Kate stood clutching her triage kit as the airlock tube extended towards Lady Caroline. “Caroline, this is Dr. Chiltern. Open your outer airlock door. We’re ready to connect the tube. Have you got your wounded standing by to transport?”
“Dr. Chiltern, this is Dr. Benz. We’re trying, but it’s been hard to move people; the artificial gravity is intermittent at best. It’s a miracle no one’s dead. We’re getting the worst cases to the airlock now. Almost everyone’s got some injuries, but the worst five are coming first.”
The outer door to the airlock slid back with a dull thunk. Dack and Wally hurried to secure the tube and sealed it. “You know,” Dack said as they waited for the pressure to build, “The hole in the hull looked pretty odd. I didn’t see anything that looked like a typical asteroid strike. All the hull plating shattered out, not in. I took some video, if you want to see it later.”
Wally only grunted. Without bothering with the comm, he pounded on the inner door with his gloved fist. Dr. Benz, a studious-looking man wearing a space suit opened the door. The doctor did not speak, but handed him a teenage boy with a magnetic cast bracing his torso. Dack picked up an unconscious older woman who had a circulatory constrictor clamped to her abdomen. It struck him that the woman must have been old money – even lying on the deck she radiated culture and poise. ‘I bet she’s an aristocrat,’ he thought. Kate and Dr. Benz lifted a man on an immobilization tray and hurried across to the Nth Degree. Two more passengers followed, assisting another who had both legs splinted.
As they arrived in the infirmary, Kate saw that Dr. Benz looked exhausted. Anya took his end of the litter and they hoisted the patient onto a table. Kate gestured toward her supply locker “You stay here and get started with these people. Anya’s here to help now. I’ll take charge of getting the rest of them across." Dr. Benz managed a sort of a smile, and then turned to the man on the table. Anya rummaged through the locker for equipment he wanted. Kate rushed out of the infirmary, heading back to the airlock. She passed Dack and Wally, who were carrying more passengers.
Halfway across the tube she stopped and turned back. ‘Always shut the outer door,’ she chanted, recalling the safety rules Anya had drilled into her head. That accomplished, she trotted along the tube but stopped at the same point. Something had thudded against the outside of the tube. A second later there was another thud, and another. A louder thud, then the sound of a metal strut bending. Realizing what was happening sent a jolt of fear through Kate’s heart. As she scrambled for Lady Caroline’s airlock the tube wall started shook and rattled, making the tube echo like a popcorn popper.
“Kate? Kate! Where are you? ” Tarrant’s voice rang in her helmet. She shook her head and gulped air. “Tarrant, I’m OK. I made it to Lady Caroline, but the tube’s shredded. I think I’m stuck over here.”
“I’m sorry. That cloud was too small for the radar to pick it up and we were through it too fast for me to change course. Thank God you’re safe for the moment. Now we’ve got no choice but to ride into the Snowball with you.”
With a final glance out the ‘window’, Kate turned and began sizing up the cluster of injured people lining the hallway. The liner’s captain approached her, wearing his space suit with the helmet open. “Dr. Chiltern, we should get everyone we can into suits in case we lose hull integrity. The crew suits are just down here,” he said, directing her to a storage locker. The rest of the crew must have already donned suits, as there was only one left. It didn’t fit well, but Kate struggled into it and got back to work. She surveyed the passengers clustered by the airlock and decided the most serious case was an unconscious young man, his face covered in bandages. She knelt beside him and began her examination, trying not to think about what was happening outside.
“Preliminary checks complete. Tarrant, we are ready to go weapons hot,” Dack reported from the fire control center, a small room just forward of engineering.
Tarrant turned to Jackson. “Jackson, they're ready in fire control. They need you to release the weapons.” Jackson pressed a different intercom key. “Computer, go weapons hot. Authorization Jackson Selker. Now Wally, be careful what you shoot at. If you hit the wrong thing, they're going to hold me responsible.” He tried to sound jovial but Wally could hear the apprehension in his voice.
The targeting displays lit up, and the Nth Degree's radar began pulsing. The ship carried two x-ray laser turrets on its top and bottom sides. They were small, civilian grade weapons; only enough to threaten pirates. Wally's gamble was that they could handle the icy marauders rushing towards them.
“That’s it. We’ve entered the Snowball,” Marek announced to the people gathered on the bridge. His holographic projector displayed the two ships and the large, dark masses on every side. Marek guessed there were hundreds of them, and any one could break their tiny ship in half.
The story concludes here.
The story concludes here.