Authors: Aya Morningstar
© 2016 by Aya Morningstar
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
ll hands on guns
,” Captain Manta shouts across the gunship.
I fidget as the civilian ship floats silently into view. I bite my lip as my ponytail pops out from under the collar of my uniform. It floats up, rising above my head in zero-g. I take my hands off the turret controls to push my hair back in to my uniform, trying to adjust it quickly, before –
!” Manta snarls at me.
“Captain!” I shout, putting both hands securely back on the turret controls. “All hands on guns, Captain!”
“Fucking useless,” he grumbles.
The Martians have been using EMP attacks lately that shorted our ships’ electric and computer systems, and in response, Earth has started sending out old gunships to patrol the asteroid belt. A ship of this size with four turrets used to be fully run by one human pilot and a specialized A.I. But now there’s Captain Manta, and four of us lowly gunners, crammed into a ship the size of a small apartment building.
Captain Manta is not pleased with this arrangement. He’s gone from commanding an advanced, state-of-the-art gunship, to being in charge of a cramped and sweaty flying bucket. Probably the only time I see him smile is when I’m changing my clothes–when I catch him leering at me.
I shudder just thinking about his beady eyes, and my sweaty palms slip against the turret controls, but I don’t dare let go of them again.
“Identify yourselves!” Manta shouts into his headset.
He grumbles, then shouts to me. “Airwoman!”
I’m the only woman on the ship, so I know that’s he’s talking to me.
“The headset’s not working. Come fix it!”
I’m the only one on the ship with a knack for repairing the older technology. It should work to my advantage and give me an edge over the others, but lately it only gives Manta more reason to order me around. And to get close to me.
I remove my harness, kick off the seat, and float toward him.
I brake against the wall of the cockpit, checking the hard-wire from the console where it connects to Manta’s headset.
“No,” he says, “I think it’s on this end.” He points to his headset.
I wait for him to remove the headset and hand it to me, but he leans back instead. I draw in a deep breath and check the connection where it hooks onto his headset. I have to lean in close to him. He smells vile–as all of us do with no shower on the ship–but it’s not the smell that bothers me, it’s his breathing.
As I unscrew the cable, his breathing gets heavier, and his icy blue eyes seem to stare straight through me. A small grin creeps across his face.
I finally get the cable out of the headset, and immediately I shrink away from him. I exhale, thankful to be away from him.
When I check the cable, I can see it’s not only corroded, but bent.
“Cable’s no good,” I say. “Captain.”
I turn the knob on the console, and the voice from the approaching ship crackles. “We’re just passing through. We’re unarmed...but we have valuables on board. Maybe you can look the other way?”
I point toward a button on the console, and nod to Manta. “Hold this to talk.”
“Fix the fucking headset, airwoman!” he hisses. “This correspondence is above your security clearance!”
The other three gunners shoot me knowing looks, but no one speaks up for me. They’re all assholes too, but next to Manta, they’re at least bearable to be around.
“Captain,” I say, trying to keep the frustration from seeping into my voice. “It’s broken. If you gave me ten, twenty minutes I could fix it, but–.”
He swats a hand at me and holds down the button. “I am Officer Manta of the Imperial Earth Space Force! Are you insulting me with a bribe?”
I use the opportunity to push away from the console and float back toward my turret. Manta is in a sour mood, and it’s best to get away from him while I can.
“No, no,” the voice crackles back in response. “Nothing like that. It’s just…we only want to pass through. We have no ill intent–.”
Manta slams the button back down so he can issue a retort. “No ill intent? Tell me, where are you from?”
The static cracks off, and there’s a pause.
“Fucking cowards,” Benson mutters from the turret next to me. “Abandoning their home planet to go red.”
Just like my sister Aura, I think. She would have come to Mars on a ship like this, smuggled in as a refugee. I got off Earth by joining the Space Forces, but every day I regret my choice. My sister made the smarter decision.
The static cuts back in, and then the voice speaks once again. “Captain, with respect, we are trying to start a new life on Mars. We have no interest in joining the war effort. If you let the rest of these people go...I’ll join the war on your side. I fought in the invasion of Greenland, I know how to fight. The rest of these people are women and children, they just want a safe place to raise their kids–.”
Manta cackles, but forgets to hold down the button. He slams it on mid-laugh, but he loses his breath and starts coughing into the speaker.
“Captain?” the voice says. “Do we have a deal?”
“We do not,” Manta says, and he lets go of the button.
“Airwoman,” Manta orders. “Shoot them down.”
“Sir,” I say, “he said they are mostly women and children, we–.”
He slams his hand on the console and turns his chair to face me. Everyone else looks intently out their windows, leaving me to fend for myself. “This is war! Women can fight, or so I thought! Not all are as soft as
. And children? We were
children once! The bastards who bombed New Reykjavik, they were children once, too!”
He leans forward and points to me. “Now, if you refuse the order, I’ll court martial you and make someone else shoot them down.”
I cross my arms in defiance. “Court martial me then.”
y ship awakens
, and so do I.
There are finally two ships within range of my limited fuel reserves, and one looks ideally suited for entry into the red planet’s atmosphere.
My pod arrived before the other two assassins, but with limited fuel, I had to coast slowly toward a place with traffic, but not
And now the situation is ideal. The pod’s computer informs me no other ships are anywhere within range, so I order it to initiate a small burst of acceleration.
The pod jolts for a moment, and then it begins floating on an intercept course toward the two ships.
One ship looks like a military craft, and it’s too large for atmospheric entry. I’m not interested in stealing it, but first I’ll need to get onboard and kill all the humans inside. Only then can I safely hijack the civilian shuttle without triggering any alarms.
My pod is sealed and windowless, but the computer overlays the view from outside directly onto the pod walls, and it feels as if I’m naked and drifting through space.
The two ships grow, filling my field of view. The pod makes micro adjustments to intercept the military craft.
The humans’ technology is not far enough advanced to notice my approach. If they were watching for me, they
be able to see me, but they’re distracted as my pod latches itself to the outside of their airlock without difficulty.
The pod’s wall slowly melts open and fuses itself to their airlock. I’ve used nearly all my remaining biofuel to move the pod into position, but my biosuit has just enough extra fuel remaining to make short work of any humans inside.
The biosuit covers me, though it’s too drained to shield me from more than a few attacks. I will need it to melt partially through the small seal in the airlock, and once enough of my liquefied suit has seeped through, I solidify it on the other side of the airlock–like a third hand. I grasp the airlock with the biosuit, and pull.
The airlock opens, and I melt my third hand back into myself. I open the airlock wide and float inside.
Before I shut the hatch again, I order my pod to detach and disappear once I’m sealed back inside.
I shut the hatch and seal the airlock. The pod detaches and floats away. There’s no going back now. I watch the pod float away...the last link to my race. The other assassins may not arrive for several cycles–if at all–and the full fleet is still two years away. If my biosuit were fully stocked with anti-matter, I might be able to move around in a vacuum for a few hours, but it wouldn’t be enough to get to a planet from here. I need this civilian shuttle.
From the edge of the window, I see the shuttle float into view. Its engines are turned off, and I can only see it because of a faint glint of sunlight reflecting off its hull.
Suddenly, a gaping hole blasts open on the gleaming metal of the shuttle, and black figures are sucked out into space. One. Two. Three. The shuttle explodes before more humans are sucked out through the hole.
The explosion propels the humans who were sucked out farther into space, and I see their arms flail back and forth for a few moments, until they finally grasp at their necks and stop moving. They’re dead.
I slam my fist into the window and roar. My pod is gone, and now the shuttle is, too. What good is the military craft if it can’t get me to the red planet and the traitor I’m meant to kill?
I calm my breathing and consider my options. There’s little to do but kill the crew of this craft and do what I can with their ship. And the sooner, the better.
I fuse my blade to my upper shoulder, then pull the hatch on the inner-door of the airlock.
I enter what looks like a crew’s living quarters. The smell is alien and revolting, but under the thick blanket of that alien funk, I smell something else...something incredible.
I sniff, but then the source of the wonderful scent shakes.
There’s some kind of fabric bag attached to the wall, and the human inside is screaming and shaking. Is it really so weak that it cannot tear itself out?