Blaring warning sirens filled the small cockpit as Sheila grunted in effort, reaching for each button she could think of to get her ship started again.
an electronic yet boisterous high-pitched whine came over the intercom. “I told you, we needed another power generator coil, The old one is beyond repair, and working at 6% of its capa..”
“Shut it, I know whine-bot. And I told you that we did not have the money for it,” Sheila said exasperated. But maybe, just maybe we will have enough soon. we can trade in this rust bucket for an actual junker, she thought. Whine-bot, A.K.A., Y-bot and her had been scavenging for weeks on minimal supplies. Because of Sheila’s constant tenacity for scavenging she had made some big scores in the past but some even bigger gambles that hadn’t ended too well for her. But Sheila liked to live on the edge. If she was not one chip away from total loss she felt she had not put in a big enough bet. The adrenaline she felt after a successful gamble was intoxicating, it moved her more than anything else she had ever tried.
Yet, for the past few weeks, she couldn’t catch a break. Whatever job came across was always robbed from under her. Other scavengers and junkers beat her to the punch, or the materials she needed were damaged beyond use. To be honest, they were running on fumes. The last thing she ate was a dried meal package, MRE’s, the same the military used back in the day. Those came in handy when food was scarce but she hoped she would never have to use them because of their awful taste.
Most scavengers looked down at her, because of her motley crew, consisting of her and her y-bot. But she thought, what she lacked in personnel, she made up for with attitude and tenaciousness. that was in low supply lately, and getting lower with every passing moment she didn’t have actual food in her stomach. Her mouth watered at the thought of that first meal. Smoking hot steak and rice goulash with a cup of wine to top it off. The red lights and blaring siren brought her back to reality.
She thumbed around the controls until she thought she might find a way around the problem.
“Run the power around the fault line so we can bypass the coil y-bot!”
“that’ll work but with the possibility of blowing out the generator..”
“I know! jeez, I’m not dumb, but if we keep power at a minimum, the generator can run for longer than we will be out here.”
“Theoretically yes, but..”
” Just do it,” sheila said rolling her eyes. She waited a few seconds for a response.
“y-bot, I know you heard me, I’m tapped directly into your audio receptors. Don’t make me come back there,” she said.
“I heard you, I was simply working on it, besides if you came back here you would be sucked out into the vacuum of space and..”
“it was joke.. just do the thing.” she said rolling her eyes. She just had to get a bot with all the personality, she thought. Y-bot was the first thing she had ever bought. He had come with a bit of a defect, accounting for the attitude and the price, but he was a good bot. She would dare say even the best. She would never tell him that though, since he would probably let that get to his head.
The siren stopped and the lights turned back to normal as power came back to the main controls in sudden woosh. She always loved the sound of power rushing in through the ship. it was oddly satisfying.
“Alright, let’s do this!” she grabbed the thruster handle and pushed as the ship responded by drifting forward silently through space. They had been drifting over what was once called the junkyard. A floating mass of steel large enough to be the size of a medium sized asteroid. It used to be the home of thousands of people but ever since the nuclear meltdown, caused by two warring gangs for power a few months ago, it had been left relatively empty.
Sheila had found the job while at a bar placing a bet on starship races. After her heavy losses she had nothing left to do but contact the people looking to hire and was hired relatively on the spot by some group with a funky name she couldn’t really remember. A job is a job though, so she wasn’t complaining. If she found the relics they were looking for she would be paid more than she had her whole time scavenging that’s why she was stretching her ship to its limits.
“We are closing in, on the junkyard, 4000 meters.” warbled y-bot.
“disengage autopilot,” she said, grabbing steering controls.
“I highly recommend you don’t..”
“just do it,” she said shaking her head. The weight on the steering shifted as control was handed down to her. The ship veered left, narrowly careening onto some debris. she grimaced.
“And that is why..”
“shut itt..” she said. She eased the ship further in, twisting the ship around abandoned T-model and Y-model freighters. Despite the nuclear meltdown there didn’t seem to be much damaged made to the junkyard itself. it looked rather whole. It was a wonder why authorities called the place uninhabitable.
She moved skillfully through some more debris, coming in from the top side of the junkyard.
“100 meters.” said y-bot.
“thanks,” she said feeling kinda bad about how she had been treating him the whole trip. In her defense, she was hungry and sleepy. That would make anyone irritable, and y-bot knew exactly how to push her buttons sometimes.
“Yooou’re welcome”, he said flat and abrupt with a hint of sarcasm intermingled. It was hard to detect emotion with the bots monotone voice operating system but she felt she had gotten pretty good at detecting it with him. She just rolled her eyes as she maneuver the ship up and around the factory site above the junkyard.
“ohhhhhh, I get it now.” she gazed into the massive hole on what used to be the top level of the junkyard. she whistled.
” From my calculations, the hole runs just through the top level of the junkyard. that’s odd..” said y-bot.
“What is it?” said Sheila curious to know what wasn’t odd about a giant hole.
“my readings indicate there is little to no residual nuclear fallout surrounding the debris.” he sounded in wonder.
“well it has been a few weeks, it might not have been as dramatic as they stated initially, and maybe it went away. either way, it’s good for us. I won’t have to wear the extra plating.” wearing the extra protective plating on a space suit limited the movement capabilities of the suit, so it got annoying real fast. She didn’t really have to worry about the extra sanitizing cycle either after having gone out into space. there was no response to her comment from y-bot.
“y-bot, locate any foreign and old relics found in the area and set a course to the nearest one while you’re at it.” A few awkward seconds passed in silence and still no response. “y-bot?”
“Yes ma’am, right away.” he said. Ma’am? Since when did he ever call her ma’am? Was he trying to annoy her?
“Nearest artifact just 200 meters away.” he came back right away.
“Alright, punch in the vector coordinates and route.” She let go of the steering and handed controls over to y-bot. she felt the ship sway and move in the direction of the relic as she moved out of the chair. She shrugged off the feelings of annoyance from before and made her way to the airlock. Whatever that was, there was no need to try to get another response from y-bot.
Once in the airlock, she put on her spacesuit and glasses. Her glasses overlayed all information from y-bot as he saw it through the ship’s lens. The junkyards info came online as pages welled up around overwhelming her vision of deals, and offers given at local stores and shipyards. There was one ship that caught her eye but she quickly dispelled the info from her periphery and zoomed into the ship’s route and coordinates. Within a few minutes, the ship landed inside one of the factories just outside the crater left from the meltdown. The airlock hissed, as the air was being sucked out, leaving a vacuum. Then, the ship’s outer doors opened to the factory.
Light poured in from the outside blinding Sheila as she walked down the ramp into the abandoned factory. Nuts and bolts flittered around the room in a perpetual spinning motion since there was neither air nor gravity to stop it. Sheila took a nice long look around at the disheveled state of the factory taking in the details. shadows were burned onto the floor from the blast creating eerie figures of things long forgotten and destroyed. Half the ceiling was collapsed as if melted Into itself. She whistled a long note that resonated in her helmet.
“Wow, what an ominous looking place we got here.” sheila said making her away around debris and towards the crater. she looked at her headset, creating a pathway to the nearest “relic.” Y-bot started the ship up again and lifted it up and out of the factory the way they had come from. The routing on her periphery changed in response and a visible line was created leading her to the ‘relic.’ Y-bot flew the ship just overhead, hovering.
“The blast destroyed two of the factories of the top level, and left the rest In shambles. Miraculously, it left the other two levels completely unharmed,” came the voice of y-bot from within her helmet.
“I thought that the junkyard was suppose to be uninhabitable.” said sheila.
“that is what was stated by the media,” said y-bot rather matter of fact.
“Okay then, still I think I wouldn’t feel as comfortable living with a giant gaping hole in the roof of my house so I get why..” sheila grabbed her grappling hook as she came to the edge of the crater. The hole was massive, at least 300 meters in width and who knows har far in depth. Looking into the whole, she felt as if she were being sucked in, to be swallowed up by the dark abyss and never to return. Sheila quickly flipped a switch in her mind. You are not afraid, she thought, took a deep breath and exhaled all the anxiety she had been feeling.
She hooked her grappling hook onto the edge, tugged at it hard twice, took a few steps back checking her headset, and jumped off holding on to the rope attached to her suit harness. She flew through the air over the abyss and swam gracefully as far as her line could carry her.. She fired on her propulsion systems and stabilizers and started propelling downwards into the maw. Overwhelming darkness consumed her quickly, nothing but her suit illuminating her surroundings. She turned on her suits overhead lights and the dark abyss came to life.
The light revealed the skeleton of what was the factory level, office floors and furniture tossed here and there. She floated gently further down until her headset indicated the right depth and then changed trajectory toward the edge of the crater. It was a lot like propelling down the face of a cliff, except in zero G. More accurately, it could be like propelling down a building. She made it to the designated floor and unlatched herself.
“10 meters,” said y-bot. The headset lit up, illuminating something just beyond the wall. A door hung on a single hinge, skewed inwards and ajar. Sheila couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous seeing how dark and creepy it felt to be inside an abandoned structure as big as this. the worst part was that she couldn’t hear a single thing from the outside but this wasn’t her first rodeo, so with a deep breath she exhaled and carried on. Pushing open the door, she entered an empty room full of papers floating from one end to another. she noticed that the shape illuminated by her glasses was just around the corner in another room and made her way toward it.
“This might be what we are looking for y-bot,” she said excitement in her voice masking the feeling of claustrophobia.
“It could be, but most likely it isn’t. remember, those gentlemen from before said that the relic they are looking for should be organic in nature. I am picking up more than a few organic objects loitered all around this single area. The odds of finding it immediately are at least one thousand three hundred and..”
“Call it a woman’s intuition?” Sheila said trying not to play into his attitude. the room she entered was covered in debris, furniture, chairs, desks and lamps floating around the room. lightly touching the objects changed their trajectory and easily moved them aside.
“Your ‘woman’s intuition’, if it can be called that, has gotten us in far more debt than is comfortable. I am still in need of repairs, the ship needs a tune-up, and you do have not the resources to adequately feed yourself. I think what you may have is poor judgement.” y-bot replied annoyed. If he was fully operating, he would definitely be wheeling himself out of the room right now, that is if he was in the room.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. So the reason you’ve been so grouchy lately is because you need repair? Come on y-bot, I wouldn’t forget about something like that. I know you need your repairs. I’ll get you them as soon as we get out of here. you’re the first thing on my list, got it?” sheila said pushing a desk out of the way.
“I do have my doubts..” said y-bot clearly still hurt.
“Well, I promise you, as soon as this is over, I’ll get you that repair, I’ll even throw in an upgrade.” sheila said in a sing-song voice.
“I will hold you to that, I suppose,” y-bots voice was flat again.
Don’t worry, Y-bot, you’re the first thing I want to…” sheila screamed, throwing her hands up and scrambling to get away. A face with hollow eyes popped out from around the desk she just moved, inching towards her. the body was grotesquely deformed, the elements from space having done a number on the body. Sheila reached for the door, back from the direction she came in from. heart pounding she settled holding on to the door frame and stared back at the floating body.
“Something is not right. This should not be possible sheila,” y-bot’s voice seemed confused. “IF there was a nuclear explosion, then there should not be any organic matter around in this area. This could have not been nuclear. something else has happened here.” Sheila’s face went pale, what does that mean, she thought.
She did find it strange that there was debris still floating around nearby when they landed. Debris that small should have flown outwards, but instead, as she recalled, the bolts were spinning towards the crater not outward. The door as well looked like it had been blown inwards not outwards relative to the crater. Something had been off ever since she arrived.
“Do you feel that, y-bot?” sheila concentrated hard. From within her, she felt a hum. she noticed it when she first got to the edge of the crater left by the explosion.
“As I am incapable of feeling, that is a du..”
“We have to find out what is in the center of this crater.” sheila said. she mobilized herself again, back to the center of the hole. she weaved in and out of the debris, making it towards the clip she left outside. she created lines after lines until eventually, she made it to the center. darkness surrounded all around but from above came light barely trickling in enough to see what was just ahead. She turned on her recon again, illuminating an object smack dab in the center of the crater. Her suspicions were correct! something had to have been the center point of all this destruction. The vibration in the air seemed more intense now that she was closer. she felt her teeth chatter as she glided towards the object shaped a bit like a coffin. She was filled with both awe and fear as she floated closer to the object.
She had never seen anything like it. Her headlights were pointed into the surface of the coffin like structure but nothing reflected back. it was as if light was being sucked into it. The exterior was completely smooth. There was no flaw or imperfection. Sheila had seen plenty of horror movies so her immediate thought was not to get any closer and scout out the surroundings.
“sheil…the…pany…” y-bot’s audio came in and out.
“What? Y-bot I can barely hear you.” she responded. ” can you hear me?” Static filled the line of communication. She was mere meters from the strange object but a sense of dread filled her. Something was going on and she probably needed to be back as soon as possible. the humming in her suit stopped. It immediately made her feel empty inside as if something was ripped right from her. a light shown around the object. a myriad of colors surrounding it though the object stayed black.
“Uhhh, y-bot.. if you are there I need an immediate evacuation, ASAP,” sheila said into her com almost in a whisper. Just then a laser flashed by barely missing her by a few inches. Sheila ducked down and accidentally pressed her boosters down blasting her quickly into the direction of the object. she quickly flipped herself around and fired her boosters again mere feet from it as she looked up and saw her ship swerving down upon her.
“What the heck is going on?” she yelled angry that she almost got shot at.
“It seems we have company,” said y-bot.
“what do you mean? Dang it, are you telling me that there’s pirates?”
” I do not know, either way, it would be wise for us to get out of here while we still can.” Just then the on ramp began to lower as y-bot maneuvered the ship with a little finesse down on to the floor next to the object.
Sheila looked at the object and at the ship.
“Well bring it on and let us go,” said y-bot.
“Oh no, I have a bad feeling about this thing, I do NOT want this thing on my ship.” sheila looked at the shining box and shook her head. The colors lit up the ship with splashes of color.
“We do not have time to argue, we need this to be paid. We have no choice, we cannot afford to lose another job and its earnings.”
“ugh, FINE, help me get it in.” sheila said. Just as she said that a grappling hand came from the bottom of her ship and latched onto the object and rolled it towards the ramp. Sheila was not going to dare touch the thing so she went inside and grabbed something to cart it in. it took no longer than a few seconds to have it on and tucked away in the main hanger of her ship. Barely. there was little room in the hanger so it went right underneath a line she made to hang her clothes to dry.
Just as she was putting everything away, the ship shook as a bolt hit her ship.
“get us outta here,” sheila said as gravity shifted back on. the sudden weight made her dizzy and she had to catch herself but once composed she ran to the cockpit. she felt the ship lurch and another blast hitting the ship once more before she finally made it.
“Status?” she said.
” structural integrity is failing, we can’t take another hit.” said y-bot.
“give me control,” she said. she grabbed the controls and immediately felt the weight of the ship in her hands. The left thruster was lagging a bit but she quickly adjusted.
“we have two ships on intercept course to the left and right and one behind.” said y-bot. Her ship’s display highlighted the ships which were tiny blips in the horizon.
“time to intercept?”
“about a hundred seconds. I would highly suggest not engaging. it would be suicide.” sheila dunked the ship into direct course of the Junkyard “We’ll have to outmaneuver them then.” she spiraled through and about a long arch probably a bridge that used to connect the two factories that exploded. just then she saw laser fire zoom right past her barely missing her and hitting some debris close to her. an alarm sounded in her ship.
“looks like we were hit with debris,” said y-bot. “it looks like it’s knocked our left thruster offline.” Sheila tried to engage her left thruster but nothing happened. she couldn’t roll to her left.
“y-bot, see what you can do about it”, just then a compartment opened up behind her and her little droid popped out and skittered on the floor. it moved around on wheels, which were very ragged and ripped, and its body was nothing really but a long skinny torso and arms. its large eyes blinked at her and it gave her a salute and scampered off. She really needed to give y-bot that upgrade, she thought.
she was now passing another factory on the top level which was still intact. she zoomed down and directly into a gaping hole on the side of the factory. darkness consumed her for a milisecond as her displays adjusted to the darkness. The display now showed everything in black and white. it made the place seem haunted. From her rearview monitor she saw two ships enter behind her. Where did the other one go?
She skillfully flew up and around the floating factory lines and maintenance shafts all the while being able to move her ship rightward. the Inside was bigger than she thought. she was half hoping that it was going to be cluttered enough that she might be able to hide her ship among the rubble or hide around the corner for her unsuspecting foes. unfortunately, the extra room gave them the opportunity to fire. laser bolts flew past her brightening her display momentarily blinding her and almost causing her to run into a shaft. She was careful to watch her rear display as well as her front display in order to both evade oncoming fire and watch where she was going.
“How is it going back there?” sheila said to y-bot trying not to act concerned.
“almost done. a fuel line has been severed in the left wing and am currently in the process of repair.”
“just about a minute”
“alright,” she said. she rolled all the way around on her right to make a left turn into a pathway leading into the next factory. the two ships followed close behind. the close quarters was going to make this tough. she snaked and slithered away from direct line of fire according to her rear display.
“Incoming ship, approaching from the front.” said y-bot suddenly. sheila looked up in time to spot the ship before it began to fire she swerved out of the way barely dodging it in time. another warning alarm flared in the background.
‘What is it now, “sheila said exasperated.
“shields are completely down,” said y-bot. one more hit and we will be space debris.”
“not the time for any humor y-bot,” sheila said through her teeth narrowly dodging fire from the back.
“just trying to lighten the mood,” said y-bot, also left thrusters are now online. sheila tested it and rolled left.
“its.. about… TIME!” there was no time left, both sides were closing in on her quick and she was going to be left with no room and most likely as space debris. She noticed a smaller hover craft lying in the middle of the pathway to her left. it was probably used to move shipment s between factories.
she quickly leaned left and readied her harpoon. she was only going to have one shot at this. she lined up her shot and fired. the harpoon soared through the air as time slowed down. her eyes were on the harpoon. it seemed like her trajectory was a little off but luckily it hit and latched on.
“YES”! she yelled. the cable went taut as she zoomed past it and began trailing her ship. that left her ship both with some protection against those in back and with a weapon. she had to time it just right. she looked into her rear display and saw the two ships inching closer but obvious more weary now that she had something behind her. she shifted right leaving her open and one of the ships rushed her but as soon as it got close shifted left and slammed the hover craft in to the ship making it careen into the other ship causing an explosion rocking her ship.
“YES! haha. I can’t believe that worked… ” she almost didn’t notice the ship to her front fire since she was momentarily distracted. she slammed on her thrusters causing her to stop and turn around. the explosion from the ships left a giant hole In the path and it was her chance to escape. just then the path shifted downward.
“Its falling apart!” she said. she slammed her thrusters forward and raced the debris. the tunnel was slowly sinking in itself and collapsing. she could see the hole just a few meters ahead when her ship shook violently and a high pitched alarm went off. she had been shot, she thought. she looked at the rear display to see the last ship spinning out of control as debris littered the space and caused the ship to careen into the wall.
“thrusters offline.” said y-bot. she heard the ships power systems slowly grow quieter around her. with one final thrust she positioned herself towards the hole. the ship kept its momentum as it sailed through space.
“almost there…” she said straining every muscle in her body willing her ship forward into the small gap within the structure. Just a few meters away and they were home free. A cart flew into view and slammed into the ship throwing off the ships vector and careening it into some more debris. the ship clipped the side of the hole and spun. Structural integrity alarms blared through the now dark ship. everything was red now.
she braced herself and waited for the worst to come. In between the noise of the the alarms she heard her ship creak and whine as if it was complaining about the abuse she had just placed on it. There was thud on the hull and Sheila winced, and then there was nothing. The alarms on her ship kept going.
“Y-bot?” she said slowly opening up her eyes. “Status?”
“The ships structural integrity is at 5%, all main drives are offline. We are losing oxygen as the oxygenator seems to be offline as well. and it may come to critical levels within a few hours.”
“Well at least we are still a live… Any way for us to get the thrusters back online?” She looked out through her displays and noticed the ship was still spinning.
“I can reroute some of the power to the thrusters but it will probably not last long. We have very little power as it is.” said y-bot.
“We just need enough power for three good thrusts. You think you can make that happen?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he replied.
It would take an hour or so to get the power back into the thrusters. There was so little working that y-bot had to manually fix some exterior structures outside the ship with his main body and then come back inside to get the systems back online. In the meantime, While she waited on Y-bot, she had gone back down into her airlock to put on her suit’s helmet which she had taken off, and to look over what she had brought on board.
The object was still glowing, which seemed like it had become more like a pulsing light, as if it was alive. It pulsed like a heartbeat, rhythmically and consistently and with each pulse more light shown through. she slowly reached her hand towards it, reluctant to actually touch it. she felt a warmth coming from it and oddly felt a sense of security coming from it.
“y-bot, how are the repairs going?” She said still inspecting the object.
“I have rerouted the power from the reserves and have reengaged the oxygenator so you won’t die. But that still doesn’t take into account structural integrity, nor the lack of food.”
“Thanks for putting it gently,”Said sheila sarcastically
“I am merely stating that there are many..”
“I know, I know.” she said. Crrrrrack! Sheila’s heart skipped a beat as a large crevice appeared down the middle of the object, light shinning through almost blinding her. she turned her eyes away, shielding herself with her arms as steam rushed forth from the opening and filled the room. The air around her turned hot and it was impossible to see. She sank down to the floor to escape the heat just as the top of the object burst open, a myriad of lights shining in all directions. she was both transfixed and fearful of the turn of events. she was afraid of what she was going to find inside the object. Was it going to be something alien? a gruesome monster to fuel nightmares? She could only think the worst as the steam dissipated and the light are dimmer.
She slowly stood up peering over the top of the object. bright colored sparks flew this way and that in brilliant purples, blues, and greens. It was still too bright to see clearly but she noticed a silhouette within the box. Within an instant, the light was gone. the sudden absence of light left her blind. all she could see was the afterimage of the silhouette. There was a thud on the floor in front of her as if something had just fallen, so she stepped back.
A body lay on the floor pale and white, the skin was wet, hair matted and the box was gone! It was man? He looked normal except that his skin glowed with each heart beat and illuminated his veins on the surface of the skin. He opened his eyes and his eyes were glowing pure white light and then he closed them and the last bit of light was gone. Now it was just a man laying on the floor in front of her naked and in a fetal position.
With sudden embarrassment she covered her eyes and blushed. He was naked! she quickly turned around and found a sheet to cover him with and laid it over him. It was like he was sleeping peacefully. His chest moved with each breath, his eyes flickered back and forth behind his eyelids, and he snored lightly.
Now that the sudden shock of seeing a whole person appear from thin air was gone, she noticed that he was still young. maybe at most in his early 20’s. How in the world had he gotten into that box she thought. Why was he in the epicenter of that large crater, and if he is what she was looking for why would the not tell her what exactly she was looking for? Unless they didn’t know if he was actually still there. Did he cause the meltdown?
“Sheila, power is back online and thrusters are operational, should we not Call for help as well? There is no possibility of making it back to any civilization with what we have.”
“No! I have a feeling that there won’t be a rescue party if we call for help. I have different plan, Good job y-bot, get back inside and lets go.” she said heading back to the cockpit.
“Where to might I ask?” y-bot said curiously.
“The Junkyard.” Sheila said.