before firing off a wide smile while looking over his right shoulder to see the short dark hair that stops at Alicia’s cheeks as well as the hazel eyes which glare down at him with a look that tells him he should shut up.

“Can you stop that mouth for just a little while?” Ali asks before cocking her head right and blinking rapidly a few times.

Von knows the look but he just can’t help himself as he says, “I can, but you know what I’ll want in return.”

“Ha, never.” Ali replies before slapping Von in the back of the head with her left hand.

Von isn’t surprised by the refusal, as it’s the answer he gotten every time, but no one can blame him for asking. At least in his mind they can’t.

“You quite finished?” Im asks while leaning round the edge of his seat to glare at Von who hadn’t noticed his boss staring at him until he’d started to ask the question.

“Yeah Im, sorry.” Von says with a shrug of his shoulders as Ren, Dan, Ali and Les all shake their heads in response. Anyone else would probably go red with embarrassment but not Von.

“She looks almost brand new.” Ren proclaims with a healthy dose of surprise in his voice.

“Yeah, let’s just hope it’s the same on the inside.” Ali, by far the shortest member of the crew, offers as she feels that distinctive stir of excitement expand from deep within her chest. It’s a feeling she always gets when the crew go on a job. She doesn’t care about the money. It’s a secondary thought to the woman who doesn’t want for anything, mainly because nothing outside of her work gives her much interest. That’s why she is always the most reticent to leave the confines of the Barrett and go out drinking with the male members of her crew. She knows Von wishes she wasn’t so, straight-laced, as he called it. But there is no way she’s trusting him if they’ve both been drinking. She’s heard what he’s brought back when he’s full of booze and she isn’t about to join that list, ever. Not that the other members of the crew are all trying to get her in their bunks, as they aren’t. Dan treats her more like a little sister, but then everyone is little compared to Dan, while Ren treats her like a life-long friend. They haven’t known each other their whole lives. Probably not even half, but he’s a good guy. Im is her boss, her captain and while he’s happy to join in on the jabs and jokes, he definitely acts like a boss, a friendly boss who has the best interests of his crew in mind at all times. Les on the other hand only seems to care about the Barrett and doubles as the crew’s engineer, which is why on the seldom off contract periods they have he is tinkering with the Barrett’s systems. Each modification he swears is an upgrade, but no one, including Im, can say whether it is or not. Though, they have all had to admit that as a result of Les’s obsession they have never needed to have the Barrett overhauled or suffer through a refit. Ali knows Im is over the moon about that as refits and overhauls often remove what little profit can sometimes be made from a string of smaller scale jobs. Not that they will have to worry about that now they have a contract with the UMC, Ali knows.

“Take us in, Les.” Im then orders.

In response to his order the four unharnessed members of the crew sink back into their seats, in silence. Which is surprising to Ali who would have sworn that Von would have made some smartass remark. Though she is glad he hasn’t as Les acknowledges Im’s command with, “Affirmative Im.”

Ali still hasn’t worked out if Les is former military but from his exceptional work ethic, lack of interest in leave and the hints she gets from some of his responses her guess is that he is. He’s never said anything about his time before serving as their pilot to confirm this though. In fact, apart from Dan who had been very open about being a lifelong salvager and of course Von, the others including herself have said very little about their lives before they joined the Barrett. That is not to say that they know nothing about each other’s lives as that would be a lie. They all know a tonne about each other. It is just that they don’t know all the details of how they reached this point in their lives. It’s common in this day and age, but Ali wonders if it should be. But as she contemplates that Les sends the Barrett diving toward The Helix refuelling station. She doesn’t know much about the facility other than it is abandoned, has been for a while, used to serve as a refuelling outpost between the Weaver and Krane systems and is their destination for salvage. Not a destination picked by the UMC, but one that was suggested to them. Ali doesn’t know who by, but her guess would be no one on the Barrett. If it were it would have been Im and he already fully admitted that he has never been to this section of the Aurora Sector. The Weaver and Krane systems are newer additions to the universe spanning territory of humanity and places where the more recently rich have decided to take up residency.

“Dock on the flat of one of the spirals.” Im demands while reviewing the scan map of The Helix. He doesn’t want to risk docking with what would be one of the usual bays of the station seeing as the crew don’t know what they are stepping into. Instead, the edge links that reside at the flat ends of the double spiral would have been part of the construction docks that were used during the assembly of the station. That means there are less variables and points of failure, which is why Im has chosen them.

“Sure thing Im. Brace.” Les confirms and then advises but for what reason Ali can’t be sure. As far as she can see there is no reason to brace seeing as she barely feels a shift on the bridge of the starship. But it’s become a common advisory that Les has integrated into his statements during his time with the crew. Perhaps it’s to accommodate Ren, which would make the most sense. Though, whether it’s due to a request from the space apprehensive man with short blond hair and brown eyes or something else Ali can’t say.

The Barrett banks, what would be hard if they were in atmosphere but in the void of space there are no g-forces so it is barely noticeable, before straightening out so that once they reach the nearest of the flat ends of one of the twisted spiral columns the Barrett will be parallel. Ali has to admit Les makes piloting look effortless. She knows that it isn’t as she had herself tried to navigate a starship on a few occasions and ultimately concluded that it was just not for her. Especially, after that time where she nearly crashed a tug rig into a starfighter during one of her training runs. That had been back when she’d been just twenty two. After that, she’d concluded that a life as a salvager, just being a member of the crew, would be better suited to her lack of spacial coordination.

Moments later and the Barrett is docked. A hiss of air, that is barely able to be heard, is unleashed from beyond the docking doors that now link the salvager starship to The Helix station. Ren lets out a sigh of relief. He’s only really happy when spaceships aren’t moving. Even though the reality is that they are always in transit, so the more accurate definition would be he’s alright as long as they aren’t moving under propulsion. At least he hasn’t looked pale on this flight like he did the last one. Ali had been sure he was going to erupt. If he had she’d already got money on the projectile reaching as far as his neighbour Von. But they’d all lost that bet, except Ren, who knew nothing about it, and Les who refuses to partake in betting. He says he isn’t a betting man but Ali doesn’t quite believe it seeing as he plays cards with them all from time to time and often comes out as the winner. Their pilot doesn’t take his winnings though and instead makes everyone take their payment chips back. To combat this generosity the crew now use the money that he wins to purchase something for the Barrett. It has the desired effect as it brings a joyous smile to Les’s face every time. Apparently, he hasn’t worked out that is why he gets a new toy, thingy bob or doodad for the ship, that anyone outside of this crew would think is his, but isn’t.

Ali wonders if Im has worked out what he’ll say and do the day either he retires or the Barrett needs replacing. She doesn’t envy the conversation he’ll have to have with Les over either of those options. She doubts he’d take it well, but whether she’ll still be with the crew when that day comes she doesn’t know as she finishes stretching the knots out of her body in preparation for the boarding of The Helix. Once the scan to tell them whether they need environmental suits is done, that is.

The scan, much to everyone’s relief, comes back negative for a need for the suits. That tells them that there is still breathable air, which isn’t that much of a surprise seeing as the Barrett’s main scan had told them that there are no fatal hull breaches. Plus the Barrett’s scan revealed there have been no vapour leaks from the fuelling cells, which is a relief.

Ali isn’t sure whether that’s a surprise or not as this will be the first time she has ever boarded an abandoned refuelling station. However, Dan and Von have promised that such a thing is a very good sign. Had it just been Von who’d advised that she would have been sceptical, but seeing as Dan had seconded it she knew she could trust the declaration. You see Dan isn’t a man to joke around, not with things as serious as fatalities and such anyway, where as Von sees nothing as being out of reach to make into a joke. He just wants a laugh, though he will never cross the line and allow anyone to injure themselves. If they get near that point he will just make fun of them once he’s made sure disaster has been averted, usually through the use of a sarcastic jab.

But with the five members of the Barrett, Les doesn’t go on salvage runs as he stays on the ship, armed with their cutting tools, pry bars and satchels they step through the now open entrance hatch of the Barret and onto the maintenance walkway of The Helix. The hatchway of the Barrett is circular while the opening on The Helix is square, which has left the corners of the stations opening obstructed. Ali takes note of this but such a thing shouldn’t cause an issue for the salvage crew as the opening is big enough to accommodate them in a two by two formation. Im isn’t a part of the square that the rest of his crew form as he is a little ahead of them serving as the point man.

“The lights are out.” Ren remarks as he steps forward, the light of his torso mounted torch casting a brilliant soft yellow light out ahead of him which is overlapped with Von’s, who is at his side as they advance. Though, the merged beams don’t quite manage to meet up with Im’s. The captain is a half metre further ahead than the other two rows of the salvagers are from each other. The formation is pretty standard procedure for them as they look around, pleased that they don’t have to keep their torches grasped in their gloved hands. The air is cool and stale which is common for anything left abandoned in space for more than a few months. Still, Ali is pleased they have only had to don their thick boiler suit overall attire. The thick fabric will help protect them from sharp splinters of metal while they’re salvaging some of the more valuable assets this station should hold. But the overalls are a far cry from the movement inhibiting environmental suits that they would have to wear if the station didn’t have a breathable atmosphere.

In truth, they could cut this station down until there’s nothing left and pass the scrap on, but doing so would require a much larger crew and starship and in truth The Helix is too small to warrant the attention of anyone with those kinds of capabilities. Captains of those massive salvage cruisers prefer full sized space stations. Not small refuelling posts which they would probably lose money breaking down and selling the materials from.

“But we have air.” Dan comments. He feels the need to look on the bright side of everything, if it exists. He doesn’t make the bright side exist and if you asked him to he’d call you a fool. But if there is a possibility of an up he’ll find it. He always does, as the five of them near the end of the maintenance link. At the far end they can all see the sealed aperture of a door that will no doubt lead to another corridor, and then ultimately to the bridge, which is part of the structure that links the two twisted columns together to create the helix shape which the station is named after. It’s a shape that some might consider beautiful but it was never built with aesthetics in mind. No, instead it was constructed this way to accommodate the maximum number of bays possible for its size, which in turn would have increased the refuelling capacity of the station and allowed its owner, the Hiro-Samson Corporation, to generate larger sums of revenue.

“That means powers out.” Von quickly follows up.

“You came up with that conclusion all on your own?” Im says without turning to see the reaction on Von’s face. If he did the captain of the Barrett would find that it is exactly what he would expect, disapproving and including a roll of Von’s eyes as well as a shake of his head.

“Always busting my balls.” Von soon says in response.

“I’m your captain, it’s my job.” Im reminds as his own torch light swings left and right. He is holding the thin handle of the twenty centimetre long item in his right hand, unlike the others. This allows him to examine the hull plating on either side of them as well as the deck plating below their feet as they venture deeper into the station. Every inch of this square corridor is honeycomb grey metal without any perforations. It’s exactly as it should be but he does find the sight more than a little bland. But then he knows that structural designers on these projects rarely like to include flair, seeing as it serves no purpose and the designers only care are all about purpose, and cost.

“Hey, look at this.” Ali says having spied a sensor a couple metres ahead which is in the middle of the flat ceiling above them. It doesn’t look like any sensor she has ever seen before. Much like the lights in this space however, it is devoid of power. Still, the thin rigid fronds bent at right angles coming out of the side facing her, as well as the left and right edges give her the impression of legs. She knows they aren’t, but that is still the impression she gets as she angles her torso in such a way that the beam of her torso mounted torch is able to illuminate it for the other members of her crew to see.

“That is odd.” Ren comments with a scratch of his head as the five of them come to a swift stop.

“Never seen a sensor like that before. What about you Im?” Dan asks after confirming Ren’s own short but sweet statement about it being odd.

“Nah. New one to me.” Im says beginning to study the sensor.

“Looks like it’s had quite the overhaul. Not recent though. Not that that’s a surprise.” Im continues without asking to see if Von has ever seen this kind of thing before. He doesn’t have to as he knows the man hasn’t but still Von can’t resist adding his own two cents.

“Oh that’s fine. Don’t ask me. I’m not a part of this crew. I haven’t spent years working salvage. There’s no way I could have seen anything like this before.”

“Huh, ok Von. Have you seen anything like this before?” Ali asks calling Von’s bluff.

Von studies the sensor for a moments and then says, “Nope. Never.”

As soon as he does Dan and Ren chuckle while Ali simply lets out an unsurprised but exasperated sigh.

“Well now that’s established, and thank you Von for those words of wisdom, everyone happy to care on?” Im questions only to be answered with a resounding yes, which doesn’t surprise him as they return to forging ahead. They only have maybe another four metres to go before they reach the closed aperture of the door but Im takes note of a second sensor also with the same modifications. He’d love to know what they are but they’re here to salvage, not study, and by the looks of the sensor it holds nothing they’d be interested in. Still, he can’t deny that it piques his personal interest.

“Money on the door being sealed tight?” Von offers the bet when Im is only a metre and a half from the closed opening. The response is fifty-fifty, expect for Im who doesn’t wager either way until he is within three quarters of a metre of the closed door and calls not. He doesn’t know what else he should call the opening as it isn’t really a hatch or panel seeing as it is shaped more like a conventional doorway than the one that links the Barrett to The Helix.

Dan shoves his pry bar into the tiny speck of an opening that is present and then uses his considerable strength to lever the metallic tube in his hands. The door resists for a few pushes and then suddenly and easily relents. Dan wrenches the door open all the way to reveal a dull space beyond. The lights here are also powered down but the emergency residual glow, that helps to direct those aboard if power failures occur, gives off just enough light to allow them to see the corridor which immediately turns to their right. The corridor is pentagonal shaped with utterly smooth and boring walls, ceiling and floor. It’s a far cry from the honeycombed pattern on the surfaces of the maintenance link corridor they have traversed the length of, but its blandness was to be expected.

Funnily enough, Von seems to have forgotten the bet he wagered, mainly because he lost, as the five of them step out into the much wider and higher space of this main corridor. This space serving as the beginning of the central body section that links the two spiral shapes of the station together that holds the helix shape forever in place.

However, the salvagers waste no time in loitering in the dull space, both in terms of lighting and aesthetic. Though, they do spy a near dozen more of the altered sensors. This time the box shapes with rigid ‘legs’ and strange array lenses on the flat tops are mounted along the upper right slant of the pentagonal shape of the corridor. Ali isn’t sure if the lens-like dots actually serve as lenses or not. If they do then it is like something could be watching them and that gives her an uneasy feeling in the moments before she realises she is falling behind and quickly increases her pace to catch back up. Dan had noticed her lagging behind but he’d said nothing. Instead, he’d simply kept a watchful eye on her. That was part of his protecting nature which extends beyond her to include the rest of the crew as well.

“What did you see Ali?” Dan asks after a brief silence. He’s curious as to what caught Ali’s attention.

“Those weird sensor things look like they’ve got camera lens arrays built into them.”

“Does that mean we’re being watched?” Von asks.

“By what genius? The powers off.” Ren answers.

“Hey there could be auxiliary. You don’t know.” Von fires back defensively.

“I think what Ali is trying to say is it’s odd to have lens arrays in sensors. Sensors don’t use cameras. The clue is in the name Von. So what were, whoever made the modifications, using them for?” Im explains with a slow blink that Von and the others can’t see, as Im is still ahead of them and all they have is the view of the back of his shaved head.

“Why you singling me out? I just asked a couple questions.” Von exclaims sounding hurt. It isn’t genuine and he knows full well why the captain of the Barrett is singling him out.

“It’s the way you asked them.” Dan answers with a soft shake of his head, while his eyes probe the boring space around them.

“Bridge up ahead.” Im calls after a short time and they would all be lying if they didn’t admit they felt a little relieved to hear that.

With any luck they all hope they’ll be out of the dark and able to fully see their surroundings in proper detail before long. None of them relish the idea of trying to salvage in the dark without a map to guide them or proper information about what sections they can and should access or not. After all, The Helix might look sound from the outside but that doesn’t mean that it has no issues on the inside. It’s one of the first things salvagers learn on the job. If they don’t it can cost them their lives, at least for those that work in the void of space it can. They all spot the gaping opening that Im is referring to and need no proclamation as to how far they are from their goal.

Ali hopes the power cells are still within their service life, not that it really matters on a station like this as there is no way that they will have degraded to the point of failure. That takes more than three centuries to occur, unless there is significant containment failure of the highly radioactive and lethal substances used for the energy rod productions. But if that were true Ali is sure they would all be able to taste it on the stale air, plus the hull would likely be breached and all the hatches sealed as part of an emergency containment failsafe.

“Ren, Dan. You two sort the power. Von, you check the station systems once the power is up. Ali, I want you to patch the Barrett so we can use the crew comms channel while we’re here.” Im orders as they step through the open doorway and onto the bridge.

Ali can’t see the full size of the space but from what she can see its large and open plan. That means that it is pretty typical in design for any space station. Though, she has to admit she has never seen a helix shaped one before today. It also dawns on her that she doesn’t know why the station was abandoned. She can take a guess that it was due to a lack of profit, but knows that now isn’t the time to ask. She’ll query that later but doubts the answer she’ll get will be particularly groundbreaking news. The stories behind the structures they salvage from rarely are. However, a lot of people believe different and think that being a salvager means that you’ll end up venturing onto forgotten or lost military ships filled with advanced weapons, tech and stock full of secrets. The truth is much more mundane. That, mostly, is fine with Ali who isn’t interested in the glories of what past accomplishments a starship might have achieved during wars. She does have to admit there have been a lot of them however. In fact, there still are, though, Ali can’t think of any oft-hand as she begins to scan the surfaces of some nearby consoles. Her face is mere centimetres from the surface of the few labels which actually adorn the consoles. Her own torch is unable to unclip from her brown overalls due to an issue with the clip that links the two items. She’d meant to get it fixed the last time they’d docked but had forgotten and now is regretting it. She can imagine how ridiculous she looks bent over in as awkward manner as she currently is. That’s why she is glad that Von will be so whole heartedly focused on searching for the station systems and its sensor array as that has put him on the far side of the room. She can’t actually see him because of the darkness and the fact that he is behind her but suddenly she hears him snicker moments before Dan swears in something that is not standard. Standard is the name for the language that used to be known as English. A second later there is a sound of sparks flying and then the power reignites. Re-ignition being the proper term for getting the power in a station like this back on as the systems have to be fused and then tricked into believing that the cells that serve as the power source have never had any down time. If you don’t do that then you get a lockout and if that happens it can take a whole lot longer to get things running, especially lights.

“And no one says: let there be light? Missed opportunity.” Von says with a smile while the others simply shake their heads at his remark.

Before long however Von speaks again, but this time it isn’t to spout another glib remark or joke. Instead, it’s to inform. “Im can’t get a reading from the sensors. Whatever was done to them they don’t link here.”

“Well that’s just weird.” Ali comments before anyone else can. But she isn’t wrong and it’s something that they are all thinking.

“Does that mean we have no way of knowing what sections are safe Von?” Im then asks with more than a little concern having crept into his tone than he would like.

“No. Cause I’m just about to pull up…ah here it is.” Von says as a holomap of the entire space station appears as a stationary floating three dimensional image five centimetres above the flat top of what could have been mistaken as a table. If the area were not surrounded by countless console terminals and adorned with a touch panel along its frame. The holographic representation, to scale, of The Helix constructed from warm blue coloured lines that detail the edges of the internal and external surfaces of the refuelling outpost.

Everyone gathers around the holomap over the next minute so they can get a view of what they’re working with.

Ali spots that quite a few of the sections seem to be darker and without a series of white lights to represent that there is power in those areas. That concerns her.

“That’s a lot of space without power.” Ren remarks surprised that so much of the power cables through this seemingly pristine place have failed. Maybe he shouldn’t be surprised given the stations reputation, but still he is.

“About a third of this place in total, sorry to say. It’s a pity cause there probably would have been some good salvage in those sections.” Von confirms before assuming that Im will want to stay away from the powerless sectors of The Helix. Von is right; Im has no intention of spending valuable time and resources to risk the lives of his crew in hopes of finding the highest grade scrap. Not when they have access to so much more which they can salvage with far greater ease.

“So what’s the plan Im?” Dan asks as he stands with his wide arms crossed over his chest. His eyes are studying the holomap causally. He doesn’t really need to subject himself to detailed surveying of the layout. He knows their captain will already have worked out what, where and how he wants them to proceed.

“Split into two groups. Von and I will take the access corridor that links back to the Barrett. Looks like there’s some good salvage there even without those sensors. And yes Von we are leaving those well alone, before you ask.” Im says giving the first part of his response to Dan while looking right at Von who simply shrugs in response. It’s the gobby man’s way of saying he isn’t going to argue as he knows this is serious and no time for jokes. Im knows that won’t last because as soon as they start the salvaging process he’ll return to his usual non-stop rambling norm. Von can never resist and stay quiet for long. Im and the others put up with Von’s insistence on squawking as he is not only a good worker but helps to keep the mood light. Especially, as there are few things better than mocking the man that likes to mock everything else, except himself. Im thinks it keeps Von grounded and with an ego as enormous as Von’s that, he thinks, is imperative.

“Dan, Ali and Ren you take this place. Bridge is filled with valuable stuff and we want as much as we can screw out of those UMC chumps.” Im orders before allowing a smug smile to creep across his face.

The others all nod and smile in response to their captains’ order as he has taken the words right out of their mouths. None of them have love for the UMC, or any of the other corporations, but seeing as the newly diversifying UMC has no salvagers of their own it allows independent contractors like them to receive way above market value payments for the work they do. They know the UMC will still earn more than triple what they will but their pay is assured, the UMC’s isn’t. Markets change and prices fluctuate. The cost of hiring a crew, on the other hand, only ever goes up. They all know this and that’s why they’ve remained in the business seeing as there will never be a shortage of stations, satellites, ships and other debris to strip and sell to whoever is paying. And there is always someone willing to pay.

“Hop to it, we’ve got cash to count.” Im then says as a conclusion to the meeting that sees him and Von leave the bridge of The Helix and head back toward the Barrett, while Ali, Ren and Dan quickly pull their cutting tools, which they power up almost in unison and then begin working.

Each takes a section a few metres from the other to assure that sparks from the cutting tool don’t get flicked into the eyes of their co-workers.

The tool they each wield is a thin bar with a blowtorch type head at one end from which emerges a superheated four centimetre long burst of plasma capable of cutting right through the hull of this ship and out into the void of space beyond. At the other end of the thin bar, or neck, is a canister that provides the heating element to produce the continuous burn of plasma. They have to change the pack every few hours of continual use, but the tool is efficient enough. However, it is nothing compared to the much larger variant used by mass salvage crews to breakdown entire stations and ships to sell. Those require massive rectangular packs to be worn on the users back and a flamethrower type dual handed implement which has a trigger that has to be depressed at all times to keep the plasma ignited. Whereas the hand tool each of them are using has a simple button along the thin neck which they naturally depress as their hand is wrapped around the object while being used to cut.

Ali is pleased her crew don’t use the pack cutting tools as she tried to use one on a previous crew once and found them to be incredibly heavy and exhausting to use after just an hour of use. She is sure Dan would have no trouble with the thing, but if only two of them could be cutting at once. One for Dan and another needing to be rotated between the rest of them with regular breaks, it would take them weeks to salvage anything to make the job worth it and that is not within the crew of the Barrett’s operating procedure. They prefer to strip the most valuable parts and components in just a few hours and then leave the rest for someone who has the capital to rend entire installations for money. It might not be the most profitable operation but it allows them to stay mobile and flexible. Plus it means they can be paid as much as four times as often as some of the larger or more obsessive crews. This speed, as a result, has earned them a reputation that brings them more jobs but also quite a bit of flack from fellow salvagers. None of the crew of the Barrett care about how they are viewed by their colleagues though, as this industry is entirely about money. That’s why the Barrett has gone a long time without skipping a pay day, which is more than can be said for many other salvagers, unless they are grand scale. At which point however, they are smaller versions of the corporations which they bid for and against to secure contracts. And none of this crew, especially Im, want to wind up like that.

“Hey did you see that?” Ren says after a while. He’s looking toward one of the linked corridors Ali realises once she has turned her head in his direction.

“You’re imagining things Ren.” Dan answers without taking his eyes, which are covered with reflective goggles to stop the searing brightness of the plasma from blinding him, from the computer array he is cutting free of its mounting frame.

The console is still powered and to a novice that might seem like madness as that would mean that Dan is risking being electrocuted. But Dan, like Ali and Ren, knows that such things are impossible as they are incredibly well insulated. Plus the fact that as soon as he pries the assembly clear of its mount the power will sever due to an internal connector that links it directly to the power joint that is supplying it. It’s standard practice in all console arrays and has been for more than six decades. Amateurs don’t know that and often try and cut the power to the console only to overload it and kill the circuits within. It’s another reason they are all thankful that every member of the crew of the Barrett is made up of experienced salvagers with years’ worth of jobs under their belts.

“No, I’m sure I saw something. Didn’t you?” Ren asks before looking at Ali and then Dan after peering down the section of dull corridor that he can see, from where he is, for a short while. It was an awkward angle for him to have viewed the corridor from but he’d made it work the best he’d been able to.

“Sorry Ren, I saw nothing.” Ali admits with a shrug and a couple short shakes of her head before ultimately forcing a smile to try and ease the blow of her honest response.

“You’re just worrying cause of the stories.” Dan announces as he sets down his cutting tool and then hefts the weight of his pry bar in his right hand. The large man wields the heavy metal bar like it is weighs no more than air. It’s impressive but he does stop and cast a glance at Ren, who sighs, and then then to Ali, who has slightly cocked her head to one side. Dan knows that such an action is her silent way of asking what Dan means.

“Do you not know the stories Ali?” Dan then asks sounding more surprised than he meant to.

“No. What stories?” Ali replies.

“Wait, you don’t know? Why did you think this station was abandoned then?” Ren then asks also sounding surprised. Though, Ren, unlike Dan, made no attempt to hide the surprise in his voice as he blinks deliberately while looking at her.

“I figured it was a profit thing. I was going to ask but hadn’t found the right time.” Ali explains before feeling a sense of unease creep over her. It’s a direct result of the looks that are present on both men’s faces as they stare back at her. She knows there is nothing behind her but their expressions make her feel as if there should be. Still, she resists the urge to gulp loudly.

“Maybe we shouldn’t say anything.” Ren offers breaking the uncomfortable silence which only hangs for a few seconds. He looks to Dan as he says it, but the large man simply sighs. He knows Ali won’t let it go now and in all fairness they probably should’ve told her. But they both figured that she knew. That doesn’t change the fact that Dan feels guilty now for not having checked. He doubts it would have changed her opinion or desire to be on the job, but he does take it as a failure of his to protect her.

Dan is protective of all of the crew, but especially so with Ali as she reminds him of his younger cousin. He misses her deeply and still remembers the day he’d gone to her funeral. She’d died in an accident when she’d been nine. Dan hadn’t been there and had blamed himself every day since. The truth is, he couldn’t have done anything even if he had been as she was hit by a drunken woman in charge of a farm vehicle. The huge combine harvester had run right over the top of his cousin, Maria, who had been riding her bike down the road the edge of a country road near his Uncle Yuri’s home.

 “We have to. She won’t let it go, will you Ali?” Dan says as he looks at the woman who is a couple years his junior. She stands there with her hands braced against her hips and a stern expression painted on her otherwise thin face. In this light and at this angle she looks even slimmer than normal. Dan puts that down, in part, to the fact that her hair ends at her defined cheekbones, while her hazel eyes flick between the two men. She is much shorter than Dan, his guess on her height would be a hundred and sixty five centimetres, but he doesn’t know for sure.

“Now you’ve spilled I think I deserve to know, don’t you?” Ali replies with a serious note to her voice. It’s a tone that results in a simple nod from Ren. He understands her body language and retort, even if he regrets having opened his mouth to begin with.

“Ok. I started this by blabbing, so I’ll explain.” Ren accepts as he quickly raises his hands in apology. The cutting tool held in the palm of his open hand by his gloved thumb which is folded over the thin neck that is used as a grip.

“The Helix has a…reputation.” Ren says choosing his words carefully.

“Ok.” Ali says with a curt nod before falling silent to allow Ren to continue.

“Abandoned eight years ago following a string, and I mean a long string, of accidents. Fatal ones. Quite a few of the crew that manned this station…” Ren explains before trailing off and simply shaking his head as he shifts his gaze away from Ali and to a section of floor between them. A sombre expression rests on his face, as it does on Dan’s. The large man biting at the inside of his cheek in the fashion that he always does when he feels uncomfortable. Ali has noticed that it only seems to happen when they speak about death. She understands that and suddenly feels a massive wave of sadness break against her. If it were a real wave she is sure it would drag her off her feet only to slam her face first into the decking of the bridge.

“How?” Is all Ali can manage in query. She can’t bring herself to elaborate and ask, what kinds of accidents, as she thinks that might end up sounding callous.

“From what I’ve heard there were a few explosive decompressions. A number of radiation leaks, some pipe collapses. That sort of thing.” Ren answers unsure if that is what she meant. He hopes it is as otherwise he may have just made this already harrowing conversation derail somehow further.

“How many lost their…well you know.” Ali feels a need to ask the question. She doesn’t want the answer but feels it necessary to ask nonetheless.

“No official figures, but it was a lot more than there should have been.” Ren admits honestly while shrugging and looking at Ali and then silently swallowing hard.

“It’s what comes from shoddy construction and maintenance by yet another of the corporations. Here it was the fault of Hiro-Samson.” Dan answers the question he is sure would have been Ali’s next.

Dan feels disgusted to know that the station was decommissioned and abandoned by a corporation because of the bad publicity it was bringing them. What makes it worse is that Hiro-Samson never admitted publicly the reasons for the desertion of the station. That hadn’t stopped the stories from spreading like wild-fire though.

Dan hates the fact that another of the corporations didn’t even have the decency to apologise and compensate the families of those whose lives were lost, but it hadn’t surprised him to learn of it. The corporations rarely do anything that doesn’t benefit them, even if they should.

“I wish I could agree, but some of those accidents still shouldn’t have been possible.” Ren rebukes quicker than any of the three of them would have realised. They each think minutes have passed since any of them spoke, but in reality it is but seconds.

Before anyone can say anything in response to Ren’s rebuke however, Im’s voice comes over the radio. “Are you three still on the bridge?”

Im’s voice sounds nervous, which for the captain of the Barrett is unusual. Ali wonders if his anxious tone is because of what happened here to members of the crew and if it is playing on his mind. She understands fully now why it might be, as it sure as hell is for her. Her eyes darting to corners and crevices of the bridge looking for faults and failures that might, if allowed to go unnoticed, result in all three of their deaths.

“We are all here Im. Why?” Dan confirms and then queries. His voice is clear and casual, but Ali can’t say whether he is forcing his voice to sound that way to reassure Ren and her or not.

But as soon as Dan finishes speaking a deafening klaxon begins to roar in all their ears. Ali would have thought that the klaxon would have some sort of windup that would quickly rise to the point that it is at now, but it didn’t. The blaring sound simply immediately emitted the din which is forcing her to shield her ears with her hands and wince in pain. She can’t hear anything else but the siren and that lasts for a while until finally, somehow, her ears adjust to the sound. It surprises her to learn that they are able to do such a thing. Though, she can’t say that the volume of the noise doesn’t still cause her to wince subconsciously, as it does. But at least its bearable now as Ren shouts, “It’s the emergency shutdown.”

Ali doesn’t know if he is providing that detail to her or to everyone over the radio. She can’t say that she can hear Ren’s voice echo through the earpiece in her ear, but that means little she knows. The radios the crew use tend to cut out echoes being broadcast if the speaker is within proximity. She doesn’t know what the proximity is for the technology to work; she just knows that it is a function of the earpieces they use.

“We need to get back to the Barrett!” Dan roars loudly. His voice just about getting above the din of the klaxon, which is digital in note and is managing to blare from every direction.

Ali is surprised she catches Dan’s announcement, but she isn’t about to argue and by the looks of things neither is Ren. That doesn’t surprise her. Unlike the swiftness with which she hurriedly gathers her tools and then explodes into a sprint, with Dan and Ren ahead of her.

They tear down the corridor back toward the maintenance link corridor which attaches the Barrett to The Helix together. But only manage to get maybe fourteen metres before their progress is halted when sections of conduit and piping, previously hidden behind metal face panels that make up the pentagonal shape of the corridor, collapse.

Ali screams as she jumps back to avoid the falling debris which narrowly misses her, while Ren screams a curse and barely manages to stay on his feet as his stumbles sideways and slams his left shoulder into the bulkhead. Ren winces at the impact. The pain and throbbing in his shoulder wasn’t the cause of his expletive. That was in response to the collapsing pipes and conduits that fell around him.

Ren is sure his arm isn’t broken as he shifts his position so his back is against the angled bulkhead. He rubs at his aching shoulder, cradling it. He isn’t sure what he hopes to achieve, but it makes him feel a little better, but only a little.

Dan meanwhile, tries to push some of the debris that is cutting him off from Ren and Ali aside. However, the weight of the piping and other items, including the panelling, that has collapsed is too much for him to shift and instead nearly crushes his hands.

However, Dan manages to withdraw them just in time as a fraction of a second later they would have been flattened to resemble pancakes.

“It’s blocked. I can’t get through.” Dan bellows over the seemingly quieter blare of the emergency klaxon.

Ali feels some relief as she notices that the continuous sound of the grating ring seems to be lesser than it had been. She never would have noticed it if Dan had not said anything.

She herself is cut off from both of her colleagues. Though, by the looks of things the blockage between her and Ren is less than half of the mess that separates Ren and Dan. There is a chance that either she or Ren could wriggle through the blockage between them. But seeing as she nearly watched Dan lose his hands trying to clear some of the debris between himself and Ren, there is no way she and Ren are getting through to join the large man.

“We’ll never get through this way.” Ren yells back as Dan looks around for something long and strong enough for him to use as leverage and perhaps clear at least a wide enough opening to let his friends through. Unfortunately, there is nothing that will fit the bill. That doesn’t mean he is willing to give up however, as he continues to frantically search around him.

“We’ll find a way.” Dan assures without breaking from his frantic search to look at either Ren or Ali. He is not going to let them die like he did his cousin Maria. This is not going to end the same; he refuses to accept that as being what fate has planned.

“No Dan, it’s not happening. Ali and I can’t get through this. We’ll find another way round. Just get back to the Barrett before anything else collapses on us.” Ren says trying to reason with the large muscular man. He knows Dan is trying to help but there is no way that they are going to be able to clear the path without some heavy duty tools and several hours worth of time. And seeing as they don’t know what is causing the emergency shutdown it is doubtful they have that kind of a luxury.

“No, we can do this. Finding another way round could be even more dangerous. We don’t know what caused this or if it’s related to that siren. This place could be breaking apart.” Dan shouts trying to reason with Ren who seems determined to forge a different path. Dan isn’t happy about saying that trying to find another route could be more dangerous but he sees no other option.

“Face it Dan…” Ren begins but never has the chance to finish as suddenly the pressure doors trigger fire just before the massive, thick heavy metal door come slamming down between the two men.

Ren manages to stay on his feet, though he does stagger back in shock, while Dan falls on his back and quickly scrambles away as the doors crush the debris that had been between them.

The debris was no match for the massive weight and force which the doors can exert on the piping, panels and conduits that have fallen. Dan takes that in some ways as a good sign as it means the structural integrity of the station itself isn’t failing, but is horrified that the pressure doors have fired as that only occurs if there is a hull breach. Dan doesn’t know if the breach is in his section or Ren and Ali’s. To find that out he leans his head back to rest on the deck at his back. It gives him a view further down the corridor back toward the Barret and he finds that the next pressure door hasn’t sealed. That tells the large man that it is the section Ren and Ali are in and Dan feels his heart rate double as he struggles back to his feet. He has to warn them.

Dan slams his fist against the thick red metal of the door plastered with yellow warning signs and markings. But the sound that comes from the impact is dull and short which annoys him. So he presses his face against the tiny circular viewing pane and screams that Ren and Ali’s section is decompressing.

Ali is staring at the panic filled face of Dan who is trying to mouth something to her and Ren. But she can’t make it out and Ren is busily trying to find a way through the debris between himself and her.

“Ren, Dan is trying to tell us something.” Ali finally declares louder than she meant to as her finger points toward the face of Dan and his silently moving mouth. But Ren is paying no attention to her as he tries to pull at the mass of junk between them and then roars, “I need help here Ali. We have to clear this. Find another way round.”

“But why did the pressure door fire?” Ali queries with an accusatory tone which she regrets immediately.

“I don’t…” Ren begins though he stops when he thinks he hears something that sounds akin to a leak in a pipe. His brow furrows as he tries to pick out the sound but can’t quite locate it because of the klaxon which he had forgotten was even present.

“Do you hear that?” Ren then asks as he looks Ali right in the face.

Ali listens for a while and then realising she too can hear the sound and what it must be, looks back at Ren. Her eyes are wide as she goes to speak. But instead there is a sudden explosion. Not one involving flames but of the hull in their section decompressing and being ripped from the superstructure which it had been welded and riveted too.

Three side of the pentagonal shaped corridor are ripped clear of the superstructure supports below, yanking the pressurised breathable air into the void of space. Ren follows a few milliseconds later, a look of despair carved into his face as the force of the detonation wrenches Ali off her feet and headfirst into a collapsed trio of pipes before she can say or do anything.

Ren, who is now eleven metres from the section of The Helix which has been ripped open like a can of fish, flails his arms and kicks his legs as he attempts to hold his breath. But before long he feels an overwhelming need to breathe. It doesn’t take much longer before he opens his mouth only for the void to rapidly begin freezing him from the inside as well as the out.

Dan thumps his fist against the thick metal of the pressure door as tears roll down his face. His eyes are closed and his head is pressed against the viewing pane as his radio crackles to life.

“Dan, what’s going on? Where are you, Ren and Ali?” Im’s voice says with genuine concern.

Dan opens his eyes while his forehead is still pressed against the viewing pane. He can’t see anything except for the whirling debris that is spinning and dancing in the space where Ren and Ali had been. He knows Ren is gone, but he can’t be sure about Ali. He saw her wrenched forward off her feet, but can’t say as to whether her own pressure door fired before she would have been sucked out into the inky black of space.

“Dan, Ren, Ali, someone copy!” Im then screams. His voice is cracking as he demands to hear someone reply to him.

“Im, I’m here.” Dan admits though he wishes he wasn’t. He’d have done anything to swap places with either Ren or Ali. Preferably he would have swapped with them both. In his eyes that would be a fair trade.

“What’s going on?” Im demands.

“The hull decompressed. Ren’s gone. I don’t know about Ali.” Dan admits. He feels a catch in throat that stops him several times as he tries to get the words out. His shoulders have as a result of the despair that he feels having to admit that they both might be dead.

“Shit!” Is the only thing Im can say at first. He knew the reputation of this station but never imagined it could go south this fast. He hates himself for having taken this job, but everyone had agreed. Im refuses to run a dictatorship. The Barrett is a democracy, even if the ship is his and he is the captain of it.

“You have to get back here Dan. We need to bug out.” Im quickly adds. He doesn’t want to lose anyone else and Dan can hear the devastation in Im’s voice.

“No. I can’t leave Ali.” Dan says trying to find an excuse to stay.

“I know Dan, but you said it yourself. You don’t know if she survived. I’m not losing you as well on a hunch. We’ll regroup, suit up and re-enter. I don’t plan on leaving anyone behind either.”

Im hopes his words will be enough for Dan but he isn’t sure so adds, “If we’re all dead no one can save Ali.”

Im doesn’t think she’s alive. Not from what Dan has told him, but he isn’t about to admit that to the big man. If he does that then he will lose him as well and two deaths are already more than he is willing to accept.

“Ok.” Is all Im hears Dan say before the connection cuts. Im doesn’t know if Dan will do as he’s been ordered, but he hopes he will as he and Von stand near the link hatch to The Helix. Im has his back to the opening while Von can sort of see it out of the corner of his eye.

Von doesn’t know what to say. He and Les could both hear over comms what Dan said. Von hates the silence but anything he says will be the wrong time. So he settles on doing the same as his friends and colleagues are and staying silent. But after a few minutes, during which the trio are frantically waiting for Dan, Von is sure he sees something slip through the open link. He turns his head in response to the movement he is sure he saw at the edge of his vision but finds nothing. Still, he can’t bring himself to turn away from the open hatch which he stares at intently until Dan arrives a couple minutes later. The look on the big man’s face says exactly what you would expect. He’s crushed. They all are, but they need to detach and pull away from the station until they can be sure that it is safe. Once it is they will be coming right back, Von is sure of that as he watches the hatch slide shut and lock.

“Separation in three…two…one.” Les mutters as he gives the countdown prior to an almighty clunk that can be heard resonating through the hull of the Barrett. It’s not a sound that illicits any need for concern from the four men as it marks the release of the locks that had been linking the Barrett and The Helix space station. But now they are released Les is able to pull the Barrett away from the former refuelling outpost. As he passes the hundred metre mark however there is a sudden guttural burble that sounds like it is welling up from deep within a man’s throat. Seconds later screams of terror begin to fill the interior of the Barrett.

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