Freidman and the Captain play a game of space chicken.
- Sam Thomas
Image by bjarnetv
The Captain didn’t turn around. ‘Friedman I’m not running around after one of your damned hallucinations,’ he growled.
Friedman stared at the Captain’s back in disbelief. ‘You’re really going to sit there and scribble in your diary like a petulant sixteen-year-old girl? This is serious. Just because I hid one little—‘ the Captain slammed a fist on the desk, his pen audibly cracking.
‘What you did was disgusting and, in any other circumstances, an arrest able offence.’
‘That was a nice pen Dick,’ muttered Friedman.
The Captain unclipped his harness and rose to face Friedman. Small black droplets fell from his clenched fist and floated about the room. Friedman held up his hands pleadingly.
‘Look Dick, Captain, I’m clean. I haven’t taken anything; I’m pretty sure the contraband’s gone dry. And I’m not pulling a prank. The sensors are bleeping and flashing and there’s this—‘ Friedman squinted and tapped his thumb and forefinger together. ‘—Like a little … thing … flashing on the monitor. I think we’re headed towards something.’
The Captain stared Friedman in the eye a few seconds and then sighed. He opened a seamless hatch in the wall, retrieved a sanitary wipe, and cleaned the inky mess from his hand. ‘If I get to the bridge Private, which I’ve told you is restricted, and there is anything but what you say there is…’ He dropped the cloth into a chute an inch from the cloth dispenser. There was a sucking noise and it shot from sight. ‘There’ll be more than a split lip in it for you.’
Richards didn’t seem to be in a talkative mood so Friedman spent the short journey from the Captain’s quarters to the bridge silently staring at the vulcanized rubber soles of the man’s boots. When they arrived, Friedman was gratified to the other man gasp. Around the room the few instruments that still had power made a cacophony of blips and bleeps. Richards pushed off the doorframe, floating quickly to the loudest machine. Freidman followed him.
‘Around 15 minutes,’ murmured the Captain and then, louder, ‘I can’t be sure with the other sensors down, but most likely it’s either a ship or an asteroid.’ He moved to a panel by the entrance and tried to force it open.
‘Well that’s good right?’ Asked Freidman. ‘If it’s a ship we might be able to get the hell off this floating mausoleum. Maybe one of the escape pods reached help and they’re coming back for us.’
Richards put his boots on the wall and doubled his efforts to force the panel. ‘In this quadrant,’ he puffed, ‘it’s a lot more likely to be an unfriendly vessel or, at best, a free agent. If it’s an asteroid, well … whatever it is it’s on a direct route to strike us. We can’t avoid it and if it doesn’t stop we’ve got no shields or working guns. It’ll tear straight through the hull.’
‘With the power levels diminished as they are none of the emergency airlocks will be in effect, and besides, we couldn’t pinpoint where it’ll hit even if they were.’
‘What do we do?’
Richards let the obstinate door be. ‘Find something to force one of these panels open, and quickly. We need to suit up.’
Freidman cursed under his breath. Today of all days he had to go wandering without his screwdriver. With the Captain in tow he hurtled down the dim mustard-lit hallways towards the barracks. Both men leap frogged from rails along the walls in an attempt to gain speed. Freidman puffed in relief when he saw the approaching portal.
‘Quick left Dick.’ He grabbed a handhold swinging into the opening and in the same movement pulled his knees up to his stomach, kicking off the doorframe and shooting past the sleeping capsules that pockmarked the walls. Freidman grabbed the edge of his own bunk and was knocked loose by Richards. He swore but the Captain caught his hand before he could float too far away and pulled him back. Freidman frantically threw his possessions into the hall.
‘Hah!’ He surfaced with his trusty skeleton key, a heavy-duty screwdriver nearly the length of his forearm, and waved it with a grin.
‘Good work Freidman. Where’s your emergency suit dock?’
Freidman’s smile evaporated. ‘Follow me.’ They kicked through the portal opposite into the locker hall. Almost all the lockers had been jimmied open now and the space was clouded with the flotsam and jetsam of Freidman’s ‘inspections’.
‘This is a gross violation of protocol Private,’ frowned Richards.
‘Are you fucking serious right now Dick?’ Said Freidman, exasperated. He moved to an identical panel to the one on the bridge and judging where the latch might be, jammed his screwdriver into the thin gap on the left. ‘Get your head out of your arse and help me.’ Together they pulled on the screwdriver using another railing as leverage.
‘Has anyone ever told you what a huge design flaw having emergency suit docks you can’t open in a god damned emergency is Dick?’ Grimaced Freidman. Richards focused on the task, silent.
After what seemed an eternity of straining muscles they heard the latch pop and Freidman span through the air. As he pulled himself back Richards set his shoulder against the door and slid into the wall. Inside was a recess filled with neatly folded black and yellow jumpsuits. Each had a full-face helmet sitting on top and was plastic sealed. Freidman snatched one and tore the seal with his screwdriver then handed the suit to the Captain. He grabbed the next one and pulled his clothes off quickly. He found the button that expanded the suit and slid inside. Pulling the helmet over his head, a screen inside lit up to display a video feed from cameras on the helmet’s face. Freidman punched a command into the OS on his forearm and the suit sucked in, becoming form fitting and airtight. He took a deep breath and started laughing; going limp and letting himself just float, his body shaking from the adrenalin still rushing through his system.
‘Freidman?’ Richards’ voice sounded clear as a bell through the speakers in the helmet. ‘Freidman my suit won’t close.’
Freidman jerked upright. Sure enough beside him the Captain’s suit was still floating loosely around his form. ‘Shit.’ Freidman pulled Richards close and checked the suit’s seals for tears. Finding nothing he yanked Richards’ helmet of and checked the neck with his fingers. He found the breach, a small rip where the lining had worn down. ‘Fucking maintenance flogs. They’re supposed to change these every six months.’
He dived back to the suit dock, throwing the useless helmet away and tearing desperately at the cover of another. He was reaching out to grab Richards with the replacement in hand when the ship and the mysterious missile collided.
Freidman was wrenched down the hall with all the contents of the broken lockers. The air burst from his lungs as he struck a wall and was held fast by the force of the ship depressurizing, ration packs striking him with bone shuddering impact. When the whirlwind ceased he felt like he’d been bulldozed, but by some miracle he had kept hold of the helmet. Freidman searched the room for the Captain but couldn’t find him.
‘Richards! Richards!’ He croaked. There was no response but the absolute silence of space. Freidman pushed painfully from the wall and into the adjoining hallway. He saw the Captain clawing at his throat in horror some 15 meters away. ‘Richards!’
He leapt into the air but was immediately wrapped in loose uniforms, slowed by only having one free hand. He pulled a shirt away from his face and drove on. When he reached the Captain the man was choking silently, on the verge of unconsciousness. Freidman tore Richards’ hands away from the open neck of his suit and slammed the helmet over his head, feeling it click. He slapped frantically at the OS panel and on the dying man’s suit sucked tight. There was a moment of dreadful quiet as Freidman held his breath, and then Richards bent double. A laboured gasp came over Freidman’s radio, followed by coughing and spluttering. Freidman sighed in relief and fought down the urge to vomit in his suit.
Once he was finished returning to life Richards straightened up. ‘If I ever see the maintenance crew again,’ he mumbled in a strained voice, ‘I’m going to have them all shot.’
‘The gun’d probably jam.’
Richards laughed and suffered another coughing attack. He sucked in a deep breath. ‘Thank you Freidman, I think I owe you one.’
‘No worries Dick,’ he said a little uncomfortably.
The Captain shook himself out and slapped the front of his helmet a few times. ‘Right, let’s go see what the hell caused all this trouble.’