So the spaceship slewed sideways from uncorrected gravitational pull and shuddered from an unexpected gust of solar wind that stirred the heliosphere. Windows of dimensional matrix display lit up and the xyz grid showed the wave of force. Navigator Rex at the helm commanded the ship’s response but couldn’t correct in time. A full pot of juicy fractals bounced out of the unsecured magnetic grapple and slithered across the side of the ship and back into the void, free once more.
“Damn-me,” Capn Jacq said. “We just lost a fortune in mandelbrots. Rex, you asleep over there?”
Navigator Rex didn’t look up from the data streaming onto his window. Deckhands struggled to reel in the line. The pot dangled in space, empty as a suit of clothes.
“Watch the hydraulics!” Capn Jacq roared. The winch squealed as it drew in the line, dragging the pot behind it. Too fast and the pot would launch into the ship’s hold rather than be neatly caught up again.
“You’ve done this before!” she bellowed into the comm. Broadcast volume pegged in the red zone. “Reel it in, hook it up, toss it out. Fifty times a day! Seven days a week! Six weeks a season! A little rough sea is part of the fun. Get your thumbs outta your mouths and pay attention!”
Deck crew—four of them clumsy in counter—pressure suits, two safely behind poly netting controlling the hold ‘droids—stowed the line and brought in the empty pot. The greenhorn, newest kid on the ship who thought she could handle space and EVA and grinding hard work on the fishing vessel, clambered into the pot and reset the come—hithers, electronic pied-pipers that called to the mandelbrots. The greenhorn—Capn Jacq checked the shift list: this one was Mackenzie Lutz, female, out of Luna Colony (limited)—worked fast and was getting the hang of it all. Capn Jacq thumbed the greenhorn’s record and placed a pip by her name.
“All right already, launch that puppy!” Capn Jacq pushed the clarion button and the hold light flashed green. Green for go, green for release, green for all the money she would make from a hold stuffed with fractals.
Capn Jacq studied the fishing calendar she already knew by heart. Mandelbrots, the current crop, were big and brought in plenty of cash for their size; in two months the julias would be in season, a lot smaller but much more lucrative, also much harder to catch; and next year sometime the quota for quaternians, wheel shaped and hardest to catch, would be set and her ship, Spaceship F/V Northern Star, would make another fortune, trawling the asteroids for the luxury foods industry.
She’d lived all her life in space and loved the acidic savor of fractals. Who would have thought that those wild organic crystals were food? Who was the brave soul to first cook one up, microwaved, steamed, drizzled with oleo? Then again, back on Earth, who was the first to eat a snail?
Her well-trained crew worked to bring in another pot, this one locked closed and half-full of mandelbrots. The ship stayed quiescent while they grabbed the pot. One of the droid operators attached the suction hose and the fractals drained away into the ship’s refrigerator. Warmed up from the near-zero temperature of open space, the creatures plumped up and quieted down. On deck, the greenhorn reset the come-hithers and the hands tossed the pot back into space.
Capn Jacq tagged the location on her map. Pot 19 of 60 on this string, smack dab in the middle of the asteroid belt biomass migration from MA52 to MA06. Six other spaceship fishing vessels had rights to fish these fractals, plenty of ground to cover in those thousands of square miles of space, plenty of fish in the sea. So to speak.
Another jolt upended the ship. Navigator Rex’s holo fluttered.
Capn Jacq plugged in overrides and allowed emergency subsystems to correct the ship’s skew and lay.
“Rex, what the hell was that?”
The navigator licked his lips. “Unexpected gravitational thrust from behind us, captain,” he said. “Looks like an unremarked asteroid is hoving fast up from behind MA52. It will overtake us in eight.”
“Well let’s see if we can avoid it,” she snarled.
“Yes, ma’am,” Rex said. “Captain? The deck. Looks like someone’s overboard.”
She’d missed the klaxon in the flurry of other demands on her displays. Three deckhands held tight to harnesses attached to one of the droids. The second droid launched itself after the floating deckhand.
“Who is that?” She scanned the telem. “Damn, it’s the greenhorn. Wouldn’t ya know. Did we lose the pot too? Maybe she can reach the pot.”
She studied the windows. “Can’t see anything on these things!” She flicked on her comm to the droid pilot.
“Marco, there’s an asteroid about to buzz you. Keep a tight grip.”
“I’m out on a limb here, Capn Jacq, let’s see if I can stretch.” He hummed something. She knew the racy lyrics but didn’t want to think about that right now.
“Fer gods’ sakes, Marco, status!”
“Oh that’s one big piece of rock,” Marco said conversationally.
Capn Jacq thumbed off the line to Marco.
“Reasonable distance,” he said. “We’re sliding away from it.”
Capn Jacq opened the line to Marco.
“Marco? Enjoy the view but don’t sweat it. It’s passing by. Get the greenhorn. And the pot.”
“Yeah, Cap, I’m about five meters away from the … got her! No problems, easy-peasy-mac-n-cheesy.”
“Think you can snag the pot?”
“Sure, I’ve got one waldo free. The jet spray is a little low; we’ll have to refill when I get back.” He hummed a tune while he maneuvered. “Got it. Returning to the ship.”
“Good work, Marco. Okay, did you guys copy that? He’s coming in. Stand by to assist.”
She watched the droid settle onto the deck. The other hands abandoned the safety droid. Two went to secure the pot, the third helped the greenhorn off the deck.
Cap’n Jacq said, “Okay, guys, Rex says it’ll be about an hour to realign into our flight path. Take a break, stretch your legs. Don’t smoke ‘em even if you’ve got ‘em.”
The hands crammed into the airlock while the droid operators docked the machines against the deck hull. In just a few minutes, the deck was deserted and neat, open to black jeweled skies of asteroid belt space.
Capn Jacq spun her seat around to face Rex. “Now us, we don’t get a break. We have to wrestle this ship back onto path.”
Rex grinned. “Sure, Captain. No problem.” He played with his window, touching the lines he wanted. “Captain, you need to look at this.” He expanded the virtual view of the fishing ground. “That rogue asteroid left a mess behind it.”
Like cream stirred into a cup of coffee on a full-gravity kitchen table, the rogue asteroid had stirred the biomass from its normal dense herd. Now two main herds swirled in space, each roiling opposite the other. The fractals were swimming away from the path of the asteroid and away from her string of pots.
Capn Jacq knew a lot of cuss words. Over the next few minutes she used them all and made up a few. When she wound down she took a deep breath.
“All right, Rex, we’ve gotta pick ‘em up… empty, I guess… and put ‘em back down again. You got it covered?”
“Sure,” he said. “I can plot a path. But the swirl of the biomass hasn’t resolved yet. They may change up again.”
“Are they coming back to this line?”
“I don’t think so. Looks like the rogue swept them away.”
“Then we need to set a new line.”
“Captain, that would bring us into Captain Phil’s quadrant.”
She spun her chair a few times, 360s, faster each rotation. “Fine with me. Where’s Phil now?”
“I’ll ping him,” Rex said. His window glowed with bright blue spots surrounding the Northern Star’s position. Some of them had tags: F/V Cordelia Marie, F/V Magician, F/V Water’s Edge. Two blue spots were untagged but away from the biomass.
“Where’s the Beowulf?” Capn Jacq said. “I know he’s out there. He’s supposed to be right beneath us.”
“Hailing,” Rex said. The one word held all the tension in the world.
“Yeah, SOP,” Capn Jacq said. “Put it on the monitor. And speaker. I wanna hear Phil’s voice.”
“Northern Star calling Beowulf, come in,” Rex said. His finger marked the Northern Star’s avatar on the window and trailed to the cluster of tiny brilliant lights underneath it. The rogue asteroid had traveled on that trajectory.
“Come back, Beowulf,” Rex said.
The miniscule kitchen and dining area held all six deck hands plus the cook. They sat close enough to feel each other’s bodies from knee to shoulder on both sides. Mackenzie lifted her coffee from table to mouth, jostling the man on her left, and drank. No delicate sips. She wouldn’t be delicate with these rough spacers. Still, the coffee tasted fine, not the sludge she’d expected on board a spaceship fishing vessel.
“I owe you a round of drinks,” she said. She ran her right hand across her freshly-shaved scalp. The stubble felt like velvet.
“Yes, soon as we make port,” one of them said. Marco? He’d rescued her. Talked a lot. She had him pegged as the crew ringleader. “It’s tradition. The greenhorn goes open space at least once a season.” He glared at the others. “Not that the crew’s supposed to let the pot go. I’d have been after it even if you hadn’t gone flying.” He smiled at her.
She liked the smile.
“All right, when we get back to Luna Colony, I know a place,” she said. “Bar in front, bunks in back.”
Skinny Pete, a long-time deck hand, laughed. “None of that! Didn’t they tell you? No shipboard romances!”
“Not unless you’re Captain Jacq!” More snorts of laughter.
“Stow it, kiddies,” Marco said. “She took care of that problem. That’s our Captain Jacq, a problem solver if ever there was one.” He shook his head.
“Captain Jacq fell in love?” Mackenzie poked at the communal plate of eggs the cook had set in front of them.
“Don’t you agree she’s a lovely woman?” Marco said.
The crew agreeably rumbled in the affirmative.
“Phil thought so too. Good ol’ Phil,” and Marco shook his head again. “I’ve never seen a guy get it so bad as when he first set eyes on Captain Jacq. Of course, she wasn’t a captain then, but neither was he.”
“What happened?” Mackenzie asked, because she knew she was supposed to ask. He’d have told her even if she’d stayed mute but he wouldn’t have been as pleased. She wanted him to stay happy.
“What do you think happened? They snuck away at all hours, finding all the weird, uncomfortable, secluded spaces of the ship. Later on, Captain Phil mapped them all out for the ship’s metrics. Captain Jacq swears they kept a couple secret, just in case.”
He winked at the greenhorn. She blushed and swallowed more coffee.
“After a while, Captain Luke… that’s Captain Jacq’s dad, God rest his soul.”
The crew all repeated, “God rest his soul,” and Mackenzie ducked her head and said the words too.
“Captain Luke got wind of the affair and boy was he furious. He swore up one side and down the other that he’d send Phil so far away that the sun would nova before his daughter saw the likes of him again.
“Captain Jacq and Phil had to own up to Captain Luke that they’d gotten married at the last port and if Phil was sent away, she’d follow him. ‘To the ends of the galaxy,’ she said, and if you’ll notice that’s our ship’s motto.” Marco leered at her a bit then winced. “Hey! Who kicked my leg?”
“Just get on with the story,” someone said. “Girl’s gotta know.”
“Captain Luke swallowed his pride and retired, giving his ship over to his daughter and her husband. Captain Jacq and Captain Phil!” They all gulped coffee in a toast. “But a ship can’t do with two captains, even two in love as completely and utterly as Captain Jacq and Captain Phil. After a while the two got to squabbling and countermanding each other’s orders and things were a fine mess.” Marco frowned. “I think they woulda split up, despite being god-damned in love, if Captain Luke hadn’t mortgaged his retirement pension and bought a fishing vessel for Captain Phil.”
“To Captain Phil!”
“To the Beowulf!”
“And it’s good for us too,” Marco continued. He winked at her. “Crew gets sick of each other, ya know? So whenever someone is done here, they can get a bunk on the Beowulf, as long as someone there wants to switch. We’re brothers!”
“Ahem,” Mackenzie said, pretending to clear her throat.
“No, really. Brothers. Even the ladies amongst us. When you aren’t green any more, you’ll do the blood brother thing with us.
“Of course, Northern Star is a better ship, and Captain Jacq pulls in bigger catches and makes more money for us all. But Beowulf is a good change.”
“Oh now, Beowulf is better during the julia season, and those are pricier fractals, better paychecks,” a woman who’d recently worked on the other ship said.
The warning bell rang.
“Time for shift,” Marco said. He grimaced when he looked at his watch. “We’re early.”
The cook said, “All right, all you outta my kitchen!” She shot an evil grin at Marco and Mackenzie. No time to fool around now, the grin said.
“Attention crew. Attention.” Rex’s voice poured through the speakers. “A ship was hit by that last asteroid and we are changing course to intercept. Ship involved is Beowulf. Repeat, Beowulf. No hails to the ship’s frequencies have been answered. No SOS has been received from the area.”
Capn Jacq’s voice took over. “All right. To the deck. Secure it for rescue operations. Arrival to area of debris… “—her voice shook—“last known location of Beowulf in two hours. Hustle, people.”
Capn Jacq hugged herself when the ship arrived at the last known coordinates of the Beowulf. Mandelbrots overflowed the sky, rich fishing, the pointy shapes full and round. The backwash of the asteroid would clear the fractals to another path soon. She’d never be able to catch them. She didn’t care. She only wanted to see the debris that comprised the remains of the ship.
Not the debris, she thought. Lifeboats. There will be lifeboats. There are always lifeboats. Phil will be in one.
Rex told the display to mask out the fractals. He looked for larger biomasses amid the ship debris signatures. Bright red speckles showed up in a clump in the display.
The mass analyzer said that the apparent spots of highlighted biological material accounted for eight people’s worth of mass. At least two bodies, maybe three, shy of the full crew.
Eight people were in space. Free-floating.
Rex said, “Captain, I found a lifeboat. Locked in route to intercept. Arrival five minutes.”
“How many?” she said.
“Two,” he said. “Telem shows that they’re alive. Can’t raise them on the hail, though. Their radio must be out.”
“Names?” Is it Phil? Her finger hovered over his name on the crew list.
“Will let you know. Crew, stand by to open hold door.”
The deck hands did the work quietly, no cross-chatter on the comm.
Capn Jacq’s fingers pounded over the comm desk, sending messages, receiving messages, logging officialese for the inevitable inquest. She corrected a typo.
It has to be Phil.
Her crew opened the doors to the deck and spotted the lifeboat. That was a standard-issue vehicle, bright orange, cigar-shaped, big enough for ten people for ten minutes, the joke went.
The crew secured the lifeboat with magnets and toggle lines. The greenhorn, Mackenzie, pounded on the lifeboat hull in Morse code, warning the survivors to don their vacuum suits. She repeated the message. After a pause, she started the message again but was interrupted with banging from inside the lifeboat. They’d heard. They’d understood.
The survivors twisted the hatch open and climbed out. Two deck crew helped them out, awkwardly dancing over hatchways and tank openings.
Capn Jacq rumbled, “Who do we have here? Sing out, spacers!”
Of course it’s not Phil, she thought. He’d never stay safe while others floated.
For just a moment the spacers, hers and the Beowulf’s, stood motionless. Then with shouts of glee they fell into a group hug.
After a suitable pause Capn Jacq said, “That’s enough of that. You two, into the ship. Med check. The rest of you, back to work. Let’s get the rest of the crew.”
Instantly sobered, the crew stared into space open above their heads. Up there were eight spacefaring fishermen. Friends. Brothers. And Captain Phil.
“Aye, aye, ma’am,” Marco replied.
Someone, probably Marco again, had the bright idea of using the pots for recovery. Swarms of fractals and the floating cloud of ship debris and bits of shattered asteroid hindered crew struggling to grasp frozen and slick suits, some with hasty red emergency patching. As the crew scooped them up, they read out the identification numbers. Rex listed the numbers, checking off the recovered survivors.
“I’m going down there,” Capn Jacq said.
Rex frowned. “You belong here. The command chair can’t be empty during an emergency.”
“My ship, my rules,” she said. “Keep it together, Rex.”
She stood in the gangway, draping mylar blankets around quickly-unsuited crew and sending them to the mess.
“Coffee,” she said. “All the coffee you can swill. You know the way.” She patted backs and shook hands and even hugged a couple of the long-timers. But her eyes were distant and she stared over their shoulders, looking for someone who wasn’t there.
Rex announced, “All right, that’s it. We’ve recovered everyone. No more human-sized biomass.”
“Are you sure?” Capn Jacq said. She didn’t say, Not everyone is here.
“Yes. I’ll take one more visual 360 then I think we’ll have to declare it done.”
Capn Jacq rubbed her face. She was a sailor from a long line of sailors. And life on the sea, the sea of space, was the only life she could tolerate. The sea ate sailors, it always had. No knowing how many had lost their lives at sea.
But not Phil. She couldn’t accept that. Not Phil.
The deck doors closed out the fractals and the darkness of space.
Capn Jacq eased back in her command chair. She read the list of names again. Phil’s identification hadn’t come up. Sooner or later a Guard yacht would collect the floating bits of the Beowulf. Phil’s DNA would be found in the debris. Until then the uncertainty would be hard to bear.
She closed her eyes.
When she opened her eyes again the lights were gone. The window displays were dark. The background whine of engines and motors had ceased. The rhythmic creak of an old spaceship reached overwhelming tones. The power was out.
She leaned against the desk. Emergency power would come up quickly. Blue light flicked on. The displays sprang back up. Navigator Rex flickered in his usual spot.
The hatch to the comm deck jerked open, crying a metallic protest. Marco used his legs to jam it all the way home.
“What’s going on, Captain?” He stood uncomfortably in the hatch. “Why’s the ship nonfunctional?”
Capn Jacq glared at Rex. “Yeah, Rex, why’s my ship nonfunctional?”
“Best I can tell,” Rex said, “fractals are lining the hull and might have broken out the antenna from its channel. Also, somehow, they shorted out the hull magnetosystem, which is why we’re dark. But we’re not nonfunctional.
“We’re not nonfunctional,” he repeated. “Some of the internal systems are fine: air, windows, even certain areas of propulsion. Not that I’d recommend going anywhere right now.”
“All right,” she said. “So we’re in an overcrowded dark ship with nine extra crew. Send a couple of droids out to clear the hull. Marco knows how to fix the magnetosystem, right? He can fix the antenna, too. We have spares? Doesn’t matter if we don’t, has to be repaired.
“I don’t suppose,” she paused and then settled herself in her chair, “I don’t suppose you got an SOS out? Anyone else know we’re here?”
“Yes, I have a couple of fleet vessels coming and a Guard yacht says it’s on the way. Might be a while. Captain Ada and Captain Sven said they’d be here soonest. You have friends in the fleet. They’ll help you with this. With Phil.”
“Mind your own business!” she snarled. “What are you waiting for? Let’s have some action!”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
“I’ll see to the survivors,” she said. “Maybe they know….” She pursed her lips.
Capn Jacq stared out the true window at the wreck of the Beowulf. The ship appeared rearranged, not destroyed, missing a hunk of stern here and adding irregular portholes. Ice diamonds sparkled as they orbited the ship, particles of atmosphere vented and frozen.
“You can’t go over there,” Rex said.
“The survivors didn’t see him abandon ship. He wasn’t out there, we’d have found him. He has to be on the ship. I’m going.”
“Think about your duties here,” Rex said reasonably. “The fleet services will be here soon enough to help search for him but for right now you have to secure your own ship. We still haven’t completed the repairs.”
She laughed. “Get to it, then, and I’ll get to finding Phil.”
“You can’t leave me in command. I’m a holo. It’s illegal.”
“Second officer is Marco. Can you handle taking orders from him?” Capn Jacq sat on the edge of her seat. She wanted to go. Now.
“Take him with you. Marco. I can work with the third mate. You have to buddy, you can’t go over alone.”
“No, not Marco, you need him for repairs. I’ll take the greenhorn. Mackenzie.”
Rex rolled his eyes. “We don’t have an umbilical set up. Hell, there’s nothing secure to hook it to. You need someone with experience to go open space with you.”
“You saw her this morning. She did fine.” Capn Jacq stood up, flexed her shoulders. “Hail her for me.”
Rex flicked the comm link. “Hey Mackenzie, ready for something new?”
“We’ll be fine,” Capn Jacq said.
Mackenzie’s breathing rasped. Several hundred meters of open space separated the hatch deck of the Northern Star from the wreck of the Beowulf. The fractals had cleared, mostly, and the bits of asteroid debris had spun away. Somewhere out there were constellations, stars. Closer was the moon. The earth somewhere below. Mackenzie’s head buzzed. Dizzy. She tried to find a point of focus.
“Keep your eyes on the structure, it’s better that way,” Capn Jacq said. “The sky will wait, but Phil is running out of time. We gotta get to the Beowulf now.”
“Captain Phil?” Mackenzie said. “We’re going for Phil?” She took a deep breath. “Where do we start?”
“Just dive,” Capn Jacq said. She pointed inside the torn open hull of the ship. “Follow me,” she said. “Aim for that breach.”
Capn Jacq videoed the blasted structure as they approached. This section of the Beowulf was not airtight. An asteroid had only tapped the ship yet it tore apart like a glued-together model, with some parts shredding and some parts staying whole.
“I bet the below-decks are still air-tight,” Capn Jacq said. “Down we go.” She led her through the gangways, lifting her magnetic boots over the hatchways. Mackenzie followed her like a faithful dog, noting what was damaged and what was not, but mostly just making sure Capn Jacq was not alone.
The refrigerator, deep in the bowels of the ship, hummed.
“Still working,” Mackenzie marvelled.
“Yeah, sturdiest machine in the ship. Keeps the fractals alive,” Capn Jacq said. The mandelbrots moved around inside the fridge. “Needs more than loss of ship integrity to kill these damned things.”
She slapped the ship’s skin and punched a hole through the sheet aluminum. Shocked, she stared through the hull of the ship into open space. The ship was no longer reliable, no longer air-tight in repairable sections. The Beowulf was a derelict.
Fractals boiled in through the hole. In moments they filled the hold.
Mackenzie laughed. “Hey, they like me!” The fractals clung to her suit. She encouraged them to settle on her arms and torso.
“No!” Capn Jacq dove towards the greenhorn and tore the fractals from her suit. “If they lock edges they’ll combine and compress. Squish you and eat you,” she said. “Didn’t they tell you about that?”
“No ma’am,” Mackenzie said. She scrubbed a random fractal away from her helmet. “I helped wipe down suits when crew came in from fishing but no one said. I didn’t know.”
Capn Jacq smacked her shoulder. “Don’t get shook up. Learning is a good thing.” She hailed the Northern Star.
“Cargo’s still good,” she said to Rex.
He asked when she wanted to transfer the refrigerated harvest.
“Send over a hose when you can spare crew,” Capn Jacq said. “We’ll need the haul to pay the bills.” She thumbed off the comlink.
Mackenzie cleared her throat.
“What about a biomass scan?” she said. “That’d pinpoint his location for us.”
Capn Jacq shrugged. “We tried that,” she said. “No way to mask out the fractals. We’ll have to do this visually, by the book. Most ships have a standard layout. Beowulf’s no different. Just follow me.”
Just outside the cargo hold, Capn Jacq stopped at an unlikely corner angle. “One of our favorite places.” She pulled a bit at a top corner and the metal wall fell off into her hands. A closet space opened up in front of her. Empty.
“You really think Captain Phil might be here somewhere?”
“It’s his ship. He wouldn’t leave. Thing is, I’m the only one knows where all the secret places are,” Capn Jacq said. “Me and Phil. I have to keep looking.”
She popped open another bit of wall, this one a meter above deck level. Again, the space revealed was empty. “Two down, a hundred to go. You can go back, I’ll stay.”
“Not gonna leave you alone,” Mackenzie mumbled.
“Good,” she said. “I’d rather have someone along.”
Mackenzie logged 500 feet of gangway and at least a dozen more hidey-holes.
“How can a ship have so many unlikely spaces?” she said. “Holes everywhere. It’s bad design.”
Capn Jacq coughed. “The Northern Star has a lot fewer spaces, it’s a newer design. A lot less interesting.”
Mackenzie sighed. “We’re getting low on oxygen, Captain.”
“What are you trying to say?” Capn Jacq stopped moving for the first time since they boarded the ship.
“We have to get back soon.”
“If we’re getting low, with our fresh oxygen tanks, then Phil is even closer to empty. I’m not leaving until I find him.”
“No!” Capn Jacq kicked at the gangway. “Not until I find him!”
She pulled up a bit of flooring parallel to the gangway. A pit was exposed, a coffin sized space between plastic girders. She swayed above the empty hole. She tumbled in.
“Capn? Is he there? Capn?” Mackenzie gazed into the hole. The captain didn’t move. “Captain!”
She reached for the best grip she could get, a hand around the ankle, and yanked Capn Jacq out of the hole.
“Capn! Are you okay?”
The woman didn’t respond. Mackenzie checked the facemask. Capn Jacq’s eyes were closed. Her breathing fluttered.
“Aw god,” Mackenzie said. She glanced at the 02 gauge. Not empty, but near enough. Capn Jacq had passed out.
She plugged her suit air into Capn Jacq’s. Mackenzie’s atmosphere drained as their suits equalized pressure. Not much oxygen was left on either of their gauges. Mackenzie swayed. Capn Jacq’s voice restored her attention.
“Fridge,” Capn Jacq said. “Airtight.”
Mackenzie slipped her right arm around Capn Jacq. She dragged and shoved Capn Jacq down two levels to below decks and the refrigerator. The machine hummed.
She twisted the dogs on the hatch and pulled the portal open. Pressure blasted against her suit as atmosphere escaped. She shoved Capn Jacq through the hatch and followed, moving slow. She turned. A moment to seal the portal. The gauges showed pressure and chill. She thought slowly. The machine was still tight though a little short on pressure. Its engines churned as it worked to make up the difference. Fractals piled up in drifts around the hold. They didn’t try to cover her like the ones in vacuum had. Warmth, she thought. They’re warm and docile.
She pulled off her helmet and swallowed a lungful of air. Plenty of it. She coughed. Then she bent over Capn Jacq and struggled with her helmet’s emergency release. After a moment the helmet came off.
Capn Jacq gasped for air, then sat up. Stared over her shoulder. Pushed her aside.
She crawled to the wall. A white spacesuit gleamed through a pile of fractals. Capn Jacq dug into the pile and flung them away. She uncovered Phil in just moments.
“Phil!” She chafed his face.
Blood seeped through rips in his suit, frozen into rivulets of gore. A red emergency patch on his left leg sealed the suit at knee level. His leg was gone.
“Phil,” she whispered. She cradled his head in her lap.
He opened his eyes. “I knew you’d come.”
Mackenzie didn’t want to see Capn Jacq cry. She turned her back on them and hailed Rex.
“You’ll never guess who we found,” she said. “And by the way, send someone to come get us, would ya?”