“Arekan! Stop!” his father called.
No! No! No!
All his life he heard about the other side of their family, the ones that hated and feared Arekan’s side. It was bad enough they were exiled from their homeland, gathered in a multi-generation ship moving from one place to another to avoid detection. But this, what his father told him was too much.
“No! Not me!” he screamed at his father denying his heritage, dismissing the responsibility laid on him. The real possibility bounty hunters from four nations or relatives from the other side who could hunt him down and kill him shocked him to his core. “No!”
It was the only time he screamed at this father like that. Just being the two of them all of Arekan’s life there was a stronger bond between them than other fathers and sons. And his father had been nothing but unfailingly kind to Arekan all throughout his youth, even when Arekan was difficult.
But this? This was impossible. It felt like a huge betrayal. But it paled in the next few moments to a betrayal bigger than that.
A stranger alerted them to danger. They didn’t even have the time to alert the rest of the ship. They barely cleared their home ship in an escape pod when the big ship burst into a million pieces.
Pieces of that ship, the only life he knew, peppered the retreating life pod.
His arm shook and he heard a name called.
Thad! Thad!” His eyes opened, still swollen from his unsuited spacewalk so he couldn’t see who gripped his arm. Arekan failed his arms.
“Get of me! Get off me!”
The hand left his arm.
“Shut the hells up,” complained Tinnen, the engineer from his corner of the room. “Go back to sleep! We’ve got a big job tomorrow and each one of you mokes better be sharp!”
Arekan picked his ears up on this one. He had spent eighteen hours in the hyperbaric chamber because of the prank Grokin, Tinnen and Obon perpetrated and didn’t hear anything about a job
“Who the hell do you think are?” grumbled Obon.
Arekan thought over the merits of throwing something at Obon. Considering that Obon was one of the three that threw him out the airlock yesterday it was tempting. On the other hand Arekan didn’t feel up for a fight at this minute.
“The one who is doing the shutting!”
“Jack you,” said Obon.
“Shut up,” said Egren.
So far Egren was the one crew member that hadn’t annoyed Arekan in some way. The captain Etharin he hadn’t seen since Arekan boarded the ship but he more than impressed Arekan with his ruthlessness when Etharin recruited him to work the Rogan. Grokin convinced Arekan he was an out-and-out sadist with how he laughed when Arekan was thrown unprotected in the black. Cripin, the navigator, he hadn’t met since the man spent most of his time in the bridge.
Cook, the old sot, was snoring loudly in his bunk, and was there when Arekan limped into the crews quarter after Grokin released him from the medbay.
Arekan fell back into the lumpy mattress and gripped his thin blanket between his two hands staring up at the ceiling. He took some calming breaths, just as his swordsmaster taught him, but his heart still raced. Since he boarded this ship his nightmares increased in frequency and intensity. He supposed they reflected the nightmare of his current circumstances.
His eyes opened enough to see black and blue marks peppering his skin, the result of floating unpressurized outside the ship yesterday without a spacesuit. Every bone and joint ached from the sudden displacement of his body fluids forced back into a semblance of normalcy by the medbay’s hyperbaric chamber.
And his stomach groaned with hunger. He hadn’t eaten a day or so before Grokin signed him on and had no meals yesterday. The cook went off to bed before Arekan was released, left nothing for him and the doors the food storage units were locked.
He missed his father.
Though it had only been a few days since he died Arekan felt like an eternity passed. How was he going to live with that? Live with this life, alone and in the middle of enemies?
He did not know. It was not supposed to a question a nineteen year old had to ask.
Arekan stood with his arms crossed in the cargo hold. It was colder here than the rest of the ship and he remembered the captain drained heat from the ship’s engine to turn a turbine to charge depleted turboramjet batteries.
This was dangerous and illegal. Batteries charged like that wouldn’t last long and could fail at a critical time during a ship’s lift off.
Cheap, cheating, murderous bastard.
Grokin strolled in hauling space suits and threw one at Arekan, Obon and Egrin.
“Suit up, you mokes. We’ve got salvage to secure.”
“Begging your pardon, sir,” said Arekan. “What do you expect me to do? I’m your blade, not a general hand.”
“You’ll do what I tell you, Bucko,” said Grokin with a menacing grin. ‘Or do you want to join the Heavenly Court permanent?”
Arekan glared at Grokin. Grokin called sending Arekan out into the black without the protection of a spacesuit “paying homage to the Heavenly Court.” It was a brutal initiation for crew members of the Rogan who hadn’t crossed the borders from one nation to another.
“No, sir,” said Arekan.
“Beside’s you’ll be doing the easy work handling Obon and Egrin’s tethers here from the hold to make sure they don’t tangle. Tangled tethers can tear up easy, meaning I’ll be losing crew members when I don’t need to. I hate losing crew members.
“Yes, sir,” said Arekan. Already Obon and Egrin were in their suits helping each other to seal them.
“You better get moving, boy,” growled Grokin. “We don’t have no time to waste. There’s a ship out for claiming and the Captain wants us clear of this sector before the Romlin Navy comes to check it out its buoy signal.”
“What buoy signal?” asked Arekan.
“The one their crew left when they abandoned ship,” said Egrin. “Cripin picked it up yesterday.”
“Aye,” said Grokin, “and we’ve been pushing hard since to get here before someone else does. So get moving!”
Putting on the spacesuit was not as easy as Obon and Egrin made it look. The back of the thing dropped away to leave a large enough opening, but getting his feet in while standing proved almost impossible. The legs were stiff enough from the radiation shield pads to make putting one leg in at time impossible. But the suit was also floppy, especially at the joints, so he had to hold it with both hands. Finally he dropped to the deck and pushed his legs in at the same time, pointing his toes. Accomplishing this he tried to stand but he found he couldn’t get up. The radiation shield pads prevented that movement.
“Gods damn!” complained Grokin as he hauled Arekan to his feet. “We don’t have all day to wait on ‘ya, Bucko.” He held out the arms of the suit. “Stick them in,” he said irritably.
“Aw, gee,” said Arekan sarcastically as he pushed his arms in the suit. “No sense in getting sweet on me.”
Grokin growled and spun Arekan roughly yanking the back panel up hard to that Arekan almost fell forward. He slapped the seals into place, then spun Arekan around to face him. He slammed Arekan’s helmet into his chest. “There, think ‘ya can get your helmet on, or do you need help with that too?”
“Have you found Issy?” asked Obon. The man’s tone was innocent, but Arekan got from the name and his sly smile he was speaking about Grokin’s pet.
“You never mind about Issy,” snapped Grokin. “She’ll turn up when she wants too. She’s probably just shedding her skin, and trust me you don’t want to be around her for that.”
“Sure,” said Obon but he turned from Grokin and Arekan caught where the man was laughing.
“Here,” said Egren through his helmet microphone, “I’ll check your seals.”
“Thanks,” said Arekan.
“No problem. Shipmates should help each other.”
Egren ran his hand over different places in the suit, made some adjustments and then nodded his head. “You’re good to go.”
Arekan snapped his head to look into Egren’s eyes. ‘Good to go’ was a term used by some military. His question must have shone in his face because Egren answered it.
“Aye, I was in the League Marines,” said Egren. “I took an early retirement.”
“Meaning,” said Obon with a sneer, “that he deserted his post.”
“Are we going to flap about resumes,” complained Grokin, “or get this job done? Move it.”
Obon and Egren moved to the airlock to the left of the giant hydraulic hatch of the loading bay. The hatch shut behind them with a hiss and Egren and Obon attached tethers to their suits and pulled out cables with winches and fastened them in their toolbelts. Arekan looked out of the window inset in the outer hatch at a ship smaller than this hauler listing at angles to the Rogan.
“Thad,” said Egren. “We’re going out there to attach these cables to that ship. Keep our tethers and our cables apart so that they don’t tangle. Otherwise, if the oxygen line snaps we won’t have air. If the security tether breaks, we’ll float off into the black. Neither is a good way to die.”
“Okay,” said Arekan.
“And you’ll want to put your arm through a handhold and hold fast.”
Arekan remembered with anger how fast he was swept in the black when the outer hatch opened.
After he looped through a handhold, Obon released the outer hatch. With the rush of the outgoing air the two men were swept out into the black.
“Now, Thad,” said Egren through his microphone, “Is a good time to get to our tethers.
Arekan let go of his tenuous hold on ship and moved between the sets of tethers and cables. He place a gloved hand on either set as the Obon and Egren floated in the expanse between the Rogan and the salvage ship. He didn’t have to do much as both men seemed to know what they were doing. With deft movement of built-in handjets, they propelled toward the salvage ship and connected with it. Though Arekan couldn’t see exactly what they did, the cables went taut so he knew the ship was now tethered to the Rogan.
“Okay, Thad,” said Egen, “now winch in our tethers and oxygen lines slowly.”
Arekan looked over the panel on his left that held Egren’s lines, and found the buttons for each winch. Letting go of Obon’ line, he wrapped one around Egrens and held the buttons as the winches spun slowly bringing Egren closer to the ship. Egren for his part held his gloved hands on the cable that now tenuously connected the two ships.
“What about me?” asked Obon.
“Give me a minute. I’m getting Egren in.”
“Ain’t no reason you can’t haul us in at the same time.”
“Give the boy a break, It’s is first time doing this.”
Obon grumbled, but Arekan ignored him. He wasn’t going to screw this up by being careless.
But then Arekan caught some movement against the stars, small white moving objects.
“What are those?” said Arekan thinking out loud.
“What?” Egren’s lines jerked when he looked over his shoulder.
“Holy hells!” he yelled. “Grokin, it’s a whore trap! A whore trap! Grokin did you hear me?”
Arekan drew in a sharp breath as he saw the dots quickly became the forms of two space suited men. They converged on Obon and wrapped him around the cable twice. He swore to himself and he watch Egren pull himself up the cable at a faster pace.
An unfamiliar voice broke in on their com channel.
“Co-operate and your man here won’t get hurt. Don’t and he’ll die.”
Egren reached the hatch and Arekan, with his hand around a handhold, reached out his glove hand and pulled him in. Egren tumbled to the deck.
“Did you hear us, mates?” said the unfamiliar voice.
“Ya, we heard you,” said Grokin. “Let him die.”