Bonded

Chapter One: Eris

The Nyx was never all that fast.

She wasn’t the sturdiest or most reputable model on the market, even when she was first built—and I got her second- or third-hand. Some of the repairs I had to figure out to get her to run to my satisfaction drove me up the wall.

Worse, some of them sent me outside her, into the vacuum of space, to work on the outer hull.

No planetside mechanics for her—she wasn’t the kind of ship that was ever meant to land, and after a decade or so of technological advances, most everyone had left models like her behind.

But what the Nyx lacked in brawn or speed, she made up for in brains. She was thorough, and curious, and once I’d gotten my hands on her programming and customized everything to my satisfaction, she even had a winning personality.

In our time together, I’d taught her everything I knew, and together, the two of us made the best damn salvaging team in Empire.

Well, at least out here in the fringes.

We’d been moving further out the past several years, since most of the asteroid fields in the center of the Empire were pretty well picked-over. As we’d gone further afield, I’d slowly lost contact with everyone I’d known, our messages getting fewer and farther between.

Nixie didn’t care—she was a computer, and she got me all to herself.

As far as I was concerned, it was an additional plus. It was already worth it to be off-planet. On Nyx the gravity was much lighter than on planetside, and I never had to deal with crowds or uncomfortably distant horizons.

“There is no evidence that the wreck has been boarded since shutdown,” Nixie said in my ear as I began the sequence to seal up my suit. “Despite its size, the wreck is hidden effectively from most scanners, as a blip that verifies at roughly 5%. It is also surrounded by other, more noticeable false positives, both to my scanners and probably also to the naked human eye.

“Hmm. Sounds like someone wants to hide something.” I double-checked the readouts projected onto the visor of my helmet, getting ready to head out into the biggest, darkest unknown. “How long do you think it’s been there?”

Nixie paused before answering. “Unknown. Judging by the ambient temperature of the craft, it has been at least four weeks since the engines have run at standard capacity. It could be as many as six, however.”

“That’s a pretty wide margin of error for you,” I said, wary.

Most goods worth salvaging didn’t come with an expiration date, but the longer a ship had been down, the bigger the chance whatever it had carried would be damaged—or already gone, picked up by someone else.

If Nixie had a nose, she would have sniffed. “After a certain threshold, cooling is difficult to model, especially in the presence of unknown variables such as—”

I chuckled. “Okay, girl, I get it. Maybe a month, maybe two?”

I may be able to give you a more accurate report once you have completed standard reconnaissance,” she said, sounding mollified.

“Point taken.” Waiting for the air to be drained from the airlock, I double-checked the line I’d be using to abseil over to the ship. “Anything else you can tell me?”

Damage to the ship’s hull and power systems indicate that she may have been disabled by offensive fire,” Nixie said over my headset. Her voice was even more metallic than usual in the tiny speakers.

“Attacked, then.”

It appears so.

I whistled silently; that was kind of a mixed bag.

On the one hand, there was sometimes really good freight on ships that had met more violent ends. On the other, there were often much less pleasant leavings, too—the sort of things I’d have nightmares about later.

“Thanks for the warning,” I mumbled. Then, before I could lose my nerve, I added, “Fire.”

Nixie obliged. I squinted, trying to see the rappel line as it vanished into the distance, but I couldn’t be sure it had hit the ship until Nixie gave me the all-clear.

When she did, I triple-checked as always to make sure my carabiner was secure. “Keep comms open unless I tell you to take them down, okay? Same goes for main power. And keep an eye out for strangers—ping me if you pick up anything.”

“Understood.”

I gave Nixie the same orders any time I was away salvaging, but she was a good sport about it, at least. We hadn’t had any excitement in a little while, so she was probably enjoying herself at least as much as I was.

“Here I go,” I said, and pushed myself through airlock doors and out into the blackness.

***

Space is big. You can’t really say much more than that about it, because when it comes to the scales involved in astronomy as a whole, only understatement can come anywhere close to getting the point across.

Here’s another understatement: I’ve never liked big places. All the planet-dwellers I’d met tended to complain that space stations are too cramped, but even they were big enough to bother me––and the number of people in them didn’t help.

So the part of my job when I was stuck floating with only a few inches of plastic and metal to separate my body from literally the biggest thing there was? Not my favorite. I dealt with it, though, because the rest of that job was awesome enough to make up for it.

I tried not to think about anything but the ship in front of me, the line I was firing over to it, and how I was going to get the airlock open. Fortunately, most airlocks came with suit-recognition that operated on battery power; it helped minimize accidents, with the added bonus of making my job easier.

Better still, there was enough power that the airlock worked correctly, letting me in, shutting behind me, and filtering air into the room. I moved to take off my helmet.

“You shouldn’t do that,” Nixie’s voice said in my ear. “‘Never trust a flotsam ship’s systems until you’ve seen its own diagnostics.’ You programmed that into me yourself.”

“Oh, fine.” I liked tight spaces, sure, but ship corridors weren’t built to accommodate vacuum suits.

It wasn’t a model I was familiar with, and I was familiar with most ship models at this point, especially the older ones.

There were signs of damage, too, I noticed as I traversed the hallways. Probably a few serious impacts; the lights were down or flickering in some sections of the hallway, and the temperature regulation system was working irregularly. Whatever had hit this ship had barely left it on one piece.

I narrated my findings to Nixie as I went, and she supplemented my reports with things that the sensors in my suit picked up. Together, we compared the internal damage with the external.

It definitely spelled out a fight that whoever was aboard this ship had lost–badly.

The bridge showed enough signs of damage that I was a little reluctant to set foot in it.

Large windows were usually considered a liability in ship-building, but this helm had a window that took up almost an entire wall. There were screens and holographic projection systems everywhere, most of them powered off.

It looked like it was designed to show the ship and its surroundings at every possible angle. The entire setup was more expensive than I’d been expecting, to say the least. It looked a bit like something out of one of the old-fashioned war-drama holos. Except for the lack of bodies. Everyone was long gone.

“Was this thing designed for combat?” I asked Nixie.

“I don’t know. I still haven’t been able to find a match in my database.

“Hmm.” I made my way carefully over to what was probably the captain’s chair––it was near the center of the room, and had a large screen attached to the chair. “I’ll see if there are any logs still in the system.”

If you wanted, I could—

“No way, girl. You have no idea where this ship’s been, you are not jacking into it.” I unfastened my gloves and searched the side of the screen until I found the wake switch.

Nothing happened.

“All auxiliary power has probably been routed to the life-support systems,” Nixie told me.

“Yeah, I was getting there.” I stood up and looked around again. There were half a dozen stations around the helm, but the one that I wanted was…

It took me a couple of tries before I figured it out. The screen for the power allocation was the only one to light up right away. “Here we go. Power’s being routed to cloaking, even though it’s down, so might as well turn that off. Then there’s artificial gravity, of course. Life support seems fine…” I trailed off.

“And?” Nixie asked in my ear.

I swallowed. “And suspended animation—two units.”

In use?

“Seems so.” I pulled off my helmet and secured it against the back of my suit, convinced I’d be able to breathe without it. “I guess this ship wasn’t quite as abandoned as we thought it was.”

I’d never come across live passengers during a salvage before. From what I’ve heard, it was rare. Passengers on a broken-down ship were usually either rescued immediately, or just plain didn’t make it.

And then, of course, most salvagers wouldn’t talk much about what they would do if they encountered any. Some of us were more scrupulous than others, and a situation like this started to veer dangerously close to piracy.

Officially, it was my duty to step back now and help any passengers on board. Realistically, not all salvagers did that, and cryo pods were even more of a gray area. Cryogenic pods were expensive, unreliable, and no use if no one ever found them to bring you back.

Most of my peers probably wouldn’t judge me too harshly for leaving them as they were and taking everything unessential off the ship. Some probably wouldn’t even judge me for switching them off.

Lucky for any possible survivors, it was my call to make rather than someone else’s. “Looks like this just turned into a rescue mission,” I told Nixie. I double-checked that the power lines to the two pods were secure, made sure I knew how to get there, and then set out.

***

The pods were located in two different parts of the ship. One was in the med bay, and the other was in an unlabeled room closer to the engines. The med bay was the closer of the two locations, so I decided to start there.

This part of the ship, too, was different than what I’d been expecting. In any normal ship, the medbay would be pretty small and limited to first-aid and stasis only, but this medbay was large and took almost half a deck.

There were half a dozen small chambers set in the walls, some of them locked with security codes, and an entire wall was lined with cryo pods. All were dark except for one, a tiny green light flashing in the corner.

Normally the thing would’ve had a screen on the front, providing information about the person inside and about how safe the outside environment was for them. This one didn’t have anything like that. Instead, there were two buttons, and one of them was already flush with the surface.

There was something embossed at the top of the pod, too—a number and a name. G01SN0025 – Med2 . That was all—no window to see into the pod, no customization options, no note of any kind to someone who might come along and discover it.

“What are you seeing?” Nixie asked.

“Not enough to know anything more,” I said, and then, “I’m just going to open it.”

“Are you sure?” When I didn’t answer right away, Nixie pressed on. “Even if you start the interface, it will still probably take between thirty minutes and several hours for the process of reanimation to be—”

I pushed the button, and the door launched open in a cloud of steam, almost like it had been spring-loaded. It almost hit me in the face.

I flinched back instinctively, but curiosity drew me back. This wasn’t how stasis pods were supposed to behave.

I leaned cautiously in towards the pod, trying to get a good look through the dispersing vapor…

And a large, clawed hand wrapped around my throat.

 

***

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6 Responses to Bonded

  • Cindy Hoagland says:

    So far, it really pulls the reader in and keeps our attention riveted.

  • Di says:

    Wow what a cliff hanger! Can’t wait for the next chapter. Well written great set up of the story!

  • Lupita Narkevicius says:

    I have to agree with Cindy. Looking forward to the next installment!

  • Te Nesbitt says:

    When is this coming out? I may be sort of hooked already….

  • Dolly Barnard says:

    This is great! I love your writing. I am on the edge of my seat!

  • Sharon Rhoads says:

    Oh, no! Now I’m hooked and have to wait for more. I’m not good at waiting, but I won’t ask you to hurry. Write the rest the way you wrote this and it will be worth the wait. If you need any kind of help, I am The Lady T’Kaat of Kaat’s Keep and I would be pleased to assist.

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