Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Published: 2018-09-12-10-13)UK.TP

Start of story: A sliver of red

A sliver of red |  There it is |  The barrier |  More than a job | Inside | tba

Todd pressed the button that released the seal on Shuang's space suit. A tiny hiss of air indicated that pressure had equalised.

"You okay?" Todd asked, dabbing her face with a cool sponge from one of the compartments on his suit. "You awake?"

Shuang opened her eyes and blinked a few times. "Yes." She said. "Where are we?"

Todd glanced around. "In the entrance chamber." He said. He had been surprised to survive the onslaught of weaponry that pounded the exterior of the asteroid for over five minutes. But the access point had held, the chamber had held.

"We made it?" Shuang asked.

"Yeah." Todd said and smiled. "Pretty cool eh?"

"Yeah. I guess." Shuang said. "It must have taken quite some control for you not to go exploring the asteroid, but to wait for me to wake up. How long has it been?"

"Two hours." Todd said.

"I'm impressed." Shuang said. "Not like you."

"Huh." Todd said. He wasn't sure if now was a good time to tell her that the only reason he hadn't gone exploring was because he couldn't find a way out of the entrance chamber. He had searched every surface, every crevice, but had found nothing. When he had tried to use his grapple to rip away some of the asteroid material it had made no impression. The other cutting tools he tried had been equally useless. He was starting to suspect that the asteroid wasn't a natural formation.

"So how does it feel? To have made it inside?" Shuang asked.

Todd looked at Shuang. He had to give her credit for continuing to pursue her character piece, even though the chances of returning to deliver it had dropped sharply. "Good." He said. "Ish."

"Ish?" Shuang asked. "How so?"

"I was expecting a bit more." Todd helped Shuang to her feet so that she could look around. "I have a feeling I know why the other species ignored this access point. It's a dud. Nowhere to go."

Shuang looked around and then bounded across the chamber.

"We have gravity?"

"Yeah - a bit." Todd said.

After she had made a circuit of the chamber, playing her head lamp across the rough surface, she returned to stand in front of Todd. "So what's next then?"

"You're not going to like this." Todd said. He had tried all of his cutting tools on all of the exposed rock, but had made only the most superficial impression. He had then sat, trying to work out a better plan than the one that had popped into his head. But to no avail.

"Back outside?" Shuang asked.

"Yeah." Todd said. "If we can traverse to another access point, then maybe we can get further inside."


"That's the problem." Todd said. "The plan has a low probability of success. That and ..." He played his lamp across the access point they had entered. "It seems to be fused. The controls aren't working anymore."

"That is a problem." Shuang said.

James Aston
Story 2018-08-21, part 5 (up to) of N (tbd)
498 words

A sliver of red |  There it is |  The barrier |  More than a job | Inside | tba

Saturday, September 8, 2018

More than a job

Published: 2018-09-08-15-22)UK.TP

Start of story: A sliver of red

A sliver of red | There it is | The barrier | More than a job | Inside | tba

"You sure you want to do this?"  Todd asked.

Shuang nodded.

"You can go home.  I've set up the secondary escape capsule to take you straight back."  Todd said.

"No."  Shuang said.  "I'll come."

"You know there's greater than fifty percent chance that I won't come back.  That we won't come back.  Alive or dead.  Is it really worth it to get closure on your job?"

"It's more than a job."  Shuang gave him one of those stares that he could never interpret.  But she seemed set on coming along.

They were suited up in the small space between the cargo hatch and the managed environment section of the ship.  Todd had outlined the plan to jump across to the asteroid in his suit.  The thrust program to slip through the series of gaps in the observation patterns of the alien ships circling the asteroid were already programmed in to both suits.  The last gap wasn't exactly a gap.  But Todd calculated that it would give him enough time to get inside the access point on the asteroid.

Four hours ago another single-person transport had arrived.  Instead of trying to make it to the surface of the asteroid it had turned and fired up its engines.  An Athis micro-missile had taken out its drive and the transport remained floating in space.  It had been enough for the asteroid.  The access points all started to emit a soft glow - which Todd interpreted as open for business.  The stream of vessels from the orbiting fleet to the access points convinced him of this.

No-one had descended to the access point Todd had identified.  A layer of debris half-covered it.  Why try for that one when there were plenty of easily accessible access points.

"Okay."  Todd said.  "It's your call.  The suit will get you to the surface ten seconds after me.  Just remember to fire the grapple - you don't want to bounce off.  The burn pattern is pointed away from any of the orbiting ships, so we should go unnoticed."

He looked at his wrist panel.  It confirmed the display on his visor - less than two minutes before the next window of opportunity.  He pulled the lever to open the cargo hatch.  There was no escape of gas, he had already cycled the cramped space to a vacuum.  Pushing the hatch wide open he saw the shape of the asteroid hanging in front of him across a gulf of space.

His visor display picked out the edges.  Within the boundary of the asteroid was only blackness.  And a few areas that glowed faint green - the access points.  Outside the boundary more blackness, this time speckled with the light of distant stars.  A target grid appeared at one edge of the asteroid and tracked slowly towards them as their chosen access point came in to view.

"Comms silence."  He said.

The countdown on his wrist hit zero, then he felt the kick of the suit as it jetted him out of the hatch and into space.  Ten seconds later he saw the ghost of Shuang's suit join him in the void.  After fifteen seconds the thrust cut out and he drifted toward the asteroid.  Todd tapped one of the thrust controls and gave himself enough angular momentum for his suit to turn and face back to the ship.

Although it was in stealth mode, attempting to leak no light, he could see the tell-tale angles and lines that betrayed its existence.  There could be no doubt that the ship had been spotted, even after his attempts at concealment.  A figure obscured the ship and Todd could make out a circular seam where Shuang's faceplate bled light around its edges.  It was the only indication of her he could make out.

With his revolution completed he tapped the opposite control to halt his spin and let the program take over again.  He dimmed his own visor display and sent a command to Shuang's suit to do the same.

Another minute passed then the thrust kicked in as the suit altered his trajectory to take up the curved vector that would end at the surface and at the airlock.  They hadn't been blasted out of the sky - which had to be a good sign.

A flash of light illuminated the asteroid in front of Todd.  He was a lot closer than he expected and only just managed to pull out a hand grapple and embed it in the surface as he hit.  He took the strain of the rebound with his arm, then pulled himself back to the surface and slapped on one of the grip patches that were tethered to his suit to make his hold firm.

He turned away from the surface and saw a ball of flame where his ship had been.  A pang of loss struck him immediately, but quickly subsided.  He had lost ships before.  He would lose them again.  It did mean that now he was committed to getting inside the asteroid.

Shuang's suit hit the surface next to him, he reached out to grab her, but she had rebounded before he could catch her.  In the glow of the ship he saw her reach for the grapple gun and carefully aim it at the asteroid.  The metal hooks flew across the gap, hit the asteroid and rebounded.  A glint of shaved metal indicated where she had hit the access point.

"Todd?"  Shuang said, a hint of concern in her voice.

"Shit."  He said.  She wouldn't have time to winch the line in and re-fire before she was too far away from the asteroid to hit it with another shot.  A suit burn now would pinpoint their location.  "Shit."

An explosion rocked the surface near the access point, obliterating some of the stone.  Todd traced it back to a dark shape hanging in space that had just peeked over the horizon of the asteroid.  The cordon was closing.

He felt at his suit and pulled out his own grapple gun, took careful aim and fired.  The grapple and line shot two metres to Shuang's left.  As the line reached its full extent Todd braced himself and then yanked hard.  The grapple bucked and its head started to follow a curved arc through space.  The line tangled with Shuang's flailing line and Todd started to winch it in.  As the two grapple heads met they locked together.

A second explosion rocked the asteroid.  The ship was higher in the sky now and tracing an arc towards them.  Todd felt a sudden wrench on his arm.  Both grapple lines had tautened.  The jolt took him by surprise and although his reflexes tried to keep hold of the gun handle, it was pulled from his grip.

"Todd?"  Shuang said.

"Hang on."  Todd said, and hoped he had done enough.  He wrestled with the choice.  The thrusters from both suits were under his control.  But if he fired up Shuang's suit now, then they would be toast.  It would be like painting a target on them.  There was one more chance, but he had to get the access point open, and unnoticed by the patrolling ship.  He tracked the ship above - it was closer, much closer.  It would be above them in less than a minute.

Todd turned his attention to the access point.  He pulled himself over the metallic shape.  He was too close to be able to discern the symbols written around it.  At its centre was what looked like a hand release.  He scrambled across to it, tensed and pulled the handle upwards.  It hissed and then a circle of metal started to slide away beneath him.

"Well that was easy."  Todd said.

"What was easy Todd?"  Shuang asked.

Right, he thought.  He tapped on the controls that lit up Shuang's suit and sent her hurtling towards his location.  He nudged his own suit inside the opening and as Shuang sped past him and into the asteroid he threw his hand grapple at a large red button just inside the access point.

The grapple hit and behind him the circular door swung closed with surprising speed.  All hell broke loose as missiles and other weapons rained down on the exterior of the asteroid.

James Aston
Story 2018-08-21, part 4 (up to) of N (tbd)
1440 words

A sliver of red | There it is | The barrier | More than a job | Inside | tba