Clanging alarms jarred Eysa Ryan awake.
“Warning. Multiple kinetic impacts. Shields failing. Calculating position, please hold.”
Eysa leapt out of bed, blinking sleep from her eyes. The Fireside Explorer’s emergency siren wailed like a wounded animal, hammering her skull. What the hell is happening?
Eysa held out her arms and her exo-suit detached itself from the wall. Uncoiling like a snake it slithered over her body and sealing at her neck with a hiss. Opening her door she went running down the steel hall to the bridge.
She activated her comm to her crew.
“I’m going to the bridge Emern, get to the engines,” she said.
An impact shuddered the corridor, Eysa fell, head slamming off the wall. She grunted, sight blooming crimson and purple like a nebula, her slipsuit’s medical responder injected painkillers.
Getting up Eysa checked her comm, the red blips of her crew members were passing the engine room. Kay and Jones following closely behind her brother.
“Roger, Ice,” Emern said. “Almost there. Engines are shot, I was able to get us a bit of power. Not sure how long it will last. Jones and Kay are checking life support on med deck. Something isn’t right. The damage down here is-”
A massive shudder cut his voice off.
“Emern!” Eysa shouted. Her suit beeped and she held up her arm. A three dimensional holograph of her ship popped up from the comm on her wrist, red lines illuminating the engine section. Or where it had been. It was gone.
Eysa stared dumbly, not moving.
Her wrist comm bleeped again. Jones. Eysa declined it, leaning against the bulkhead. The deck shuddered under her feet. The three dimensional holograph of her ship was floating above arm, blinking ugly red. Her comm started vibrating her wrist. Eysa pushed every thought of Emern out, she had a ship to save. Eysa let Jones’s call through.
“Commander, against my recommendation Kay’s working on deck one fixing life support. I’m on deck two. There’s hull breaches everywhere, can’t close em quick enough. Where the hell were our shields? What happened?”
“Don’t know. Emern is dead, shit. I, no, hold on, I’m going to the bridge. Long-range sensors are down, need to get a visual,” Eysa said.
Kay’s soft voice emerged from the comm. “Eysa, I’m sorry about Emern.”
“Just tell me you can get life support back up,” she said, gritting her teeth. Idiot brother, she thought, why did you go and leave me alone?
Jones’s voice crackled through. “Kay, get out. The escape pods are fused shut. If those get hit again the entire deck will go. Think of yourself for once, and the baby.”
The ship’s deck wide comm clicked on. “Approaching end of field. Two minutes until clearance.”
Eysa punched the air. “Emern got us enough thrust. Stay in med section, if we get the life support back up we have a chance.” We can do it, she thought. Eysa continued towards the bridge, she ran a hand along the wall of her ship. Come on baby, keep it together a little longer. A shrieking tear suddenly reverberated, metal grinding on metal, Eysa flinched.
“Aye,” Kay said. “It’s a damned mess down here, but I think we can-”
Another bone crunching impact shook the corridor. Panicking, Eysa checked her readouts.
Med decks one through three gone.
Eysa reeled. They’re dead. I’ve failed. Her father’s stern voice in her head, a Commander puts the lives of the crew of above their own. But what about this? You never told me about this, Eysa thought, the universe snatched them from me.
A pleasant A.I voice issued from her comm.
“Engines gone, residual life support will fail in two point five minutes. Gravity offline.” Tears leaked out of her eyes, floating away in a river. Nothing felt real to her, Eysa stared at the gleaming steel corridor.
Wiping her face she gripped an anti-grav manoeuvring bar and shot herself forward to the bridge. Emern, Kay, Jones. Her crew. Gone.
The door hissed open. Eysa flew into the bridge. Through viewport she saw millions of asteroids. They were in a belt.
An asteroid larger her ship was heading for the bridge. Eysa went to the Commander”s chair. The navigation system was fried. Not malfunction, the damage was too focused. Something had attacked them. Eysa felt a strange relief, it wasn’t her fault, she didn’t plot the route wrong.
The bridge could detach itself as a shuttle. She still had a chance to get out and go after what killed her crew. Damned if I’m returning home without finding out what it was, she thought. I won’t fail their memories.
Clamping a gloved hand on the chair she tapped for the command panel.
“Reroute all power to bridge. Shuttle protocol five, enga-“
Another impact shook the bridge. Alarms blaring hull breach screamed into Eysa’s ears and a ripping sound louder than a sonic boom blasted her ears. The vacuum of space roared, Eysa began heading head first out. She screamed. Her suit responded, covering her face with an exo-shell. The suit calculated an escape, thrusters shooting her out into space. Spinning wildly, Eysa watched helpless as a massive asteroid crushed the Fireside Explorer. All went black.
Beeping woke Eysa. Stars rotated around her like the planetarium’s back home. Her breath condensed the synthetic glass of her suit’s helmet. Temperature regulators are gone, she thought. Not long before she’d freeze, becoming a hunk of space debris. Alone. Drifting. Dead.
“Comm. Stabilize and clear view,” Eysa said.
“This will reduce available power by thirty percent, reducing your remaining air,” the suit’s A.I said.
Stunning purple, gold and red colours flooded in, sparkling and shining like miniature suns. Tubes of space gas writhing like serpents, moving in patterns and the random intent of natural phenomena.
Eysa stared in awe, tears streaking her cheeks.
Her father had longed for space, but their family was too poor for a flight. She thought of him in the early days of her childhood, staring at the stars, wistful and dreamy.
I’ll join him soon, she thought, We’ll be stardust. Eysa shut off the timer displaying her remaining air.
Time passed and Eysa floated through the nebula like a cloud. Before putting away her grief she drew one more conversation.
Her and Emern alone on the bridge. They’d gotten a priority message from home. Their father was dead.
Eysa had wiped her eyes, removing tears.
“Thought he’d had a heart attack when you got chosen,” Emern said. Sitting beside his sister as they stared at the infinite black outside the viewport. “The first Ryan in space,” Emern said, sweeping his hand out in a grand gesture.
“Not the last though,” Eysa said, nudging her brother.
“Couldn’t let you make all the family history.”
Eysa snorted and put an arm around her brother.
She sniffed. “Yeah, well, you’re a pain in the ass sometimes.”
“So are you, can’t believe you’re my commanding officer. Little sis with twigs in her hair telling me what to do, it’s a joke.” Emern laughed. He replayed the message again. A three dimensional image of their father in a hospital bed looking up at them one last time, his eyes bright and alert.
“I think he was happy in the end, knowing we’re out here,” Eysa said.
Emern was silent. His head nodded slowly. “I think so too.”