Days Until Home: 18
When a fourth slug did not come through, Viktor chanced a look down the hall. He could make out the figure of Telly attempting to reload, and he threw all caution to the wind. Bracing his feet against the edges of the hatch, he used his good arm to heave the wrench. It moved with a velocity that he did not expect, and slammed into his attacker with tremendous effect.
Pausing only momentarily to marvel at what he had done, he pushed off towards the unconscious man and snatched the gun out of the air. Time, we just need time, he kept thinking to himself, as he struggled to bring Telly back towards the cargo bay.
“Leave him out there, Vicky, he’ll only be trouble,” said a wincing Seibert from the open hatch.
“We need him as a hostage, to make Hayes back off,” Viktor said.
“Viktor, don’t be crazy, he was just trying to kill us,” Jessica said, now looking out past Seibert.
“Okay, you might be right,” Viktor said reluctantly, then stopped for a minute to catch his breath.
“I’m getting a call,” Jessica said suddenly, “it’s from Vega on the bridge, what do you think I should do?”
“Hold on,” Viktor said, and pulled himself back inside. He secured the lock before turning to face them, the loaded gun now by his side. “Go ahead and answer it. I wonder what sorts of threats they have for us now.”
“Go ahead, Marisol,” Jessica said, and the other three leaned in close to listen.
“Things have gotten out of hand and the captain is livid. Is there any way that I can convince you all to turn yourselves in?” Marisol whispered.
“We did not do this thing!” Viktor yelled into the comm.
“Even if you didn’t, Viktor,” Marisol said, “we will need to continue the discussion before, but without you men trying to kill one another. The Captain isn’t aware that I’m making this call. He’s convinced that you all had something to do with the explosion, but I don’t want anybody innocent to get hurt. Who’ve you got there, Jess, can you at least tell me that?”
“Why should we trust you, Marisol? You did nothing to stop that lunatic from trying to murder all of us. Seibert is wounded, do you know that? We were unarmed and you all decided to execute us on the spot!”
“That wasn’t me, Jessica, it was Telly and Adelaide. Gauge, Femke and I want justice but we want it done right. We can talk to our captain, make him see things the way we do, but we can’t do it if he feels that you are out there hiding and possibly organizing a mutiny of some sort.”
Jessica studied the face of Seibert and Viktor, they both seemed tired and willing to comply. “What should I say to her? She says she wants to help.”
“Marisol has always been there for us, she’s always stood up to Hayes’ slag,” Seibert said. “Even if they think we did it, she would not let them get away with murder. She’s the only one on the bridge that I trust, but I’m not sure if they will hear anything that she says.”
Viktor spoke up, “there’s four of us here, Marisol. Can you get them to talk, to see some reason? Can you get them to stop trying to murder us?”
The comm went silent and there was some muffled noise in the background, they could barely hear Marisol screaming something at someone. The wait for her return was long and exhausting, so Viktor decided to use the time to discuss other matters.
“They won’t hear us properly if Jimmy is still on the loose. He is new to the Kerwood, so his knowledge of the different spaces won’t be that good, I hope. They managed to get out of here, but where do you think he went?”
“That snake would find the most obvious place to hide with that Matsue woman,” Seibert said. “What’s the most comfortable place that you can think of, comfortable and uninhabited?”
“The sickbay was very comfortable,” Erika said. They hadn’t heard her voice in a while. “The artificial gravity, soft beds and ration stores. He could lock himself inside of there until we make it home. Meanwhile Pooh and company would have murdered enough innocent people to make him feel better. He could escape, lie that Vicky attacked him as part of the setup, and be rewarded for bravery at the end of all this.”
“All that time in the sickbay must have given this one a whole lot of imagination,” Seibert joked and he touched her arm reassuringly. “It’s not far from the truth though, and very likely that Jimmy and Rebecca are in the sickbay.”
Marisol Vega returned and exhaled a sigh, she covered the mic to yell at someone then was back again, inquiring if they were there. When they answered affirmatively, she explained the situation. “Captain Hayes has agreed to stand down, if you are willing to go through a proper trial in front of the entire crew. In exchange for your lives, you are to collect all of the miners, and summon them to cargo bay where he and the Chief Engineer can listen to your stories and determine what happened to cause the explosion.”
The four fugitives exchanged worried glances before discussing whether Hayes was lying or not. Viktor stayed silent for the most part, but probed his memory for any time in the past when Winchester Hayes had lied to him. “I don’t think we have much choice,” he said silently to his comrades. “Captain Hayes can be cruel but he’s a man of honor, if he says that we will have a trial he probably means it.”
“So, we have to rely on that lunatic to determine our fates?” Jessica spat with disgust.
“What’s the alternative, Jessica?” Viktor asked as he watched her. She threw up a hand and shook her head to say that she had no clue, so Viktor nodded at her to open up the comm to Marisol.
“We will do as the captain says,” Viktor said loudly for her to hear. “Tell him that we will collect our comrades and bring them here, but he must find Jimmy as soon as possible. Jimmy is injured and most likely will be hiding out inside of our sickbay. We will stand trial for him, Marisol, but he must find this foolish man.”
“She says they will,” Jessica said to Viktor. “She gave me her word that they will find Jimmy and give us a proper trial.”
* * *
Days Until Home: 17
As Winchester Hayes pulled himself along the bulkhead to gain access to the cargo bay, he wondered why it was so eerily quiet. He opened the hatch, slid his way through, and tumbled back into a bulkhead when the body of William Tell Bianconi collided with him. He grabbed the corpse out of instinct, his arm finding something to hold on to as he waved the gun around in eight directions.
“Telly,” he whispered, and pulled him in close, checking his vitals as best he could—not a corpse after all, but unconscious, so Winchester took him by the arm and worked his way through the passage towards the sickbay.
His heart was a line of elephants at a parade as he made to put in his code, then realized that the lock had been sealed from inside. The Russian was right, they are in here, he thought, and gave the latch a violent pull.
Touching his comm to reach the bridge, Winchester reached out to Gauge. “Hate to do this to you, Gauge, but I’m going to need backup down here. Grab who you can and meet me at sickbay.”
“Skip, is everything alright?” Gauge said.
“One of those slags must’ve brained Telly, and they took his burner and a box of slugs. If Sharapov is right and they holed themselves up in the sickbay – it may be impossible to pull them out. But Telly is hurt and it doesn’t look good. We need to gain entry into the sickbay, Gauge—”
“We’ll be right there, Skip.”
Winchester got off the comm and touched his forehead as if the movement would calm him down. He went for the airlock, but was stopped short by an annoying buzz inside his ear. Suddenly he was on with Adelaide, who was speaking so fast he could barely keep up. She was telling him to keep the airlock sealed, that she had an idea that would force the sickbay’s inhabitants out.
“The sickbay’s AC unit and general power is controlled by an individual power source. It’s unique, Skip, unlike any place else on the rest of the ship,” she was saying. “The ICU beds, cryo pods and IV Sensors are battery powered, so if power goes out, the patients won’t be affected. I’m tapped in right now, so we can do any number of things to make the new tenants uncomfortable.”
Did he hear her giggle? He took a break to ponder that as he tried to decipher what it was that she was talking about. “How exactly are you tapped in, Bähr?” Winchester asked. When the Kerwood had gone to hell, he and Gauge could barely make contact with the sickbay, let alone check its inhabitants to know if they were okay. But Adelaide Bähr …
“From your computer of course, I bet you’re scared. Heh. Your computer can tap into anything on this ship. Please tell me that you knew that, Skip?”
“Mhm, go on, this man is in critical condition,” Winchester said, wondering why he was only learning this now.
“I’m looking at Telly’s suit readout, and he’s not critical, Skip. You can probably tether him near the sickbay until we have control of the situation. Listen… When I do something to the sickbay, they may rush out of there in a hurry. If you’re stuck holding Telly up, it may not end so well for you.”
“Alright, so what’s our options?” Winchester growled impatiently.
“We can freeze them out by dropping the temperature inside, or go the other way and heat things up. There’s always the old, ‘kill the power and leave them in the dark,’ or, I can trigger an alarm that will be so annoying that they will be forced to leave.” He heard her whispering something off the comm to someone and then she was arguing in barely audible whispers. She came back on after the spat, and gave him one last option. “I can also flood the place by triggering two—”
“Bähr! While I appreciate your enthusiasm and your ingenuity at mischief, there are sick and wounded inside that room. Murdering them in order to flush out a few miners, isn’t the kind of idea that I’m looking for. Freeze them out, make it unbearable, and seal the airlock opposite of my location. That’s what I want you to do. Did Gauge leave the bridge yet?”
“Yeah, he and ChEng are on the way to you. Funky tried to join them, but – wait – yeah, uhm, scratch that. She just flicked me off and followed them down. Sooo, you mentioned freezing didn’t you? Well I’m dropping the temperature now.”
Winchester hooked a foot inside a groove in the bulkhead and pulled Telly towards him, where he took off one of his straps and secured him there. Biancani was a husky man, so it took some effort to find a place to loop the strap. Eventually he had him secured to the bulkhead, his hunched form and hanging arms giving him the appearance of a stone gargoyle, perched and ready to attack.
Winchester hung near him waiting to see if the sickbay’s hatch would open, and it didn’t take long for that to happen. A shivering Jimmy pulled himself out of the airlock, then reached back inside to help his accomplice escape.
“Kinda cold in there, huh?” Winchester said as he leveled his gun at them, but Jimmy reacted quickly and tried to pull the airlock shut. Hayes almost laughed at the shortsightedness of this plan. The short space that led from the secure sickbay to the passageway that he was in, was not meant to hold one person for long, let alone two.
There was room enough for them to float face to face in there while they waited, but now that they had left the sickbay proper, Adelaide would have sealed it’s door and put the temperature back to normal. They would be imprisoned within the narrow space between the hatches. A part of him wanted to seal the door on this side and leave them there to die.
He maneuvered himself forward and pulled the hatch open, then with the reflexes of a man half his age, fired off a round that put a hole in Jimmy’s hand where he aimed his own gun. The bullet went out of his hand and wedged itself inside of Rebecca’s shoulder. She screamed bloody murder, but Winchester wasn’t hearing it. Angry and annoyed by the two troublemakers, he slipped inside and grabbed Jimmy by his hair, turned him around using his brute strength and then slipped him into a painful arm bar.
“Captain, we have restraints,” Gauge said from behind him, and Femke floated up and handed him a fistful of straps. Wrapping the straps around in a circular motion and twisting Jimmy’s body in an unnatural way to bind the straps to his feet, Winchester Hayes bound him up like a baby calf at a rodeo. When he was finished, he pushed the struggling cow out towards Gauge and Femke, then did the exact same thing to the woman with the bullet wound in her shoulder.
Gauge made a call to Adelaide to release the locks then took Telly inside of the sickbay to see about his wound.
* * *
Days Until Home: 16
Hours of planning and coordinated communication led to the assembly of a mock court inside of the Kerwood’s cargo bay. Viktor, Jessica, Seibert and Erika had managed to summon the remaining miners to plead their case with Hayes.
The engineers and members of the bridge assembled in bunches near the inner bulkhead of the Kerwood. The Matsue “guests” were placed against the blast doors, and a Gauge Schneider and Femke Gerhardt stood as bailiffs to the court. Winchester Hayes, dressed in black for the event and stood above them all on an arrangement of crates. His eyes looked heavy, and there were dark circles around them, revealing the lack of sleep that had plagued him since the explosion.
“With respect to fairness, I will not be judging you lot from assumption and what seems to me to be straightforward evidence of your guilt,” Winchester said. “In your defense will be Marisol Vega, who has been a friend to many of you in the past. Her role will be to hear you out, and to help convince me of your innocence. On the other side will be the chief engineer. He too has been a friend to many of you. He will play the prosecution, representing the Kerwood, and will convince me of which, if not all of you, should be exposed to the black.
“I will hear your testimonies, and try my best to be neutral in my judgment. But I got to be honest, this ain’t gon’ be good for a number of you. This was the worst kind of betrayal what was done to this ship, and spacing you is too good a punishment for all of the great lives lost to that explosion. You’ve ruined all of our lives. Blinded,” he glanced at Erika,” maimed, and traumatized this once happy crew. Why’d you do it? Why’d you do it, huh? Money?” he smiled cruelly, “you killed us for money? Well, come clean and I promise you that I won’t do what I want to do, which is choke you to death with my bare hands.”
He lodged himself between two secured crates, and made himself comfortable. The entire scene before him reminded him of just how low they had sunk. But justice had to be won for the survivors of the Kerwood’s explosion. Femke was right about this like she was about most things. They had to try and find suitable punishment for those who caused them harm, and it needed to be a punishment that they all could live with.
Viktor Sharapov was the first to be called forward to explain himself. He had been the first accused, and had not done much to dispel their beliefs, the worst offense being his trip to the bridge with a number of other armed miners.
“I love my wife,” was his strongest defense, “I would do anything, give anything to get home to be with her. Anything, Captain Hayes, do you understand? How does this help me get that goal accomplished? Why would I let someone bloody my face like this, and why would I sacrifice all that we worked for on Egeria-13?”
“We don’t know your wife, Vicky,” Marisol said softly, “and you’ve been more of a grump than a doting husband yearning for his wife. These miners look up to you, as a sort of leader. We need more to be convinced that the crew’s well-being has always been your concern.”
“I-I’ve always put others before me on this ship,” Viktor said, “It is how I was raised, how we operate as brothers and sisters out in the black. That is the sort of man that I am. I value human life. I really hope that you all feel the same way.” He shut up then, and hung his head as if he had failed at defending himself.
Jeremy moved in and Marisol retreated with a reassuring smile at Viktor. She glided over to a far crate, and gripped a strap to hold herself there.
Jeremy said, “Old Vicky, we know your heart. At least we thought we knew your heart until that explosion killed so many of our crew. In one breath you say that you care for your crew and human life, yet when we were about to space you, you gave us a story about Jimmy being guilty. How is it that you’re willing to die on an asteroid for this man, yet when it comes to justice here, you’re willing to throw him out of the airlock? You’re contradicting yourself, old man, and that makes you even guiltier.”
“How is that a contradiction?” Viktor snapped, “They are two completely different things. I saved his life down there because he was a friend of mine, a mischievous kid that was just starting out in a career that I’ve been in forever. When I learned what he did, he was no longer my friend. He became an enemy to me and the Kerwood. A selfish enemy who caused the death of Connor, and many of my other friends. How could you even compare the two situations?” Jeremy had nothing else to say.
Marisol and Jeremy questioned all of the miners, a process that took literally hours to get through. Their final cross-examination was that of Jimmy who seemed to have been broken by everything that had been going on.
Marisol Vega approached him, and he could barely make eye-contact with her. “Look, this has gone on long enough, man,” he said, flashing a glance at Winchester Hayes. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t supposed to go down the way it did and I feel terrible for everybody that died.”
A woman from engineering screamed out an expletive, and tried in vain to get to him. The miners reacted even worse, and it took several other Kerwood crewmembers to pull him out from the punching and kicking mob. By the time he was safely away from them he had tears floating away from his eyes.
“This really sucks, y’know? But it don’t matter. You all just want to see me bleed to make up for what I did to those people. But killing me will not bring them back, and I am so sorry for what I did. Vicky, I-I didn’t mean to hurt you, you were…” he choked up and Viktor Sharapov look pained.
Winchester Hayes held up his hand for order and glanced at Adelaide out of the corner of his eye. She was bugging her eyes and motioning towards Erika, since she believed that Jimmy had not done it alone.
“Jimmy, you’re a real piece of slag.” Winchester said, “You have some nerve, sitting here, crying, as if sympathy is owed to you. Your little prank—if that’s what it was—killed my first mate, and the best pilot I have ever known in my career. It killed mothers and fathers, children whose parents saw them off on their first expedition into space. Sharapov said that he valued human life, and believe it or not, so do I. They used to string people up like you. Hang them in a cage for the victim’s families to see them slowly die from exposure. You deserve the same thing.”
Rebecca began to laugh hysterically and Winchester switched his focus to where she stood.
“Bring his Matsue accomplice forward,” he commanded and they pushed Rebecca forward, where she floated for a time before Gauge grabbed her by her lapel and held her next to him. “You love this girl?” he asked Jimmy, and the young man tried his best to put on a look of defiance. The woman began to curse at him, but Winchester looked past her to Jimmy and read into his mannerisms.
“Name all of your accomplices and I will lock you up to await a true trial when we dock. Lie to me, or keep your mouth shut on some foolish notion of honor, and I will send this woman out of an airlock at the end of this trial. I don’t bluff Jimmy, so come clean, who all helped you to sabotage my ship.”
“Come on Jimmy, you can still have a life,” Siebert offered up, and Jessica joined in with appealing to him. After a while Jimmy held up his hand to tell them to stop, and his body convulsed as he became overcome with guilt. “It was just me, Hayes, nobody else. I just wanted a fair cut—”
“No help from engineering, just you, Jimmy?” Winchester asked in disbelief. “B-but, how!? How in the hell does a miner have the means to do this much damage to my ship?”
“Drilling candles.” That was all Jimmy said before hanging his head and staying silent. The entire space grew silent with him, and Winchester exchanged glances with Gauge.
Adelaide went nuclear, “WHAT?” she exclaimed. “You blew us to bits with a magnesium drilling fuse? ChEng, how in the world did we allow that to happen?”
Both she and Jeremy looked beside themselves with surprise at what they were hearing from Jimmy. They had expected the explosion to be the result of something elaborate and high-tech, a well-orchestrated plan that set chemical off on chemical at the right time. But what they were learning now was that it was unsophisticated, an explosion that went off at the right time while the xenon gas was leaking.
“Oh, you have to go,” Adelaide said to Jimmy, her face a red mask of anger.
“Leave him alone, Bähr, he’s to be our prisoner. When we touch down in a few days, he will have to deal with the actual law. As to Ms. Matsue here, she’s an outsider. She hurt members of my crew…” he gestured towards Jimmy, “and helped this man with the crippling of my ship. She’s a threat to us, as well as the prisoner, and I want her off my ship.”
The room took on a loud commotion as people began to talk, apologize, and speculate with one another. There were hugs, fist bumps, and numerous handshakes, as the once accused miners made friendly with the engineers and bridge crew. Winchester could even make out Marisol Vega giving old Vicky a hug. Adelaide on the other hand was pulling a screaming Rebecca from the room, joined by Gauge, Seibert, and several other members of the crew. Jimmy tried to protest but could only watch them leave, and once they were gone he seemed to weaken physically.
Winchester Hayes got up from the crate and his eyes found Femke Gerhardt’s. She was smiling at him, her eyes more mischief, than happy or pleased. He wondered how long he’d be in court before they relieved him back on Earth. The prospect used to be pretty daunting, but now as he swam in thosee large blue eyes, it was no longer a finality. Retirement would mean a new life with her, another chance… It was almost too good to be true, but first he needed to space a saboteur, and then get his ship back home.