Over and Under and Through

Characters: Peter Carlacci

Peter Carlacci squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard, trying to overcome the visceral reactions to what lay before him. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen someone dead; not even the first time he’d seen someone murdered.

But it was the first time he’d ever seen a Minbari with his skull smashed in. Headbone and all.

He knelt beside the body, gently turning the shattered head face upward. It was Tanisval, all right.

He looked around — no sign of a weapon. Carlacci’s guts began to twist again at the thought of what sort of weapon — or how strong a wielder — it would take to destroy the double skull of a Minbari. Moreover, anyone who would even try to kill a Minbari warrior, knowing what the consequences from that warrior’s brethren would be, had to be either incredibly stupid, or incredibly desperate.

Or just plain fearless, with enough strength to back it up.

Whatever the case was, Carlacci realized he was in serious trouble. The enemy had all the cards: they knew he was here, who his contact was, and very likely knew that he hadn’t the faintest idea exactly who they were.

He pulled off his long outer jacket and laid it over Tanisval’s body, trying to stay calm and think. The only way out of here now was the late Minbari’s fighter ship. Carlacci could fly it, but he had to assume that they knew that, and would be waiting somewhere between here and there.

He murmured a short prayer before standing up and turning away from the dead Minbari, pausing at the last line. Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. He just hoped that in this case, they weren’t one and the same.

He made his way through the service corridors, listening intently for the sound of his feet or anyone else’s, working toward the outer edge of the mining station’s hull. The least likely place that his hunters would be waiting was outside the station — so that’s where Carlacci planned to go.

It didn’t take long to find one of the EVA service bays, but as Carlacci entered, he heard someone approaching, pulling something heavy. He looked around quickly. No niches or closets big enough to hide in — the only way to go was up. He jumped, catching one of the pipes that ran across the ceiling, and swung his feet up and backwards, catching them against another pipe.

Steadying and quieting his breath, he looked down, taking in the whole bay. He suspected the gravity was a few points lower than Earth norm, which would keep him from tiring too fast, and his toes were solidly wedged, taking a lot of his weight. He could stay here almost indefinitely, and be perfectly safe — as long as whoever came in didn’t look up.

One of the Abbai station techs entered, pulling a tall crate behind him. Carlacci watched as he removed the half-dozen spacesuits hanging by the airlock, replaced them with suits from the crate, and packed up the old suits. Standard maintenance checks, he thought. At least he’d be borrowing a suit that had been freshly examined and cleared for use. Hopefully it would fit.

Carlacci waited until the tech had gone and the sound of his rolling crate almost faded into silence before dropping softly back to the deck. He immediately went to the rack of suits and pulled down the largest, checking it for size. It might have to stretch a little to fit on his 1.8 meter frame, but only a little. About as good as he could expect for suits manufactured by and for the Abbai.

Suck it in, Carlacci, he thought as he set the last of the suit’s seals into place. A snug fit but enough to allow a little range of motion. Tucking the suit’s helmet under his arm, he approached the airlock controls. It was a quick matter to disable the alarm — the last thing he needed was to call attention to this little unscheduled excursion.

Locking the helmet into place, he stepped out into the airlock, quickly cycled it, and let himself float gently out into the void.

Carlacci had been on quite a few spacewalks, mostly routine but a few in contingency circumstances. He always regarded being in open space with a mix of awe and dread — it was as if he was surrounded by the divine, and yet out of reach at the same time. Heaven and hell, together in the dark…

He caught his breath, hearing it roar loud in the confines of his helmet. This was definitely one of those contingency EVAs, and therefore no time to spare for philosophy. He tapped his fingers against his thigh, adjusting his mental image of the station’s layout, plotting a course. Then, turning his back to the void, he activated the magnets on his boots and set off across the surface of the station toward the docking bays.

It was a longer walk than he expected, but Carlacci finally reached the docking bay he needed. A quick peek through one of the viewports revealed the sleek, tripartite lines of Tanisval’s fighter, neatly berthed, the only craft in this bay. A second peek showed two men, standing near the door that separated the bay from the rest of the station. One was probably human, and the other was a Brakiri, with an elaborate tattooed pattern on his face.

Carlacci took a long, slow breath of stale air. Members of the Brakiri organized crime gangs — and there were many of them — distinguished themselves by such tattoos, rather like the Japanese Yakuza back on Earth. This would begin to explain a lot, he thought, then pushed that puzzle to the back of his mind. Time enough to look at the pieces fall into place once he was safely out of here.

Two problems — how to get into the bay, and how to throw his attackers off balance so he could get to the ship. A slow smile spread across Carlacci’s face as he pulled himself over to the emergency hatch. He could solve both at once.

He got the control panel beside the hatch open, and disabled the sensors that were reading the atmosphere inside the bay. He set the magnets on his boots to maximum, and opened the hatch.

Snatching at a stanchion inside the bay, Carlacci pulled himself inside, muscles straining against the pressure of air venting through the small opening to space. Further inside the bay, the two thugs had been thrown to the deck and were now scrabbling against the smooth floor, fully occupied in simply trying to breathe.

Carlacci struggled onward, each step a battle, until suddenly the hatch slammed shut. Someone must have been able to get control of it from outside the bay, he thought. Shutting down the magnets on his boots, Carlacci sprinted toward the Minbari fighter. The Brakiri was the first to pick himself off the floor, panting in the air that was now much thinner, and move to intercept Carlacci. A long knife appeared in his hand.

With only the briefest break in his stride, Carlacci ripped the helmet from his head and threw it at the Brakiri, catching him in the chest and sending him stumbling backward. Behind the Brakiri, the human was now rising from the deck, and in his hand Carlacci could see the weapon that had killed Tanisval — a heavy mace, something right out of a museum.

Carlacci got to the fighter and jumped, grabbing the edge of the cockpit for support and kicking backward with both feet. It wasn’t a heavy blow, but enough to knock the still-woozy human to his knees. Carlacci pulled himself into the fighter’s cockpit, sealed it, and fired the engines. Their powerful hum was not quite sufficient to drown out the sound of the mace, slamming into the hull near his head.

Muttering an apology to the Abbai for the damage he was causing, Carlacci armed the fighter’s pulse cannons and fired straight ahead, vaporizing a chunk of the station’s outer hull big enough to pass through. Without waiting to see if this explosive decompression would take his attackers with it, he sent the fighter out into space. He fixed on the jumpgate and sprinted for it, full burn.

Where to go? He couldn’t remember how long a trip this fighter could make, and there wasn’t time to figure it out. Only one thing he could do. “Computer, reload last jump origin and set as target,” he said.

“Confirmed,” the computer responded, even as the gate loomed ahead of him and swirling gold flared to swallow him up.

(c) 1999 Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.


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