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Science Fiction

The explosion blasted a million obols worth of cometary material into the oblivion of space, a disaster even without their ship being parked at ground zero, but what really rattled Jacey Komarov was the destruction of her entire set of Space Kitchen Deluxe™ radiant cookware, which had been safely stowed on board. She’d bought the set on Callisto twenty-three years before and cared for it like a child ever since. To her, it was more precious than platinum. You couldn’t find gear like that here in the Oort Territories. Standing beside her in his hideous olive green pressure suit, staring up at a black sky liberally sprayed with stars and glittering chunks of comet ice spinning into the void, Arne Slocum seemed hardly to notice. His reaction to the cataclysm was typically juvenile: “Whoa! That was awesome!” Okay, he actually was nearly juvenile: a short, skinny seventeen-year-old with wide, brown eyes and wiry hair that Komarov figured would be ideal for scrubbing out pots and pans. Not her good Space Kitchen Deluxe™ pots and pans, since they were self-cleaning, or had been before their untimely deaths, but she could definitely see grabbing him by the boots, holding him upside down over a filthy pan, and having at it with his skull. Since she no longer had a pan, filthy or otherwise, she slugged his shoulder instead. “Idiot! Look what you did!” He bounced a few feet in the feeble gravity before replying, “I’m looking.” Then he stopped looking and fiddled with the portable extractor cradled in his arms. Its sleek, silver body, massive orange trigger, and flared red muzzle suggested it was a device for killing Tyrannosaurs rather than mining comets. He flipped open a panel on its back and poked a skinny, gloved finger at the circuitry within. “I didn’t think I’d coax that much power from her.” “Stop tinkering! We’re here to collect samples, not vaporize the place from under our own feet. All my stuff is gone!” Slocum scratched what would have been his nose if there hadn’t been a helmet in the way. “You’re not hurt, are you?” He gave her a not entirely medical examination. “Put those eyes back where they belong,” Komarov growled. She turned away from the havoc he’d wreaked. Before her, a jumbled surface of loosely-packed ice and black rock stretched to the horizon, where it melded seamlessly with the onyx sky. Nothing special, really. Every chunck of frozen primordial soup looked the same. This was the Oort Territories, a realm so distant the sun was just a bright star, a place where day was night and night was more night. People came here to strike it rich mining the hydrogen and organics that made corporate executives filthy rich, but somehow only the filthy rich ever got richer, while people like Komarov, scratching out a living employed to a third-rate mining outfit, shambled through shackled to people like Slocum. “Where’s the ship?” Slocum asked. Quick study you are, she groused. “You blew it up along with everything else, including my most prized possessions.” She spread her arms in frustration. “The comet? Fine. The ship? If you absolutely must. But my entire kitchen? Blow yourself up instead!” Slocum’s eyes did a fair impression of a faulty LED flickering between life and death. “I blew up the ship?” “I’m going away now,” Komarov said. “Enjoy the rest of your short life.” She started walking . . . stomping, really . . . okay, bouncing across the frozen wasteland, her weighted boots the only thing keeping her from launching into space. She felt rather than heard the crunch of frozen organics under her feet, smelled nothing but the synthetic cleanliness of recirculated air, saw only glitters in the dark. She didn’t know where she was going, but it didn’t matter. There was nowhere to go but away from Arne Slocum. She’d probably end up back where she started, either from aimless wandering or circumnavigation of the tiny globe, but she didn’t care so long as he wasn’t there when she arrived. Unfortunately, they were still in communications range. “There’s nothing out there.” he said. “Exactly.” “But we don’t have a ship.” “No kidding.” “How do we get home?” If she could put the horizon between them, she wouldn’t have to listen. “Jacey?” The comet wasn’t that big. It shouldn’t take long. “You’re the senior. You’re supposed to deal with situations like this.” “Be very glad you’re not standing behind me,” Komarov grumbled. “Why?” “Because I’d strangle you!” “Oh. Er. Actually . . .” Engulfed by rage, she spun about. The motion would have thrown her headlong across the icefield had not Slocum been a meter back. They collided and fell in slow motion, a tangle of arms and legs and portable extractor. Its bluish beam flashed by Komarov’s head into space where it would either harmlessly dissipate or by freak accident destroy something vital to somebody’s survival. Slocum grunted. “You’re…” His faceplate was pressed against hers and his breathing labored, as though she was squashing him flat, although she couldn’t be, not in this gravity. “…all red.” “You think?” She pushed herself up and dusted off her suit. Motes of ice and organics sparkled into the vacuum. Breathing deliberately and summoning every gram of professionalism left in her roiling brain, she let him pick himself up rather than flinging him across the cosmos. “Maybe you should engage the safety.” “I disabled it.” Mayhem flooded her eyes. “Why?” “Convenience.” She had a vision of approaching him, arms outstretched, grasping fingers encircling his neck, squeezing long and slow and hard until his head popped off. He didn’t share her vision or maybe even notice it. “How do we get home?” “We?” He bounced back up a step, so maybe he had noticed, after all. “I assume you’ve studied the procedures.” “Didn’t have time. I was working on, on, on, this.” He raised the extractor as though offering it to her. Tempting though it was, she didn’t take it. “Before people are dropped on a new target, an emergency package is soft-landed. If the crew becomes stranded, they can activate a distress call. They’ll also find basic tools and provisions.” “Oh. That’s good.” Slocum looked so pleased, he might have designed the package himself. “Where is it?” Komarov pointed. “On the edge of the blast zone.” Slocum fiddled with the extractor some more, as thought that might make all disintegrated things undisintegrate. It didn’t. He looked contrite enough, though, so Komarov set course for whatever remained of the emergency package and motioned him to follow. Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at a massive crater whose edges and walls had a glassy look. The blast had melted the ice, which refroze as it flowed downhill. She amused herself with the thought of Slocum sliding down the slope, unable to arrest his fall, swooping through the bottom and up the other side until gravity slowed him and pulled him back down, up, down, up, down, over and over, amplitude gradually decreasing, until he came to rest at the bottom and couldn’t climb out again. Sweet justice. “Is that it?” Slocum asked. Not three meters beyond the edge of the crater, a massive black box squatted on the ice, a glowing green button planted in its side. They approached and studied it. Miraculously, it didn’t look damaged. “That’s it,” Komarov decided. She pushed the button, and the box blossomed like a flower, petals opening to reveal more controls, panels, doors, and a big red button marked, “For emergency use only.” That seemed redundant. The whole thing was for emergency use. Slocum held his breath while the box revealed its secrets, then let out a sigh. “You can say that again,” Komarov told him. “You’re damn lucky you didn’t take this out, too.” More contrition was called for. He fiddled with the extractor one more time. She pushed the red button. A control lit up, informing them the distress beacon was active. “You know,” Slocum said, shifting the device in his arms. “I honestly didn’t think I’d coax that much power from . . . “ Something his finger touched when click. The brilliant bluish beam flashed, vaporized the emergency package, and raced over the horizon into space. Komarov screamed. Fortunately for her, enough distress call had transmitted that two hours later a rescue team arrived. Fortunately for Slocum, low-gravity running is trickier than it looks, and they got there before Komarov caught him.

January 16, 2020 21:02

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1 comment

Dale Lehman
14:55 Jan 21, 2020

I would love to know why the formatting on this is broken. It was copy/pasted from Word, but the paragraph breaks are all gone. This has happened to me twice now. Other people's stories are formatted correctly. Should I NOT copy/paste from Word?


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