Is that gunfire?
The part of your consciousness that’s barely awake and not drugged up with Aidan’s sledgehammer xeno-antibiotic is trying to figure out what’s going on.
Definitely gunfire. Did they drug me through the op? Have I been out for twenty hours?
There’s another staccato burst, followed by a series of high-caliber reports.
Shit. Anti-personnel long rifle.
The G-claxon sounds three short bursts and your bunk slams shut around you like a claustrophobic, smelly pillow-fort six-tenths of a second before the hydrazine launch thrusters fire and press you down at the better part of three Gs. The resulting adrenaline burst is enough to drag you into some semblance of alertness.
You pull the release and the smothering padding falls away and slams to the floor with a thud. Your body tries to remember your high-G training, but between the decade of ground duty and the drugs you roll out of the bunk and hit the floor at three times your body weight. After about a minute of self-pity you pull yourself into a squat and hobble-hoof it towards the lift.
The drugs are still messing with you. Everything’s surreal and out of proportion. The weathered bunk room gives way to the cramped crew mess. The emergency lights are trying to guide you to one of the g-couches along the wall, but you steadfastly ignore them and careen into the wall next to the lift, which is automatically locked-out for the ascent. With a muttered “Fuck” you open the hatch for the service ladder that runs parallel to the lift and stare at it in horror.
Nope. No way. Don’t do this. This is really stupid.
You fumble in your pocket for your slate, slide the earpiece from its charging cradle, place it in your ear just long enough to hear your crew screaming at each other, and then fumble it down the dark ladderway.
Am I too old for this shit? Is that what this is? Miss an op because of spicy food and can’t even get out of bed to help?
The Gs let up to what feels like a 2G orbital insertion burn, which is as fresh as a summer breeze by comparison. You decide you’re going to take the damn ladder even though it’s more than a little likely to kill you. You reach your hand out to grab it but snatch it back when you hear Julian belt out, “Up ladder, make a hole!”
Good voice of command. Sailor in battle.
Julian rockets up the ladder past you as if climbing at 2Gs wasn’t a thing.
Fucking show-off. All I gotta do is go down. Got all the help in the world for that.
You step out onto the ladder and hang on it for dear life as the ship bucks through the last of Korolev’s atmosphere, then rung by rung start carefully lowering yourself down to the cargo deck. When you finally reach the bottom, the ship has slowed to 1G. The pressure sensor on the hatch is green but flickering a warning. There’s not enough room in the tiny chute to crouch down and hunt for your earpiece, so you hope for the best and pop the hatch and stumble into the cargo hold.
It’s a scene out of hell. There’s blood everywhere. Aidan is kneeling in the middle of the floor, pulling tubes and wires out of a trauma pack and plugging them into Daniel on one side, who appears to have a very large hole in a very bad place in the middle of his chest, and a woman you don’t know, who doesn’t look much better on the other. Tomoe is camped in the corner against a pallet of consumables, surrounded by the detritus of field medicine, trying to patch up Angelica and Din and Roland who are conscious but barely so.
Aiden is hollering at someone on the radio. His voice sounds higher-pitched than usual.
The air pressure. There’s a leak.
“I need a surgery, Otto,” Aiden yells, “and I need stable Gs or they’re both bleeding out.”
You shoot a questioning look at Roland, who throws you a pained salute and shrugs. Angelica and Din are muttering something to each other as Tomoe tries to get them to hold still.
“Okay, shut up,” Aidan continues, ”Julian, don’t let him talk anymore. What are my options?”
Your field of view is suddenly taken up by Dirk, who appears to be significantly dustier, sweatier, and more serious than normal.
“Oh good, you’re up,” he says, pushing a handful of snot-balls into your hands, “we’ve got bullet holes in here somewhere.” He stops and squints, looking into your eyes, then leans back. “Okay, well, if you can. Don’t um…don’t get any of that stuff on you.”
He pulls out a cigarette of all things, lights it with a no-shit open-flame expensive-looking antique lighter, takes a deep breath, and sighs contentedly, the smoke streaming from his nostrils. The smoke immediately starts flowing to the port side of the hold. He winks. “Off we go!”
He hooks his arm through yours and pulls you stumbling between some stacks of crates towards the back wall of the hold, blowing puffs of smoke and following them like a reverse trail of breadcrumbs. It doesn’t take long to find three neat holes in the hull.
Armor piercing. Snipers. Same hole in Daniel.
Dirk leaves you at one of them and hops onto a crate to reach the other two. He takes a snotball in each hand, pokes his thumbs through the catalyst primers at the same time, and mashes them up against the bullet holes with a flourish. Your training definitely pays off this time, you have the ball mashed into the leak before you’ve even registered that you’ve done it.
Dirk pulls out his slate and checks in with the ship’s computer. “Pressure’s stable.” He takes another tug off the cigarette and mashes it out in one of the quickly-hardening patches. He hops down from the crate and turns to you. “You still high on Aidan’s stuff?”
You nod. “Yeah.”
“Lucky,” he snorts, then heads back to the triage.
You squeeze out from the stack of crates in time to hear Aidan’s side of the conversation continue. “Vasily Station is going to have better facilities. How long to get there?”
“Aidan,” you say.
“Shit, that’s a long time.”
“Aidan.” He finally looks up. “Vasily is a naval base.” Aidan sighs and looks around the hold.
“Okay…okay…New Tombstone. Tomoe, Dirk, help me get these two immobilized. Cara, there are two emergency g-couches in the dorsal bulkhead.”
You nod, “Got it.” Angelica and Din look worse off, so you head to the wall and pull down the two emergency couches and help Angelica up into one of them. There’s a shrill triple-beep a second before the thrust cuts off and you’re in free-fall.
“Goddammit, Julian!” shouts Aidan, ‘Bleeding!”
You catch yourself before you inadvertently bounce yourself off of the ceiling, but the switch is more than your over-taxed stomach can handle. Again, the training kicks in, and you vomit into the breast pocket of your flight suit. Blessedly, there isn’t much in your stomach and everything stays nauseatingly contained. You pull yourself across the hold and help Din get into the other couch and then find something to hold on to.
The Explanations begins rattling as it falls back into Korolev’s atmosphere.