Friday, 23 November 2012



Chen's sobbing eventually gave way to silence, which in its own way was even more unsettling. Kel and Lloyd flashed over a couple of messages at each other, but neither could come up with a suggestion, either to help Chen or help all of them. They were stuck on Europa. 
Kel's o2 reading was at less than 45 minutes. He wanted to ask Chen about the resupply he'd been working on, but didn't quite know how to phrase it. Sorry about the horrific torture and all that, but I'm going to suffocate soon didn't quite sound right. Instead he wandered over to the collection of scrap that Chen had been working on before Milton interrupted. Hoping that maybe in that lesson he'd recalled about sound in a vacuum had also included manufacturing oxygen from a smashed space probe. 
"Don't touch that" Chen's voice was as icy as the atmosphere. 
"S...sorry. Was just maybe wondering if I c...could help"
"Stay there" Chen instructed. He got up slowly, like an old man, before moving towards Kel. The companion had to fight to urge to recoil from Chen, a deep frown etched across his face. Eyes dark. 
"Hold this" Chen passed Kel the end of a long thin pipe that had previously been pulled out of what was left of the ceiling. The scientist turned his back to Kel while he made some adjustments to the ramshackle equipment. "Ok, give it me back" Kel did so quickly "When I say, you disconnect the cap to your suit's connection module. Do it quickly" 
Kel nodded from behind his face plate, hands reaching towards the module. Either by accident or design, the AI tasked with producing the most VFM vacuum-suits had located the connector for oxygen and energy top-up approximately where the belly button would be. When connected, the feed pipe looked like an umbilical cord.
After a brief fumble with the cap - it was hard in gloved hands - Kel popped it off and was aware of a distant hissing sensation as Chen attempted to fit his make shift connector on to the module.
"Give me your o2 reading"
"Er..." Kel called back the display with the timer "43 minutes, now 44, 47,'s working!"
"Good" said Chen simply. Then a few moments later, "Get ready to put the cap back. I had to break the suit valve to make the connection. Be fast or you will suffocate". Kel did as he was told, the cap being thankfully easier to put back on than take off. With the task complete, Chen just nodded, then went and sat back down, head bent. 
"My, er, turn?" asked Lloyd nervously.
"Needs to build up more pressure" Chen pointed at the equipment, without looking up. "Wait"
"Ok, er, dude" replied Lloyd, before pinging Kel I think he's gone doolally
What do we do? Kel sent back.
Can you make an interplanetary shuttle out of the wreck of the probe?
Then I'm out of ideas
A little later Chen stood and beckoned Lloyd over to the makeshift oxygen tank where he performed the same operation as on Kel. With the task complete, the three lapsed back into silence. 
"I don't want to go like this" said Lloyd after a while of uncomfortable silence.
Kel looked up from where he had sat down in amongst the detritus, "What?"
"We've got just a few hours left and it looks like we're gonna spend it depressed in here. Yes this is totally fucked up, but things can't end like this" Lloyd was stood up. Standing at his full height he looked quite imposing. 
"So, er, what shall we do?" asked Kel.
"Well first of all we get Chen's o2 resupplied" Lloyd went and stood over Chen "Come on, captain, time to move" he instructed. 
"No. I'm done" Chen still had his head slumped.
"You think Nita wanted you to go like this?" Kel recoiled slightly at the directness of Lloyd's question.
"What do you know about Nita?" Chen had at least looked up.
"I know she was a tough dude, didn't mess about. Nor did she sit around when shit went down"
Chen moved quickly, in what felt like an instant he had Lloyd by the throat, holding him back against the makeshift equipment. 
"Don't tell me what she would or wouldn't do"
"Ok" squeaked Lloyd, not quite so dominant in the face of such aggression "But maybe now we're over here, we could maybe think about getting your o2 topped up?" he added in a small voice. The two of them remained frozen for a moment or two, then Chen let go, Lloyd using the opportunity to hastily put some distance between them.
The three of them once again lapsed back into an awkward silence, but this time Chen broke it.
"Pass me the pipe" he told Lloyd.
"Sure thing dude"
With Chen topped up, the scientist had quietly sat back down. But this time he kept his head up, looking around. 
"So what do you want to do?" has asked the other two.
"I don't want to stay in here. Seems like a waste" Kel hadn't said much since they saw the video, but spoke up now. "The view from the top of the probe is pretty special. I'm going to end it there" and with that he stomped towards the jagged hold to the outside. 
And so, the three of them sat on the top of the wrecked probe waiting for the end to come. Conversation was generally muted, aside from the occasional curse from Lloyd that he wished that he'd brought some of his special stock down with him. Chen sat quietly thinking, although the angry seething that had radiated from him before has dissipated somewhat. Kel, meanwhile, carefully cradled the leaf specimen while looking at the sky. They were in a sort of twilight as Europa began its orbit back around Jupiter and so the side they were on headed away from the sun (Europa is tidally locked to Jupiter so the same side always faces outwards). As a result Kel could see some stars emerging. Like most people equipped with the basic iris enhancement, he had a few novelty augments, one of which was a star chart. He was using it to try and work out where the star was from which the leaf sample had been taken. He wasn't having that much success, though, and was starting to think that maybe the augment was designed to be used away from Earth. Normally he'd have asked Chen, but was still wary of the grim scientist. However, after a while, he did spot something in the stars that encouraging him to speak out. 
"Wow, a shooting star" he pointed where he was looking. A bright dot was tracing a fiery line across the horizon. 
“Cool, man. Epic way to finish things. Like the universe is waving goodbye" Lloyd was in a profound mood as his o2 timer ticked ever lower. 
Chen just stared upwards. Then stood up, squinting. 
"That isn't a meteoroid" he said after a short pause.
"No, it's a shooting star" replied Kel, wondering what Chen was on about.
They're the same thing, dude Lloyd pinged over, to save Kel making any more stupid statements. 
"Then what is it?" Lloyd asked out loud.
Chen had moved a few further along the hull of the probe, trying to get a better view, iris magnification straining at its upper limit. 
"It's a drop ship"
"What? Woah, really?!" Lloyd was up on his feet and bounding over to Chen, the hull flexing as he made each long step in the low g. "Maybe a rescue party from the loop?"
"I don't think so. Looks like conglom issue to me" as the drop ship came closer, Chen's magnification could make out more detail.
"You think they want their probe back?" asked Kel, joining the other two in staring up at the bright shape slowly getting larger as it came towards them from orbit. 
"I would think so" replied Chen.
"Are they gonna be pissed at us?" asked Lloyd.
"I would think so" repeated Chen.
"At least it’s a way out" Kel reasoned "Sure, we're going to find it hard to explain all of, well, this" he indicated the path of destruction behind the probe "but it's got to beat suffocating, surely?" 
“That is a piece of luck, alright" mused Chen, still concentrating on the drop ship, before turning back to Lloyd and Kel "Improbable even, a statistician might argue"
"How do you, er, mean?" said Kel, nervously shifting weight from one foot to the other. 
"A conglom intervention ship just happens to be within a couple of hours of Europa when the probe goes down? Odd" Chen asserted. 
"Maybe they were already on their way to meet it?" suggested Lloyd. 
"Possible. Just funny that they happen to converge here, right when the AI on the probe flips out"
"I don't understand" Kel wasn't afraid to admit.
"Me neither, but something isn't right here" Chen turned back to the approaching ship "Lloyd, can you work on establishing a coms link with whoever is coming to meet us. Explain how we're friendly and looking for a lift out of here"
"Will do, captain"
"Don't call me captain" Chen slumped a little, as if recalling recent events "I don't have a ship to captain" he muttered.
"One step at a time, Chen" Kel risked putting a hand on the other man's shoulder; they needed the pirate scientist to be fully functional if this meeting with the conglom was going to get them safe. "First we get off this ice-ball, then we get your ship back" 
Chen quickly turned to face Kel, who thought for a second he was about to get punched. Instead Chen stared at him for a little while, then slowly nodded behind the face plate, a grim look on his face. 
"Nah, shit it, man, whoever it is, they running a fuck tonne of security protocol" Lloyd broke the moment between the two other men. However, Chen at least stood to his full height as he turned back round. 
That's positive,  just keep him functional thought Kel.
"Marine" said Chen simply.
"What?" Lloyd turned to look at the cryptic Chen.
"High security protocols on an incoming drop ship? That's a marine" Chen didn't break his gaze with the approaching visitor to look back at Lloyd.
"That bad?" Lloyd pushed.
"Depends on what the tender was for"
"Tender?" asked Lloyd.
"Yup. If they tendered to give us a comfy ride back to Earth, then we're good. They tender to wipe us off the face of Europa, then suffocation starts to look more attractive" Chen explained.
"And which is the more likely?" Kel almost daren't ask. 
"Guess" Chen replied "Although we do have one hope"
"Which is? Geez dude, could you quit it with the moody replies?" Lloyd was getting frustrated again.
"The marine in that drop ship is the cheapest damn marine the AI could chuck at us" Chen glanced at the other two "They all tender low, so we're not going to be facing the latest military hardware. That is where our chance is"
"Unless they tender a couple of broken pipes and some snowballs, they're still gonna be better equipped than us, man"
"For sure. We just need to buy time" 
"For what?" Lloyd huffed.
"For you to break the latest conglom military grade communications technology" Chen looked at Lloyd, something approaching a manic grin across his face. "There's an intervention ship up there somewhere" he pointed at the sky, "you get through to them, plead our case. Otherwise...." he paused, looking back up at the drop ship, identifiable with the naked eye now. 
"Otherwise what?" Kel squeaked. 
Chen picked up a nearby pipe that lay on top of the wrecked probe. Took a practise swing with it. 
"Otherwise we go down fighting the fucking congloms"
The manic grin intensified.

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