Updating the twenty year old dot helmet standard
She pulled herself to the door and pressed her ear to the cold metal. No one on the ship had moved within range of her hearing for twenty-four hours. She put her shoulders against the back wall of the locker and planted her hands against the side walls. Eight days without activity was more than enough to start atrophy. She massaged her stiff muscles until the knots were gone, then stretched, focusing her mind like she was back in dojo. But if they’d evacuated, she’d have heard them going out the airlock, wouldn’t she? A gust of warm wet air blew out, carrying a hospital scent without the antiseptic. Julie hefted her wrench and prepared to bust open at least one head before they killed her. The engineering deck was huge, vaulted like a cathedral. Slowly, Julie floated toward it, one hand still on the ladder. The mud caked around the reactor had structure to it like nothing she’d seen before. The Epstein Drive hadn’t given humanity the stars, but it had delivered the planets.Panic shot through her until she caught the quiet sound of the air recyclers. Or everyone was in engineering, fixing a serious problem. She sucked on a plastic tab she’d ripped off the environment suit until she worked up some saliva; then she started yelling. Then she kicked out with both legs as hard as she could. When she was in control of her body, she kicked again. And again, until light started to show through the edges of the locker. She reached the final deck hatch, the one that led into engineering, and stopped when the hatch didn’t open automatically. Three-quarters of a kilometer long, a quarter of a kilometer wide—roughly shaped like a fire hydrant—and mostly empty space inside, the was a retooled colony transport.
A month earlier, Paj had gotten his elbow pinned by a thirty-ton block of ice moving at five millimeters a second. I checked the policy, and Paj here’s been signed on long enough to get one with force feedback, pressure and temperature sensors, fine-motor software. I’d rather have a good Belter-built fake than anything those bastards grow in a lab. The great wall-sized displays Holden had imagined when he’d first volunteered for the navy did exist on capital ships but, even there, more as an artifact of design than need. “Holden to the bridge,” Captain Mc Dowell said, his voice compressed and echoing. The bridge was hardly larger than Holden’s quarters and smaller by half than the galley. The light from the screen gave him an odd greenish cast. All we have is that some knucklehead is out there, blasting an emergency signal, and we’re the closest. A new file tree, labeled , appeared on his readout.The ship still had power and air, but the drive wasn’t on and no one was opening a door or walking or talking. The cramps that followed the first kick almost made her pass out. And again, until the door was so bent that the three hinges and the locking bolt were the only points of contact between it and the frame. The comm station was unmanned, powered down, and locked. A red light on the lock panel showed that the room had been sealed from the inside. Once, it had been packed with people, supplies, schematics, machines, environment bubbles, and hope.And one last time, so that it bent far enough that the bolt was no longer seated in the hasp and the door swung free. The few sensor logs that still streamed showed no sign of the A new dread knotted her gut. She thought again about radiation and major failures. Just under twenty million people lived on the moons of Saturn now.It wasn’t an uncommon injury among people with the dangerous job of cutting and moving zero-g icebergs, and Paj was taking the whole thing with the fatalism of a professional. Just wearing their fancy arm probably turns you into an asshole,” Paj said. Ade sat at a pair of screens only slightly larger than a hand terminal, graphs of the efficiency and output of the ’s reactor and engine updating in the corners, raw logs spooling on the right as the systems reported in. If Captain Mc Dowell left the command and control deck, it would alert her so she could turn the music off and look busy when he arrived. Except for the slightly oversized captain’s display, required by Captain Mc Dowell’s failing eyesight and general distrust of corrective surgery, it could have been an accounting firm’s back room. “It’s next to a charted non-Belt asteroid,” Mc Dowell said. Assuming…” The law of the solar system was unequivocal. “It’s a little-lost-daughter case,” Captain Shaddid said. Maokwik might not have been one of the top ten corporations in the Belt, but it was certainly in the upper fifty.Holden leaned over Shed’s shoulder to watch as the tech plucked one of the medical maggots out of dead tissue. Then he added, “Oh, uh, no offense, XO.” “None taken. She wore thick headphones that covered her ears, the faint thump of the bass line barely escaping. Her petty hedonism was only one of a thousand things that made Ade attractive to Holden. You’ve got a cute butt, and you’re fun in the sack. Another run, maybe two, and I’m gone.” “I’m not chained to this ship either.” Her laughter was equal parts warmth and disbelief. The air smelled of cleaning astringent and someone’s overly strong yerba maté tea. In an environment as hostile to life as space, the aid and goodwill of your fellow humans wasn’t optional. The tunnel outside was white where it wasn’t grimy. “You’ll still have the Ceres assignments you have now. “Ariadne and Jules-Pierre Mao.” The names rang a bell. Originally, it had been a legal firm involved in the epic failure of the Venusian cloud cities.She’d peed in her jumpsuit, not caring about the warm itchy wetness, or the smell, worrying only that she might slip and fall in the wet spot it left on the floor. The constant hiss and thud of hydraulics and steel bolts as the pressure doors between decks opened and closed. She waited until all the noise she could hear sounded distant, then pulled the environment suit off its hooks and onto the locker floor.
Listening for any approaching sound, she slowly disassembled the suit and took out the water supply. Detainment by the inner planet navies was a bad scenario, but they’d all trained on how to deal with it.
Julie shot from the locker, hands half raised and ready to look either threatening or terrified, depending on which seemed more useful. But if either of those was the case, why lock the door from the inside? None of them had been flashing warnings of any kind. The had hauled nearly a million of their ancestors there. One moon of Uranus sported five thousand, the farthest outpost of human civilization, at least until the Mormons finished their generation ship and headed for the stars and freedom from procreation restrictions. If you asked OPA recruiters when they were drunk and feeling expansive, they might say there were a hundred million in the Belt. She stood almost two full meters tall, her mop of curly hair tied back into a black tail, her expression halfway between amusement and annoyance.
There was no one on the whole deck: the airlock, the suit storage room where she’d spent the last eight days, a half dozen other storage rooms. She plucked a magnetized pipe wrench of suitable size for skull cracking out of an EVA kit, then went down the crew ladder to the deck below. Ask an inner planet census taker, it was nearer to fifty million. She had the Belter habit of shrugging with her hands instead of her shoulders. Can you hold this little fucker in place while I get the spare? He snapped a sarcastic salute and she snorted, shaking her head as she walked away, her frame long and thin in her greasy coveralls.
She had to work hard not to gulp it down and make herself vomit. Dave, who collected clips from old cartoons and knew a million jokes, begging in a small broken voice. Hydraulics and locking bolts clicked as the inner airlock door opened. When the attackers came aboard, they could play innocent. There weren’t the questions about cargo or permits.
When the urge to urinate returned, she pulled the catheter bag out of the suit and relieved herself into it. The invaders had come in like they owned the place, and Captain Darren had rolled over like a dog.
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