Ep#17 – Rescue mission

“Hesu! Saran!” Gayle cried out.

“Shhhhh!” Ty hissed.

“I knew something was up,” Gayle spoke low, he felt sick in his gut. “I bet Arega’s behind this.”

Ty nodded, “The ejected lifePod Saran told us about was probably a decoy to make us think he’d fled Critia. He didn’t take me as the kinda man who gave up easily.”

Gayle grimaced, “yeah and he knows this base like the back of his hand…”

Marla’s voice patched through his commDev, “You’ve got a lightFeed coming through… it’s from a Durium class Destroyer, the Black Prince?”

“Fuck!” Gayle recognised the ship name immediately. “It’s Meyconte.” He flicking open the protective cover of the vidComm on the forearm of his enviroSuit. “Patch it through.”
A second later the smiling face of the warlord resolved out of the digital scramble. “Greetings Meron and co…” He paused noticing Meron was absent. “Where is your bellicose Captain?”

Ty bared her teeth. “She’s busy. What the fuck do you want Meyconte?”

There was a slight delay, long enough for the lightFeed to reach Meyconte and for the warlord to reply. Gayle knew from the relative shortness of the elapsed time that his ship must be close by, within a few AU probably. “Now now, no need to be so touchy.” He held up his hand in mock defence but his eyes narrowed on Ty.

Weavel, looking like he just got out of bed, patched into the feed from the Hyland, “Errr, I’m keeping a close eye on them Master.”

“Ah Weavel,” Meyconte sneered. “Do shut up you’re boring me.”

“Err, yes, sorry Sir.”

Meyconte’s sneer evolved into something resembling a grin. “You certainly make it easy for anyone to track you when you blow up that warehouse and hijack a ship like that.” He waggled a spindly finger, “the network is rather pissed off and wants your hides you know?” Meyconte paused, his eyes menacing, “…but they’ll have to get in line I’m afraid.”

Ty responded first, “both of you can go fuck off.”

Meyconte shook with fury, “Gayle, please be so kind as to contain your dog!”

Ty sneered but Gayle could see she was please with herself.

“I’m a patient man,” the warlord spoke through gritted teeth. Gayle watched him pull his emotions back in line. “Your little jaunt has been somewhat amusing I must say, but you have something of mine and I’d like it now.”

Gayle swallowed, his mouth had suddenly gone dry. “Um, err, well you see…the ship was destr–”

“Destroyed?” Meyconte held a hand to his mouth in mock surprise. “Yes, I did hear something of the sort – such a pity. There would have been a lot more on-board that might have been of use but frankly I’m just interested in the drive technology…which I know you still have.”

Gayle glanced at Ty. How the hell did he know they had it? He search his memory for what may have given them away. “Err, I just told you the ship was destroyed–”

“– don’t bother pretending,” Meyconte swatted at an imaginary fly. Flexing his fingers he reached over and pressed a button. The vidComm flicked through a series of shots showing Gayle transporting the tarp-covered drive to Achilles. One corner lifted in one frame enough to see one of the drives tell-tale mannifolds. “Hmm, I wonder what could be under there?”

Gayle thought about continuing his protest but he realised Meyconte was so far ahead of them he probably had a dozen other pieces of incriminating evidence. It would just irritate the man further by denying the drives existence further.

“Yes I know you transplanted one of the drives before you left Sedna!” Meyconte said triumphantly. “A bold move but one I anticipated – I thought the colony ship might be incapable of spaceflight and I knew Meron Landar could not let the technology vanish.

Gayle felt his face flush, he was such an idiot. He thought they’d kept the whole thing secret but all along it had been futile – Meyconte had spies everywhere. Ty shook her head and closed her eyes. Weavel had probably been sending back secret reports all along.

“Oh I do love that expression on your face – the searching eyes…” The warlord laughed, “what? Do you think I wouldn’t keep an eye on my investment?”

“I’m going to kill Weavel– ” Ty growled under her breath, “–slowly and with extreme pleasure.” She, like Gayle, made the connection that Meyconte’s lackey was responsible.

The warlord sighed, “Well I’m sure you’re enjoying basking in the glow of my superior intellect but frankly you’re boring me. Please remind your Captain – when she is not ‘busy’ – of our agreement. If she wants to see her husband alive again I want that drive in one piece.” He paused in thought, “If perchance she is dead – and I doubt that is so – you reprobates can rest assured I will track you down. Oh, and your deaths will be anything but boring.”

“You are fortunate I have some other business to attend to on Juno.” Meyconte signalled to vaguely to someone off-screen, “I’m sending you some coordinates in this lightFeed, surrender yourselves and the drive there in twenty-four hours. If you do not show up you should consider your lives forfeit.”

Abruptly the signal ended, leaving them with the frozen image of the warlord. Whether by design or luck the final menacing expression sent shivers down Gayle’s spine.

Marla clicked in over the Comm, “Well he’s a jolly fellow. I’ve got the coordinates, it’s about three hour from here. What do ya want to do?”

“Stow them for later,” Gayle replied uncertainly. ”I guess we’ll discuss that one once we’ve rescued the others.”

“Roger, I’ll port them into the nav computer,” Marla said clicking off.

Ty gave him a reassuring nod, whether it was approval he couldn’t tell.

He rubbed his half-bearded chin, somehow he’d become the leader of this rabble of misfits and it didn’t sit well with him. In lieu of Meron they relied on him to make the big decisions. How could they? He couldn’t even rely on himself.

#

Arega’s bar was now darkened and lifeless when they entered it cautiously. It was apparent from the state of the room that a struggle had taken place. Through the disarray Gayle spotted a porcelain-white hand. Weaving through chairs and tables he stepped over to the body a sinking feeling in his stomach. It was one of the pleasure clones, one side of her head was caved in. For a second he wondered how she had met her end but a half-full shot-glass on one of the tables caught his eye. He sniffed it experimentally, the hard liquor contents tingled his nose and set his mouth watering. Satisfied it was alcoholic he threw it down his throat.

“What?” He brushed off Ty’s disapproval.“One for the nerves.”

At the back of the bar, behind some crates, came an almost inaudible shuffle. In an instant Ty had her automatic rifle up. She silently signalled to Gayle to circle around; he got the message drawing his own pistol. With slow steps he paced forward. Then, like a leopard, Ty rushed in and pounced.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” Beetle’s frightened face appeared from behind a pile of refuse, his quivering hands raised over his head.

“Hesu!” Ty swore swinging her rifle away. “I could have blown your stupid head off!”

The boy slowly lowered his arms, “Hey, I was frightened! I…I didn’t know it was you.”

Gayle knelt on one knee beside the boy and took him by the shoulder, “Beetle, where’s Saran..err, your ma? and the old man?”

Beetle shook his head, his face was a picture of misery. His eyes wandered for a moment. “Arega surprised us. I…I…I got away but he captured Norton…and me Mum.”

Gayle new exactly how the boy felt. The shame and anguish reflected his own fractured past. Beetle was more like him than he imagined, neither of them were natural heroes. He patted the boy on the head.

“He took ’em deep into a secret part of the base, I followed them as far as I could…but what could I do?” He started to sob.

“Do you think you could lead us back there?”

The boy nodded wiping his cheeks with his forearm. “ I patched into the security cameras, he’s got some kind of lab down there, it scared me.”

“Yeah we knew about the drug lab…” Ty frowned.

“No, a different lab – there are things…in giant tanks…” The boy shivered.

#

Beetle raised a finger to his lips as he pointed to a small fountain. The centre piece was a half-naked nymph holding a jug of wine – out of this trickled a stream of water. He reached over to a miniature jug and gave it a twist resulting in an audible whir of a servo. With a click the adjacent wall panel sprung ajar revealing a narrow stairwell. Gayle looked at Ty with surprise.

Without a word Ty stepped through and led the way downward. She moved silently to each platform and, once she was sure it was clear, signalled for the other two to follow. They repeated this six times before it abruptly stopped at a door with a keypad control panel. A red light blinked indifferently, indicating the door was locked.

“Can you open this?” Ty pushed her shoulder to the door experimentally.

Gayle was about to speak, when Beetle ducked under her arm, “It’s a Dayton Security mechanism, the 2400 model I think.”

Ty raised her eyebrows at Gayle and he tried to look like he’d know that, “what he said.” Door mechanisms were not one of his strong points.

Beetle was already wedging a uniTool into the side of the keypad, his tongue pressed between his teeth,“If I’m right I can just pop off the cover here… pull out this wire… touch it to this exposed input here and…”

The door beeped, the light flicked to green and then slid aside revealing a darkened, panelled hallway. Beetle beamed.

Gayle frowned and folded his arms causing the boy to look concerned, “you’ll do me out of a job kid.”

“…I err, sorry I didn’t mean-”

“I was kidding.” Gayle interrupted him with a hand on the shoulder. “Let’s go find your Ma ok?”

Beetle nodded eagerly and they moved off down the hallway.

#

The hallway was filthy. It had obviously not been cleaned any time recently; it’s amazing what fifty years of neglect will accumulate. The metal flooring, which once would have been polished alloy, was covered in a slick of grease though a well-worn path down the middle showed that it was still in frequent use. The place reminded Gayle of Happy Harry’s a grease joint out amongst the asteroid belt, even the pervading chemical smell.

They trod forward carefully to avoid slipping but it was almost impossible as the hallway was cluttered with broken medical equipment. Had they not been covered by the sound of heavy machinery clunking away nearby Gayle would’ve been concerned about the noise they were making.

Near the end of the hallway they passed a lift with a barely-readable ‘out of order’ sign painted on the long-sealed doors. Opposite this was another sign: ‘Health and well-being centre’, only someone had scratched over the ‘ealth and w’ so that it read ‘Hell-being centre’. Under this an arrow with the word ‘Wards’ pointed to a set of salon-type doors.

Gayle wiped a hand over a plexiGlass panel in the door and peered inside but in the gloomy lighting all he could make out was a clutter of rusty patient trolleys and decayed linen. He cupped his hands over the glass and thought he caught something moving in the darkness. “I think I see something!”

“Well, there’s only the one way to go.” Ty said wiping her slimy boots with a mouldy shred of bed-sheet she had discovered. Without warning she raised her boot and kicked open the doors before Gayle could complain. The doors sprung inward and seeing nothing in front Ty darted into the darkness.

Beetle picked up a piece of pipe, looking at Gayle fretfully. “She’s crazy but I’m not staying here.”

He had to agree. Ty was a mad gun-wielding psychopath – but he was glad she was on their side. He grimaced and waved the boy on with his pistol. “Go!” He slipped in behind just as the door swung closed.

Within a few metres they found an old hospital bed turned on its side and taking a moment to assess the room crouched behind it. Gayle’s eyes adjusted slowly but then he could make out in the dimness a fluorescent glow emanating from the room ahead. The layout of the room was becoming apparent, it was one large chamber but with walls either side dividing the space into four alcoves, each with enough room for six to eight beds he guessed – though most of the beds were now broken, missing or upturned and barricading the way forward. Above, the roof panels were missing and cables like tropical lianas hung down in places.

Ty nodded her head forward towards the glow. “there’ll be a way forward there.”

Gayle groaned, it was a perfect place for someone to spring out. He glanced around but saw no sign of the movement he’d caught earlier. Maybe I just imagined it? He thought, though he doubted it. Just when things go bad they get worse! He cursed.

Together they plotted a course though the forest, weaving between the hospital beds. Nearing the centre of the chamber the light became more intense. One of the alcoves had been sectioned off with a semi-opaque plastic sheet that reached from flood to ceiling, through this an aerie light emanated.

Beetle hissed, “There’s something in there!”

As they watched blurry shapes drifted ghostlike behind the sheet. It reminded Gayle of a shadow theatre he’d seen as a kid, only weirder.

Gayle tensed when he heard movement behind him. Instinctively he sidestepped just as something flashed out of the dark. It smashed where he had been moments earlier, the gooey contents spraying his legs. From the shattered remains he guessed it was some kind of glass jar.

“No be here!” A deep though childlike voice shouted from the darkness. A second jar smashed into one of the beds, probably aimed at Ty, but she had already vanished. A third jar rocketed past Gayle’s head, missing him by a few centimetres and smashed in the dark behind him. He slipped on something squishy in the goo and fell to the ground. He glanced around to what had caused him to loose his footing and with horror realised it was a fetus.

He looked up just as the attacker, a great hulking shadow, charged out of the darkness. To Gayle it seemed to be twenty foot tall and built like a ‘roid smasher. Though it was man-like it’s naked body was a blue hue and glistened bluish like a slug.

“Holy hell!” Gayle shrunk back from this new horror as a giant balled fist came crashing towards him. He easily ducked aside and fired his pistol point blank into it’s side. The bullet punched a hole into the soft dough-like flesh but did little to stop it. The beast swotted at its side as if stung by a mosquito but Gayle watched with terror as the wound healed over, the bullet bubbling out and clattering to the floor.

“Need some help here!” Gayle shrieked dodging another blow.

Despite it’s enormous size and strength it was slow and clumsy; Gayle jumped away easily as another ponderous swing ploughed towards him. It struck a bed and upturned it as if it were a plaything. Not going to last long against this! He thought.

A crack of gunfire issued from somewhere behind the beast. The Beast lurched and turned to face the new threat. It was Ty who screamed discharging her assault rifle. The bullets however just seeming to annoy it and it roared, “Angry now!”

It gripped one of the beds, raised it above its head and launched it at the warrior-woman. The bed smashed where she would have been but Gayle couldn’t see her in the wreckage. The beast turned its attention back to him.

“Oh, shit!” He muttered. Backing away he tossed his useless pistol aside and raised his palms in the hope it might sooth the beast. Its face, however, turned blood red as it’s yellow eyes narrowed on him.

“You be flat now.” it grinned. Slowly it stomped towards him, each step rattling everything around him. He was being forced into a corner. Frantically he looked for any chance of escape but it was impossible, the creatures huge mits blocking either way. He noticed a pile of scrap to his left, there was a jagged metal pole jutting out of it. If only I could reach it.

Now that the beast was so close the smell of piss and shit was overpowering. It wiped a grimmy arm across its nose dripping with mucous and blood. Quizically, it paused looking at the smear on its arm. “Blood?”

Ty and beetle appeared and added to the melee throwing whatever they could lay their hands on, Some finding their mark but all bouncing harmlessly off of it. The man-beast bellowed and swotted the missiles away.

Gayle, seeing his one chance, scampered up the pile. He latched onto the hunk of metal and with all his strength yanked at it. It made an ear-splitting squeal but refused to slip free. “Hesu, give me a break!”

“Gayle look out!” Ty yelled as she raced forward.

He’d turned his back to the beast. Now, he knew there was nothing he could do. He heard air whistling through it’s bloodied nose. Like a liquid sewer he felt it’s foul breath wash over his neck. He didn’t want to die in this filty place. Calling on everything he had left he closed his eyes, swallowed then gripped the pole.

Slowly he tilted his head to face his fate. The beast roared and smashed it’s fists defiantly into the ceiling. He pulled on the pole straining with every ounce of his being. All at once it broke free and together he and it fell backwards. The beast dived at him and for a moment everything slowed down.

Gayle landed with a thud on his back and the pole, lodged upright under his armpit. It was too late for the beast, it’s full weight came down on the pole piercing through flesh, sinew and muscle. Gayle had the good sense to roll free just as the creature’s immense bulk slid down.

For a few seconds the beast screamed, “papa!” Then it’s voice degenerated into a gurgle as its lungs filled with blood. It thrashed and convulsed trying to free itself but only managed to make its situation worse, the damage was done – nothing could survive such a wound.

Beetle raced over to Gayle and helped him stagger clear. Ty, grim-faced, stepped over to it, pressed her rifle to its head and pulled the trigger. The bullet exploded out the otherside spraying brain and bone across the floor.

Beetle recoiled, revolted by the scene. “Wha..what was that?”

Gayle shook his head, “I don’t know but I’m betting we’ll find the answer behind that curtain.”

#

Ty stood at the curtain and nodding to the two others, she pushed it aside with her rifle butt. Inside were six beds layed out three to each wall. At the far end of the space were a series of cloning tanks large enough for a human and one even larger in the middle now empty. The beds contained the most hideously deformed creatures Gayle had ever seen. Some with missing limbs or misshapen heads, he wasn’t even sure they were human – though he suspected they were. The one closest had no legs and a drip running into its arm, a ventilation mask covering its nose and mouth hissed out air. It lay on urine-stained sheets, its sad eyes turned slowly to the new comers.

“Daaaaaa?” The creature mouthed mindlessly. It clearly wasn’t intelligent in the same way as they were, though it was still somehow human.

Another of the creatures slid from its bed, its gown hanging off one shoulder revealing a withered breast. It began to walk towards them, its scaled arms outstretched. A jaw, which protruded three inches too far, opened and closed mechanically,“Da-da-da-da…”

“They’re…like babies?” Beetle said.

“Human experiments,” Ty said, her voice quivering with disgust.

“Cloning gone wrong.” Gayle added. “What else has the sick bastard been up to?”

Ty fended off the female creature with the butt of her rifle. The gown rode up revealing a long stitch line around the woman’s side. Ty recoiled from it, “what the f–”

The anger rose within Gayle, he knew exactly what this was. He’d seen it before. Leaning in towards Ty he whispered so that Beetle wouldn’t here. “Organ farming.”

It was a well known but highly illegal practice. Clones were bred deliberately for the organs to be harvested and sold to the highest bidder. They took non-vital organs first so that the victim could be kept alive as long as possible. It was of course possible to grow single organs these days but you needed a more advanced lab for that. The human body was in fact the best lab for growing tissue.

A tear squeezed out of the corner of the warrior’s eye. She hardened her jaw, “I’m gonna do some harvesting of my own. Move on!”

#

They passed though a series of isolation airlocks, this Gayle knew meant they were near the base’s primary life support core – in the case of disaster sections of the base could be sealed off. Fires, for example, were not uncommon in older cores as their containment fields failed. Fire could rip through the oxygen rich atmosphere of a base in a matter of seconds, so the ability to close off sections of the base was critical to survival. The Fire would then consume all the oxygen in the space and burn itself out quickly, or could be vented to space to speed up the process.

“Look, the hallway branches!” Beetle said. Gayle could see both branches curled around and he guessed that it circled an inner chamber.

“Hang on Beetle,” Ty grabbed the boy by the collar. She wiped a glove over a grimy sign on the wall – DANGER – STATION CORE. CLASS 4 ENVIROSUITS BEYOND THIS POINT.

Ty waved the mechanic to the left branch while she moved to the right. Dim blue light ebbed from both sides and Gayle moved off reluctantly.

Gayle slid along the wall, his gun drawn. In front of him the blue light grew in intensity to the point he was blinded whenever it pulsed. It took him a few moments to realised the right-hand wall was in fact transparent. He held a hand up to him face to try and block out the light that was flooding out of the central space and caught sight of a figure moving between himself and the source of the light.

“DANGER. YOU ARE ENTERING A HIGH RADIATION AREA,” a distorted robotic voice warned. “ ENSURE YOUR PROTECTIVE GEAR IS –” The voice cut short as Gayle heard the wall raise, it longer protecting him.

“Oh shit–”

The blaring claxon said it all. Gayle didn’t need to hear the robotic voice to know what it meant, “WARNING, CONTAINMENT BREACHED. RADIATION LEVELS LETHAL TO HUMAN LIFE.”

“It’s a trap!” he yelled.

“Fucking oath it’s a trap!” Ty replied from the opposite side. He could see her across the chamber now, the glass wall that was mirrored on her side was also open.

In the centre of the chamber a river of blazing plasma passed upward crackling and bathing the chamber in the bluish glow; this was the power core. It unnerved Gayle that only a thin shield of solarised plexiglass stood between him and instant death. However, he knew that the true shield was a gravity field in the centre of the column. It held the mass of the stream together, kind of like how the sun held all that burning hydrogen at the centre of the solar system.

Shielding his eyes from the intensity Gayle approached the core. He was startled when a skeletal hand raised itself from the floor, silhouetted against the column. The rest of the body lay crumpled below the column, concealed in shadow.

“Help me up boy.” A withered voice called. It took Gayle a few seconds to realise it was Norton.

The old man tried to lift his own body weight. Gayle knelt down and lifted him gently, but he was shocked by the man’s appearance. He looked like a prune, withered skin sunken over bone. Ty came sprinting across the room to help and Gayle could see the same shock written across her face.

“What the hell happened to him?” Ty said as they carried him out into the corridor where the noise was less intense. “Is it the radiation?”

“I ain’t a doctor but I don’t think so, not this fast.” Gayle examined the old man’s hands, the skin was virtually transparent, the veins blue and web like. It’s as if he’s aged overnight…”

Beetle, now with tears in his eyes, held the old man’s hand, “Is he going to be alright?”

Gayle could only manage a weak smile and put his arm around the boy’s shoulder.

“Sweetpea is that you?” Norton looked disoriented, the lens of his eyes all glazed over white. “I’ve been waiting for you to come home…”

Then it dawned on Gayle what had happened. “It’s the drug he was taking,” he explained, “they kept him alive this long but now he doesn’t have them…”

Ty nodded, “his body is crumbling.”

“It’s alright sweatpea,” Norton turned his head and whispered. His voice was thin and chalky, “– papa knew you’d come home – I’m glad you’re home…”

Together the three of them huddled around him, Gayle held Norton’s head on his lap while Beetle stroked his hand. Even Ty knelt down beside the withered figure. Gayle watched her as she arranged his limbs with surprising tenderness. He was as comfortable as possible now.

The old man’s eyes rolled back in his head and his gaunt frame shuddered. Then after a minute he grew silent and still. They knew then he was gone.

For a while they just sat there huddled together, Gayle had hardly known the man but something about him had appealed to him, maybe he’d reminded him of his own father – or at least the fantasy he maintained in his mind of what a father should be. A well of sadness bubbled over in his chest. If he could have cried he would have – that would have been a release – but it just sat there trapped inside him and festered. Like the friends he’d lost on Phobos, Norton was another bag in the recesses of his mind.

Over their heads a loudspeaker broke their requiem, “oh for god sake, he was a crazy old fool! Useless!” It was Arega of course – all at once his withered face appeared on all the consoles in the room. He was squashed into a capsule of some sort, a lifepod Gayle guessed. The other of his clone girlfriends hung next to him.

“I let you into my home and offer you hospitality and you repay me by stealing from me?” Arega stabbed a balled fist at them. “How do you think that made me feel?”

Gayle eased Norton’s head out from under his lap and gently laid it on the ground. He stood, the fury rippling through his brain made him giddy. “Who the fuck do you think you are?!”

“Look at yourself, with your clone girlfriends tucked away in this shit hole…” Gayle sneered, tears flowing down his cheek. He glanced down to the fragile, lifeless body at his feet. “Norton was ten times the man you ever were.”

Ty and Beetle stood up beside him in solidarity.

“I’ll tell you how I feel – Violated!” clearly Arega hadn’t heard a word he’d said, a pitiless expression came across the drug-man’s face, “and it’s going to be set right.”

The lights burst on at the far end of the chamber momentarily blinding them. Once Gayle’s eyes adjusted an airlock door previously hidden came into view. Through a window in the door he saw Saran, her hair dishevelled, her dress torn and hanging from a bruised shoulder. her eyes were red from crying.

“Mumma!” Beetle’s hands clenched at his overalls but his feet were frozen to the ground.

“There’s no way out, you’re locked in there,” Arega sneered. “You’ll all die, the radiation will do its work in a day or so. Then I will return to clean up the mess you made.”

“But first.” he paused for effect. “you will watch your girlfriend die.” He lingered lovingly on the word.
“No!” Beetle screamed.

Gayle’s eyes widened as he fully understood Arega’s terrible plan. Saran was trapped in the airlock between Arega’s lifepod and the core, when the pod launched it would expose the airlock to the vacuum outside.

“No! Stop!” Gayle raced towards the glass wall, and slammed his fists against it. It was futile, fifty men couldn’t smash through it.

Arega’s laugh was thick and gutteral. “You thought you were so smart!”

“Think of the boy!” Gayle cried. Tears were now streaming down his face.

Arega shook his head, “I’m afraid you’ve only got yourselves to blame.”

Saran mouthed words but there was no way to hear her, the airlock was soundproof – she may as well have been a million light years away. She placed a hand on the glass mirroring his, her other mirrored Beetle’s who had come forward. She lent forward and kissed the glass.

Then, in a instant, Gayle was thrust forward. His body bounced off the door with the force of a train and he blacked out. he came too a moment later with his ears ringing and he groggily looked behind him to see what had happened. The door that had sealed them in was no more, where it had been were jagged smoking ruins. As the cloud of smoke dissipated he spotted Milla but his friend was looking past him.

“So long suckers.” Arega yelled and then he was gone, his image on the screens replaced with a fury of static. The whole structure around them began to shudder violently. The sound of engines bursting to life drowning out all else.

He turned back to Saran but he already knew it was too late. The airlock was empty – the circular space where the pod had been was now a black gulf. He watched the pod streak away then disappeared out of vision. He wavered, his knees buckled and he slid down the airlock door.

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