Black Petals Issue #77 Fall, 2016

Surviving Montezuma 3, 4
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Surviving Montezuma, Chapters 3 and 4-Continuing Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
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Continuing Fiction by Kenneth James Crist

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Art by Mike Kerins 2016

SURVIVING MONTEZUMA, Chapters 3 & 4

 

By Kenneth James Crist, BP Editor

 

Another survivor

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Once again Billy took a tour of the Montezuma, but this time much more slowly. He waited until the banging started because it seemed there were periods of time, maybe hours long, when the sound was absent. When it started, he sealed up his suit and depressurized his room. He began yet another methodical exploration of the ship; he would move a few yards and place his helmet against a bulkhead and listen for the sounds, able to tell if he was going in the right direction by their volume. He made a number of false starts and spent several hours trying to track down the source, finding himself at last on an upper deck, not far from the bridge. When he would place his helmet against the structure of the vessel, the sound seemed to be reverberating from everywhere, no matter which way he moved.

He began a methodical examination of every space he could get into, opening hatches and using his suit lights. He had covered almost all of the compartments on this deck, which was officers’ country, when he found a door he was unable to open. It was either jammed by warpage and damage or there was pressure on it from inside. He placed his helmet against it and heard the ringing of hammer blows very clearly. When it paused, he hammered on the door with a closed, gauntleted fist, repeating the pattern. It returned immediately, sounding somehow more frantic. There was someone else alive!

Then, suddenly, there was a face at the small thick window set in the upper half of the door. She looked out at him, her expression dazed, as if she wasn’t sure he was real. She was trying to talk to him and Billy put his helmet against the door. Faintly, he heard her voice, saying, “Can you help me?”

Billy looked at her through the glass and held up his only hand, making the “can do” or “Okay” sign.

She was talking again, yelling, it appeared and he put his helmet against the door. “I have no suit! No suit!”

Billy moved in front of the glass, nodding, bobbing up and down to indicate that he understood, then held up one finger in a “wait one minute” gesture. He left her and headed down three decks to get her a space suit.

Someone alive! He couldn’t believe it. He wondered who she was and how she came to be trapped in the only pressurized compartment aboard, with no suit.

In a few minutes he was back. He got to the door before it dawned on him that dumping the pressure in her compartment in order to get the suit inside would kill her: Catch 22. But when she saw the suit, she didn’t hesitate but immediately cracked the door’s valve and began bleeding off the air. He watched through the glass as she scurried across the compartment and went through another airtight door and closed it. Now he understood. She had two rooms and was using this one as an airlock.

He grabbed the handle on the door, leaned against it, and soon, when the inside pressure dropped to near zero, it opened. He stepped in and closed the outer door and the bleeder valve. She was watching him and, as soon as she saw him close the valve, opened the one in the second door. Billy thought quickly about what this would mean from a pressure standpoint. If the other room, the one she was in, was no larger than this one, the pressure in the two would drop drastically, probably to less than a fourth of an atmosphere. That was dangerous and she could well be injured or even die if she wasn’t into the suit quickly enough. His own air tanks were getting pretty low but he didn’t hesitate. He reached behind and under his own tanks and deliberately opened his dump valve, adding the air in his suit system to the room air. In about two minutes, the door swung open and she came out. Billy had a quick impression of a spill of honey-blonde hair and a lithe body before she was jamming herself into the suit. As soon as she was in, he closed his dump valve. His low air warning was bonging now and the soft feminine voice was telling him he would soon die.

He cut on his radio, motioning her to do the same.

“Yeah, go ahead.” she said, her breathing elevated by her exertions.

“I’ll need to go top off my suit. My low air warning is on.”

“I’ll go with you. I need to assess the damage to the ship.”

“I can handle that for you. It’s a total loss.”

“How many survivors, Gunny?”

“Just me and you, so far. And I didn’t know about you until just a while ago.”

“Roger that. Let’s go.”

“Okay. What should I be calling you?”

“I’m Marla Kinkaid, and you can call me Lieutenant, Gunny.”

“Were you one of the pilots, ma’am?”

“Navigator.”

Great, Billy thought, that means she has a minimum of combat training and probably no experience beyond her computers and charts.

“You seem to have gotten yourself an injury there, Gunny.” They were almost down to the area where the suits were and Billy’s air was getting foul.

“Yes, ma’am, and would you believe, I don’t even know how it happened?”

“Things got pretty confused there for a while,” she said. “I bet it makes it a little difficult to handle much of anything in zero-g. Have you been able to dress it or treat it at all?”

“No, ma’am. I was going to get around to that as soon as I figured out how to get some heat and power to my closet.”

“You’re living in a closet?”

“Yeah, Roger that. It used to be quartermaster’s storage and I had to patch it up, but it holds air. I’ve been heating it with a torch.”

“I’ve got electricity in the inside room. It isn’t much but I’ve been running a heater.”

“That’s great. Maybe we can figure out how to heat up the reactor just a little more, so I can run one, too.”

He was trying to hook up a transfer hose now, and she quickly bent to help him. Soon, his air tanks were refilling and it began to freshen up inside his suit.

“I think we’d better stick together,” Marla said. “Go get whatever you think we need and bring it up to my place. We can watch out for and help each other. Maybe if we put our heads together, we can figure a way out of this mess.”

“Whatever you say, ma’am. I mean, in case you hadn’t noticed, you’re the senior officer. You’re in charge.”

“Yeah, Gunny. I noticed.” She didn’t sound very happy about it either, at least not to Billy.

 

“I’d say that the first thing we need to do is get our priorities sorted out,” Marla said.

“I agree,” Billy answered. What else could he say? She was right. They were in her room, having finished bringing in everything that they deemed to be needed from his closet. They had pressurized the room and heated it to the point where it was comfortable and they had climbed out of their space suits. They were seated cross-legged on the wall (floor) and getting acquainted while they made plans.

“First and foremost is, of course, survival.” she said, “If we don’t survive, all else is wasted.”

“That’s not a priority, really. That’s the goal. That and to get rescued.”

She looked at him sharply from under her bangs. She had a slight upturn to her nose and a spattering of freckles. Then she said, “You’re right, Gunny.”

“There’s air, food, water, and warmth. That’s a start, but we’ll need to take inventory, just to see how long we can last and if we’ll need to ration.”

“Good. We can start on that right away. What’s next?” Since he was on a roll, she decided to let him go with it.

“Check all propulsion systems and see if any of the engines can be made to fire. Check fuel status to see what’s left.”

“Okay. Are we going somewhere?”

“Ell-Tee, we’ve got to go somewhere. We can’t just sit out here and die.”

“We could send radio signals on the guard channel...”

“No. I mean, no, ma’am. The Glassies monitor guard channel and they’d be delighted to come finish us off. Or worse, take us alive.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard horrible things about what they do with live humans.”

“They’re not just stories, Ell-Tee. I know guys that have seen it.”

“But our people might find us first.”

“Our own people might think it was a trick of some kind and, even if they believed our messages, I doubt that they would mount a mission just to save two of us. Anyway, do you want to take the chance?”

“Hmmm... You’ve got a point there, Gunny.”

“I think we’re on our own, Ell-Tee.” For the third time, Billy had used the diminutive for Lieutenant and Marla called him on it.

“I think we can drop the references to rank. What’s your first name?”

“Billy, ma’am.”

“Let’s just go with names for now. At least until we get back to civilization. It’s easier.”

“Okay, Marla,” Billy offered his hand and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

They shook hands and her look was very direct, her eyes very blue, her grip quite firm. Their handshake lasted just a second or two too long, then she abruptly pulled away.

“We’ll have to do something about treating your wound. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s already starting to ripen, a little.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed. Since you’re going to have to do most of it, I guess whenever you’re ready...”

“I’m as ready as I’m gonna get.”

They had raided what was left of the sickbay and found antibiotics, dressings, artificial skin, some sutures and a laser scalpel.

Marla started readying equipment and supplies and asked, “Do you want morphine? I can probably give you enough to knock you out.”

“I wouldn’t mind a little, but I have a high pain threshold and I don’t want to be completely out.”

“It’s gonna hurt like a bitch, Billy. I’m gonna have to reduce that stump back an inch to get above the infection and clean it up, then suture the artificial skin over it, and pack and dress it.”

“Sounds like you know what you’re doing.”

“I was an assistant medical officer on the Tripoli on my first hitch. I was also a navigator. I didn’t like working meds that much.”

“Well, it already hurts like a bitch, so let’s just get it done.”

Marla prepared a hypodermic and gave Billy enough morphine to make him sleepy, then, as it took effect, she set to work. Soon the small compartment was filled with the gagging stench of burnt and rotted flesh. Billy passed out in spite of himself. When he woke up, the arm was an inch shorter and a clean dressing was taped in place. Marla was sitting in the corner, her head resting on drawn-up knees, arms wrapped tightly around her legs. When Billy spoke, her head came up and he could see she had been crying.

“Hey, Ell-Tee.”

“God-damn, Billy.”

“What?”

“That was the worst.”

“Wasn’t real good from this end, either.”

“I bled off air and refilled twice, to let the smell out.”

“Good idea.”

“I didn’t want to waste the air but…”

“Didn’t want to waste the food?”

“You’re a bit of a smartass sometimes, Gunny.”

Usually, when I’m done up on morphine.”

“Get some rest, Marine. We’ll talk later.”

“Aye-aye, Sir...Ma’am. Sorry.”

“Billy?”

“Hmmm?”

“Shut up.”

She was one of those last-word females, Billy thought, as he drifted off again.

 

Billy came back to pain as strong as any he had ever felt. The nerves in his stump were screaming and he had been locked in a nightmare, with animals chewing on him. He had sweated gallons and it seemed that the tiny room was too warm. Marla was there, ready to give him more medication as he needed it and wipe his fevered brow.

When he was able to take food, she fed him and kept him drinking fluids. After the first twenty-four hours his fever lessened and the pain began to diminish. While Billy was recovering, she had lots of time to think about their situation and how she had ever come to be here.

Just twenty-three years old, she had been born to a mother who loved men and had been married five times by the time Marla escaped to college. The last two stepdads had both tried to molest her, the first guy just being the “touchy-feely” type, who couldn’t keep his hands off her as she was developing into a young woman. The last guy was more serious and had actually tried some moves on her that could have earned him prison time. Marla broke his nose for him and fled the home, landing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She worked full time and went to college for two years, then heard about the Officers’ Training Program in the Marines. She checked it out and signed up.

It had sounded like the adventurous, dangerous kind of life she craved. She was getting bored with school, anyway. But boot camp had been a rude awakening for her. The first thing they did to women in the corps was give them a four-year birth control implant, so there was no way they could conceive.

The military had become completely co-ed, with no separate barracks, showers, or any other facilities. The women trained with the men and got just as tough and mean as the guys. It was a matter of survival. If they couldn’t handle men, how could they fight the Glassies?

Many of the women and men she trained with were pairing off constantly; various relationships might last a few days or weeks, then break up. Homosexual relationships were common and largely ignored, except in rape cases. Marla chose to avoid entanglements while she trained, concentrating on what would keep her alive.

Her high test scores had gotten her a berth as a navigator, in a Marine Corps where women were fighting as grunts, right alongside the men; in that respect, she had lucked out. Her college time got her a commission as an ensign and a first assignment aboard Tripoli, another carrier/invasion craft of the same class as the Montezuma.

There, she’d had an affair with a medical officer, who’d taught her everything she needed to become his assistant. Serving double duty kept her burning the candle at both ends and she ate it up. The Corps was the most challenging thing she had ever been involved with, a place where she could hold her own against anyone and make it strictly on her own merits. Her maturity and independence had cost her, though, the loss of her innocence and more feminine ways.

After her first cruise, she was supposed to be assigned “shore” duty for a year, but her double specialty had gotten her another berth, this time on the Monty.

At the time the Glassies had sprung this latest attack, she had been sleeping in her quarters, exhausted from twenty hours of continuous duty, and hadn’t even heard the battle stations announcement. Until the ship was being slammed around and people were dying, she didn’t even know anything was going on.

Once she realized they were under attack, she had bailed out of her bunk and hurriedly dressed in preparation for suiting up. When she went to the door, she was unable to pull it open and realized that the ship had been holed, but she was lucky enough to be in an airtight space. At the time, she didn’t realize it was the only such place aboard. She waited for rescue teams to come through the wreck but, when no one came, she began to get panicky. The air in her rooms was becoming stale and lack of oxygen would soon kill her. She had started hammering on pipes and had all but given up hope when Gunny Hatcher had found her.

A resourceful woman, Marla was not afraid of much of anything. But dying in space in the wreck of the Montezuma and perhaps drifting unfound for eternity scared the shit out of her. Now she was dependent, to a certain extent, on this one-armed Gunnery Sergeant. She was pretty sure she could nurse him through his fever and keep him from dying, but wasn’t as sure that he was smart enough to get them out of trouble. She might have to be the brains in their little team and let him be the brawn.

She took a moist cloth and wiped his face, checked his pulse, and gave him another injection of antibiotics. She looked at his dark, craggy features and thought about how his dark eyes flashed. It could have been worse, she decided. At least he was a good-looking sumbitch.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

The wrecked MONTEZUMA continued to drift sunward. If left unchecked, it would slowly begin to accelerate, almost imperceptibly at first, then more noticeably as time went on. Eventually, in thirty or forty years, it would develop a fairly good speed, just before it dropped into the sun.

 

In a pair of small rooms aboard, Gunny Hatcher mended, his needs tended to by Lieutenant Kinkaid. Periodically, she would go out to forage, bringing needed food, water, air, and medical supplies back to their tiny environment. At the end of a week, Gunny Hatcher was ready to venture out with her. She had procured another battle suit for him, after removing its previous dead occupant and cleaning it as best she could. Billy’s own suit would no longer serve his needs, as the left arm could not be made airtight any longer and they had no facilities to repair it.

Marla had decided that their first order of business was to inventory their supplies. She didn’t like surprises, and finding out they had just used up the last tank of air or gallon of water was the stuff her nightmares were made of.

In a few hours of organized effort, they found that they could live for many months, maybe even a year, on what was left aboard. They wouldn’t be comfortable and the food would be monotonous, but they would live.

They tried playing with the power plant next and found that any upward adjustment in output wattage resulted in the plant trying to overheat. They were stuck with only enough juice for a heater and a light bulb.

Marla dragged out an old-fashioned star chart and a sextant and used a lot of math over a period of forty-eight hours to try and determine their position and speed. She knew that they were still near the Earth’s orbit but that the planet was drawing steadily away from them. If they could hold out for a year, waiting for the planet to come to them, they would need only a minor change in speed and direction to be in the right position to intercept the orbit. If they could wait a year... In the end, she told Billy that the tumbling of the vessel would have to be corrected using the steering rockets before she could get even halfway accurate readings.

They discussed their options and found that neither of them wanted to risk sitting for a year. What if the supplies ran out? What if the Glassies came back? What if one of them became really sick? They had already dealt with one medical situation, but what if something happened to Marla? Billy wasn’t trained in the medical field. They began to look at the Montezuma’s engines and steering rockets, to see what might be made operational.

 

It took Billy and Marla about six hours to determine that Montezuma had two steering rockets on its nose that might still function, provided they could find a way to control them, and only one on the stern. It also had one main engine that appeared intact. Whether it could be made functional would depend on their ingenuity in getting some kind of controls rigged. The control center on the bridge was a mess, though parts of it were still intact, and it lacked any kind of electrical power. Minimum power would have to be switched from the area of their makeshift quarters to the area of the bridge, whenever it was determined that it was safe to do so. It would do them no good to send power to it now and risk having everything that was still there burn up if something was wrong. They would have to take the bridge apart and look at miles of wiring and cables, just to be able to get one computer on line so that they could use it to determine battle damage. Then they might still have to repair or replace everything from the bridge to the one good engine and steering rockets, adding in whatever was missing. Once they were reasonably sure everything was in readiness, they could switch on power and give it a try.

They put in a minimum of eight hours a day of exhausting work and went to their quarters to eat and sleep. There was absolutely no privacy of any kind, even for toilet functions, which were accomplished with the use of an emergency zero-g chemical unit. Their quarters soon took on an unbelievable ripeness from the odors of food, the toilet and their own unwashed bodies. They were unwilling, at this point, to waste water on bathing that might later be needed to keep them alive.

What little time they had not taken up with working and sleeping became a time that they used at first to get better acquainted, then it became a time of boredom. After a week, they began trying to entertain each other; for several days they ran through every dirty limerick and bawdy story they had ever heard. On one occasion, Gunny Hatcher had kept Lieutenant Kinkaid laughing for so long with blonde jokes, Polack jokes, and elephant jokes, that her ribs had been sore the next day.

After a mere fifty or so hours of work, they reached a point where they felt ready to switch power to the bridge and try to light up one of the computers. Billy went to the appropriate electrical panel and threw the lever on a huge breaker and waited for Marla to call on his suit radio.

“I’ve got power,” her voice came through faintly. Billy crossed his fingers as best he could on his remaining hand.

“No sparks or anything.” He started breathing again.

“Computer’s coming up. You might as well come up here.” Billy thought of all the hundreds of splices they’d already made, borrowing wire wherever he could get it. Now the work would really begin.

 

On the bridge, the command console was all but missing. The helmsmen’s chairs, with their deep pads and restraint systems were gone. In their place was a hole eighteen feet in diameter that allowed Billy to look down through five decks and out into a giddy view of stars wheeling past.

He and Marla had hooked everything into one computer and one screen was lit up when he got there. Marla was at the keyboard, sorting her way through programs she was only basically familiar with and systems checks that were all Greek to her. This was more Billy’s field than hers, as he was a pilot, though not trained for anything like this. He watched over her shoulder as she worked at the keyboard while holding onto the remains of the console so she wouldn’t float off.

He read:

Time check=time source=Not available

Electrical Power=Minimal

Reactor Status=Coolant system dysfunction.

Engines=Engines 1 through 6=no response, engine 7=available, engine 8=no response.

Atmospheric=Emergency=atmospheric pressure=0

Gravity=Emergency=gravity off.

Gravity generators=unavailable.

Steering=forward pods #1=available, #2 through 4=no response, #5=available, #6 through 8=no response.

Steering=Aft pods= #4=available, all others=no response.

Communications=Not available.

Standing orders=Not available.

Course=Unknown

Heading=Unknown

Speed=Unknown

Position=Information not available.

Officer of the day=Unknown

Officer of the deck=Unknown

Chaplain=Unknown

“Looks like there’s a lot we don’t know,” Billy said with a tired smile.

“Yeah, but we got an engine and three steering rockets.”

“If they’ll work.”

“Right, if they’ll work.”

“So, if we can get this hulk stabilized, can you really tell where we’re at?”

“Damn betcha, Gunny. And I can tell which way to go to get us home, too, but first we’ve gotta stop this damn tumbling.”

“Can you do that from here?”

“Yeah, actually this is the only place I can do it from. I’ll have to give the individual steering rockets short bursts, then wait each time to see if we’ve slowed or sped up the tumble or become more unstable.”

“Okay, well, let’s get on with it. I mean, I think we should get started, Ma’am.”

“Actually, you should do this, Gunny; you’re the pilot.”

“No, that’s okay, Lieutenant, I’m more of a stick and rudder man, myself. You’re doing fine, there. Just go ahead.”

Marla tapped some keys and brought up one of the nose steering rockets and called for a one-second burst. There was a vague, far-off vibration they could barely feel, but no apparent change of status.

“I think it’s gonna take a lot more than that,” Billy said. “You got a lotta mass here, tumbling at a pretty good rate. It’ll take a lotta energy to see any results.”

“Whataya think, ten seconds?”

“Maybe. Couldn’t hurt.”

“Okay. Here goes.”

With the longer burn, the tumble appeared to slow slightly but they couldn’t be sure. Twice more and it became apparent that the ship was becoming more stable. Within two hours of patient work at the computer, using both fore and aft steering rockets, Marla had delicately bumped them into a stable attitude where everything appeared still. Now there would be no centrifugal forces at all anywhere on the ship. They would truly be weightless. They shut down the computer and shunted the electrical power back to their quarters, then went back there and Marla got out the sextant and took some sightings on known stars. She would do the same in twelve hours and again in twenty-four. From the readings she would determine their speed and get a rough idea of their direction of travel.

 

“We’re drifting slowly toward the sun, Gunny,” Marla said.

“That’s not good, is it?”

“Actually, it’s not that bad, either. If we want to cross the solar system and take the shortest approach to Earth, we’ll need to go fairly close to the sun.”

“But, too close...”

“Yeah, too close and we’re dead.”

“Can you get us close enough, without cooking us?”

“Probably. But that’s not our immediate problem.”

“Okay, what’s our immediate problem?” Billy liked her like this, when she was working on a problem. She would get this little crease in her forehead. He was already thinking of it as her “I want to solve this” line. It was not quite a frown but close.

“Our immediate problem is that the ship is turned the wrong way. We’re tail-first to our direction of travel. If we lit the engine now, we’d stop, then start going the wrong way.”

“So we’ve gotta turn this big sumbitch around?”

“Yep. Gotta flip it a hundred-eighty degrees and get the nose on a certain star, then light the engine and watch for course deviation.”

“Why would it deviate?” Her frown line was showing again, as she thought about the problem and how to get across to him what he needed to know.

“Well, see, the engine that we still have is not centered back there. Normally, there’s an array of eight engines and they all fire together, with equal thrust, giving an even push, more or less. But the engine that’s left is one of the outer ones in the cluster and it’s intentionally angled slightly from the centerline of the ship. When all the engines are burning, this actually helps give stability. But with only one, it’s gonna push slightly off center; so we will have to counteract with the steering rockets, otherwise we’ll get ourselves going sideways or as a worst-case scenario, we might pinwheel and just put ourselves into a spin. See?”

“So you think the steering rockets will be up to that?”

“I don’t know, Billy. We’ll have to try it and find out. If not, we may have to induce a longitudinal spin.”

“Wait, you mean spin the ship around its own axis like a bullet?”

“Right. Exactly. That way, even though the main engine is angled slightly, with the spin, we stay on course while we burn the engine. We’d just have a slight wobble…and some manufactured gravity, too.”

“So what do we do first?”

“Well, it’s back to the keyboard and flip this mother over. That should keep me occupied for an hour or so. You go switch the power up to the bridge and I’ll get started.”

 

Once again, Gunny Hatcher watched the stars wheel by, as the Montezuma turned slowly and ponderously over. At about the halfway point, Marla fired another steering rocket to begin slowing the intentional spin she had imparted. The timing needed to be precise. The computer could take care of the burn-time, making sure the second burn was the same as the first, but the timing was all up to her. She did admirably well, Billy thought, only needing some minimal juggling there at the end, to get the stability right. At last, she pronounced them ready to try the main engine.

“You might want to grab onto something, Gunny. I don’t expect the acceleration to be startling but I don’t know what direction we may go, since it’s off center.”

Billy grabbed onto the remains of a girder and watched her code in settings, calling up the main engine and giving a burn command. Nothing happened.

She tried again. Still nothing.

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. It says the engine is available, but it’s not responding. Now it’s quizzing me for a password. Aw, shit!”

“What?”

“Well, how the hell we ever gonna figure out a password? I mean, there’s no codebooks and I wouldn’t have a clue...” Gunny Hatcher was hearing something unbelievable in her voice. It sounded almost like tough little Lieutenant Kinkaid was on the verge of crying.

“Okay, Marla. Settle down, girl. We just gotta think for a minute. They put a password into the main engine program for a reason. What would that reason be?”

“Well, obviously to keep anyone unauthorized from messing with the engines.”

“Right. And it would have to be something simple.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because, under battle conditions, you can’t have your helmsman forgetting the password.”

“Makes sense. So what? We just sit here and try passwords until we luck out?

“Got any other brilliant ideas, Marla?”

“Not really,” she said with a sigh and she started typing.

It was just over an hour and hundreds of tries later, when Gunny Hatcher said, “Try mother may I?

“Say what?”

“Mother-may-I. Try it…with a question mark and without.”

Marla typed it in. Nothing. Again, a different way. Nothing. Then, she stopped and thought for a moment, then typed again. From the frame of the Montezuma came a deep shuddering, and they both felt a slight acceleration.

Gunny was almost speechless with emotion when Marla stood up and turned to him. They hugged each other clumsily in their suits and Billy said, “What did you put in?”

“Simon says.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah. Just that simple.”

“So now what?”

“Gotta go get my sextant and shoot some stars, so I can see if we deviate and how much.”

Suddenly the canned air in Billy’s suit seemed fresher and the pain from his stump was almost gone. At last, they were under way. An abandoned hulk no more, the Montezuma was once again a ship under power. Blasted and burned-out, it had somehow taken on life again. To Billy a new element had been added to the mix of his emotions: hope.

 

Captain Arthur Griswold, master of the deep-space salvage vessel Lunar Raven, was pissed. After the space battle, when so many ships had come limping home, the word had gone out that the Montezuma was lost. He had readied a crew and set out within the hour from Luna to be first on the scene. In spite of the danger of attack by Glassie raiders, salvage was a profitable business and the Raven, independently owned and operated, could make a man rich beyond his wildest dreams by recovering the remains of a vessel like the Montezuma and bringing her to dry-dock. The deep-space salvage rules were the same out here as they once were on the high seas of the home planet. Anything abandoned in deep space became fair game and belonged rightfully to whoever invested the time and money to recover it.

They had come across millions of miles of space, armed with the exact coordinates of the battle and a vessel equipped with the magnetic grapples and remote arms to salvage virtually anything. In her cavernous inner spaces, Raven could hold millions of tons of metal and other salvage and, to be sure, on their arrival they had found a debris field to work that spread for hundreds of miles. But they didn’t find the mother lode. Montezuma was gone!

In her place they found an energy signature, perhaps only hours old, that told the tale. Somehow, probably through some battle-induced malfunction, her engines had fired, and now she was lost. She would continue until her fuel was exhausted, then cruise on inertia until she came under the influence of a gravitational field somewhere and eventually crashed into a sun or a black hole. They could clean up the debris field and even recover some bodies, but the trip would probably be a loss from an economic standpoint.

 

To Be Continued

 

 

Kenneth Crist, blkptls@cox.net, www.blackpetals.net, of Wichita, Kansas, wrote the SF serial (starting in BP #76 with chapters 1 & 2)  SURVIVING MONTEZUMA  (+ “The Big Well” & “Virtuality” for BP #75, “Gift of the Anasazi” for BP #73, “The Weeping Man” for BP #72, “Pebbles” for BP #71, “The Diner” for BP #67, “New Glasses” for BP #61, “Ones and Zeros” for BP #50, & the novelette Joshua) and has edited BP for many years, continuing as Editor Emeritus, then Coeditor/Webmaster. Widely published, esp. in Hardboiled and on Yellow Mama, he also has four chapbooks currently for sale in Kindle format on Amazon.com, Dreaming of Mirages, The Gazing Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for Burial, his latest zombie fiction.

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