Freya's Tears

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Chapter Six - Investigation

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: New Pacifica

Els sat in the copilot seat of the shuttle as Austin eased closer to the debris field spanning hundreds of millions of kilometers. The smaller ship moved much faster than Freya’s Tears in normal space, and they’d made it to the leading edge of the disaster in seven hours. Now the sensors picked up more information than just vague objects in space. “Confirmed,” she said, glancing up at the rubble. “I’m picking up evidence of organic debris as well as lots of ice.”

Kolodka sat behind her, forearms on the backs of the pilot and copilot seats, alternately watching the instruments and peering out the window. He pulled back to enter information into his data pad. “Can you get me close enough to some ice for analysis?”

“Yeah.” Austin, still shirtless and barefoot, accommodated Kolodka’s request, sidling the shuttle up to a large chunk of ice and adjusting speed and direction to keep it near without bumping into it.

“Thanks.” Kolodka scooted to that side of the shuttle and popped open a panel. A tiny monitor lit up when he flipped a switch, and he grasped the small joystick with a gnarled yet gentle hand.

Els couldn’t see the screen from this angle, but she knew it showed nothing but close up crystallization from the ice beside the shuttle. Kolodka had extended a small robotic arm to scrape the side of the asteroid, retrieving a small chunk of the material. He’d then secure the physical specimen for later scanning. While he completed his task, she monitored their location, visually scanning the disaster sprawled before her.

Not everything had been pulverized in the force that had exploded the planet. If she looked carefully enough she saw the physical remnants of the population. They’d actually passed a frozen whale on their way to this spot. She chose to not look too closely at those fragments of debris, not wanting the nightmares. Instead, she searched the darkness for flashes of metal, something preferably large and full of fuel. So far there had been plenty of large chunks of metal—former ships, ground transports and buildings—but nothing remotely connected with fuel.

“Done.” Kolodka retracted the robot arm and shut down the station. “I’d say that the water’s chemical make up will match New Pacifica’s ocean.”

“Probably. We couldn’t get water in Lafayette. It’d be easy to refill our tanks now.” Austin urged the ship away from the massive rock of water. “How far in do you want to go, Skipper?”

“Skim along the outside edge for now. I want you to get a feel for the gravitational changes.” Els glanced back at Kolodka who’d resumed his position in the middle. “We’re going to need fuel to get out of this system.”

Kolodka nodded. He craned his neck and pointed out the window at what appeared to be the partial dome of an underwater building. “Looks like we’ll find something if we search hard enough. It’s just a matter of time.”

Els muttered agreement. Just a matter of time before they’d find something to salvage for fuel. Like ravens after a battle, carrion birds digging through the mud and the blood for sustenance. The thought of digging through the remains of an entire planet of people sickened her, but she couldn’t deny that they had to try. She knew there were plenty of mid-range haulers like her who wouldn’t feel the least bit of remorse as they picked over the corpse of New Pacifica. Her ex-girlfriend and their differences of ethical opinion came to mind. While Els didn’t avoid the occasional illegal smuggling job however, she preferred to keep her tarnished reputation a step above those sorts of ships. Such attempts didn’t always work, but she felt her overall moral efforts made up the difference, allowing her to sleep better at night.

Circumstances didn’t appear to be good for that this week.

She sighed. “How long do you think it would take for you to get across this system?”

Austin shrugged, crunching numbers on one of the monitors. “With a direct route to the next translation point and accounting for changes in system gravities…about three days?”

“And if we skirt the debris field?”

“Tack another day onto that just to be safe. We’ll be heading to Bliss, right?”

Ja.”

“Less than a day extra then.” Austin pulled up the navigational data, plastering a system map across the window. “We usually bail the system at this point when we head to Bliss,” he said, pointing at one area of the system. “Your entry point put us closer to it than if we’d actually translated into normal space near New Pacifica’s expected location.”

Els enjoyed a moment’s relief at her paranoia. Had Freya’s Tears followed normal procedures, they’d have emerged right in the middle of the heaviest debris. She’d bet there were a number of ships that had been destroyed upon arrival over the last three months for the same reason. It wasn’t any wonder news of this catastrophic disaster hadn’t left the system. No one who’d entered into it within the last three months had survived to tell the tale.

“All right. We’ll keep looking for another hour and then return to the ship. Naya should have finished the diagnostics by then. I’ll calculate a route and upload it to the ship when we get there.” She studied the generated display. “If we absolutely can’t find salvage for fuel, we’ll slip by the fourth planet and use the ram scoop.” Giving Kolodka a glance, she continued, “I’d rather not, but there might not be an option.”

“Sounds good, Els. When we get back, I’ll prep the ram scoop, and Hrothgar and me will go over the fuel refinery. Maybe we can tweak it a bit to get a better quality product.”

Despite the deadly seriousness of their situation, a laugh escaped Els. “I don’t know, Kol. I’ve seen some of your upgrades.”

Kolodka chuckled. “I promise, nothing fancy and nothing permanent.”

“You could always run it through his still,” Austin suggested, clearing the computer-generated images from the window. “If it doesn’t work as fuel, it’ll work for other purposes.”

As Kolodka responded, Els stared out at the chunks of ice, biomatter and twisted metal, humor forgotten. Hopefully they’d find something over the next four days so they could escape this graveyard.

 

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