by Aaron Gallagher
It took concentration to perform delicate work in the cumbersome gloves of the suit. The rounded fingers were metal-tipped, and bulky. Elise painted the tips of her gloves with luminous paint for ease when working outside.
The octopus found the wires and shorted the alarm. The device glowed green and she triggered the manual release. The door popped, expelling a breath or two of oxygen.
Elise slipped into the airlock and closed it behind her, shutting the door on the endless black of space. The inside porthole looked into the cargo hold. She glided through the cargo room with three kicks.
The head-up on her helmet showed schematics in blue. She found the environmental control room.
She flipped open the airtight seal on a container holding a large slab of green gel. She snapped open a metal vial sprayed dark liquid onto the slab. She sealed the container, turned the machinery to full, and crouched by the door out of sight.
At thirty minutes, Elise headed upstairs for the cockpit. Empty. She looked for the captain’s cabin. In the cabin’s refresher, she found his body slumped in a large rubber bag.
Great. He passed out in the shower.
Elise wrestled the naked man out of the rubber shower. Round globules of water drifted around them. She pulled a sedative pad out of her bag and slapped it onto Holland’s arm. The chemicals seeped into his bloodstream.
He’d sleep twenty-four hours in a chemical coma. She left him in his bunk pouch, cinch closed around his neck. His balding head bobbed in the breeze from the vent.
Back in the environmental control room, she worked the o2 scrubbers at full blast for thirty minutes. She broke seal on her helmet and sniffed the air, ready to clamp the helmet down the moment she felt dizzy.
The ship was hers.
Elise floated through the ship to familiarize herself. It didn’t take long. It was a small Beech Skimmer, cargo capacity of around five metric tons. The craft was cylindrical, with two floors. Cargo, environmental, and engine room below. Main floor above was one long corridor, sixty meters long, with the cockpit at the fore, two staterooms to each side, a combination kitchen, dining room, and recreation area at the other end. The ship was roomy for one, comfortable with eight, rated for a maximum of sixteen.
Down below she examined the engines, because no pilot she knew ran a ship within recommended specs. The big Beech was tuned up to 122% efficiency. She studied the specs to learn what he had done. She shook her head. Sure, he’d managed to coax more power from the big engine, but it would need an overhaul twice as often. She shut off the display with a shrug. They never thought of the bottom line.
She finished her inspection and sealed her helmet. As she kicked out of the airlock, she paused to admire the view. It was worth admiring. Pluto, with her single, sickly colony. The dock in orbit, half-full of ships in port, lit like Vegas, and shining like diamonds on velvet.
She slipped under Adage to where her Betty was Remora’d to the hull and went inside. She plopped into the pilot’s couch. All her controls were custom, larger than normal. She spent a lot of time in her suit. Only two hours had passed since she used thrusters to come alongside the bigger ship. She watched the displays as she worked the controls by feel. Her deft touch meant hardly a small thump when she triggered the electromagnet and sealed to the hull of the bigger ship.
She looked around the small cabin, dingy with use. The Betty was a work-ship and looked it. She kept it neat, but it was still messy in that lived-in way.
After a last look around, she grabbed her bag and thumbed the power-down sequence, keeping the power plant only alive enough to keep the electromagnet on and her wine unfrozen.
In the cockpit, she entered her flight plan and engaged, then she removed her suit. She shook herself out, tugged the simple grey shipsuit straight. It was a relief to scratch. She scrubbed her fingers through her brown free-fall short hair. Her eyes itched from the low-humidity atmosphere of her suit.
Twenty days from Pluto dock to Lunar orbit. It took one hundred forty minutes to get to full thrust.
Elise rooted through Holland’s stores. Among his other qualities, Efram Holland had surprisingly excellent taste in both wine and coffee. While the plastic didn’t improve the flavor of either, it wasn’t intrusive.
She opened a box of 2105 Chateau d’Yquem. She put a clip in the reader and stuck herself to the wall. She squeezed a globe of wine into the air and leaned forward to sip from the bubble. The reader displayed the text of Jane Eyre.
“Chapter nine,” she said, and the reader skipped ahead. She crossed her legs and arms and got comfortable.