Time: Shortly after the end of Potato Surprise
“They need the fucking docking fee in advance,” Verin snarled.
Shax coughed and waved a hand through the smoke saturating the pilot’s pod because of Verin’s aggravation. “Ver, for pits’ sakes, turn on the fans. I can’t see to find the console.”
Cursing up a storm, Verin hit the ventilation fans and enough of the miasma cleared for Shax to stumble to the co-pilot’s chair. He read the messages from station traffic control. “So we need to dock to sell the cargo to get the money. But we need the money so we can dock and sell the cargo.”
“Thank you, Captain Telling Us What the Fuck We Already Know.”
“Just thinking it through, Ver. We don’t have the fuel to make it any farther.”
“Know that too, mud for brains.”
Shax drummed his fingers, humming to himself. “I wonder how hard it would be to play barnacle.”
Verin gave him a hard side eye. “Look, I know we’re in a shitty spot, but there’s no reason to lose your head now, Shaxy.”
“What? Oh. No. I had a thought, and it might not be workable. The big ships line up on the docking ring and get hooked up with passage tubes and umbilicals, and the smaller ones go inside to one of the docking bays. If I could hitch a ride on one of the small ones…Ms. Ivana, do we have an EVA suit?”
“We do, Captain Sexy, but honey, I have to tell you. That’s a crazy thing to do.”
“I know, dear. Right now I’m just spinning ideas. Does the suit have propulsion and is it in good working order?”
“Yes and yes. You’re just determined to give me palpitations, aren’t you?”
Verin let out a couple of sparks with his snort. “Look, I gotta go with Ms. Thing on this one. I see where you’re going and it’s deadly stupid.”
“So theoretically, if we simply drift out here and run out of fuel, what would be the most likely outcome?” Shax knew, of course. He simply wanted it said aloud so everyone understood.
“Well, Captain.” Ivana hesitated, her voice oddly subdued. “You and your pilot would most likely be rescued and taken to the station in accordance with interstellar law. You could try to come up with the funds to pay your rescue fee and your fines and hire a ship to come back out to do a refuel and re-claim, but by that time, the Brimstone and I would most likely have been claimed as salvage.”
“Precisely right.” Shax turned his attention to the scans, marking incoming ships. “We won’t abandon you, Ms. Ivana. That’s not an item on the agenda. Ever. And we need to make certain we’re never in this situation again. Better funds management. Better fuel management. Benny can help with ship to ship buyers when we need it.”
He saw one coming in. Right in their path. The Harrier was a small private craft, most likely some wealthy business owner and crew. It might be close enough…
“Ivana, track approach on the Harrier. Ver, get us as close to station as we can without violating docking regs. She has to decelerate as she comes in. I’ll catch her as she’s gliding into the bay and hope the traffic is enough to obscure one little demon in a spacesuit.”
“You’re a fucking maniac. This is a really shitty idea. A mountain of troll shit kind of idea.”
A slow grin spread across Shax’s face. “But if it works, it’ll be brilliant.”
Verin grumbled for the entire two hours it took to get in position, but he’d given up trying to dissuade Shax. Suited up, waiting in the airlock, Shax stared out at the dark. Space was just amazingly huge and dark. If he missed…if he ran out of propellant before he could adjust and latch onto something inbound…
At least he’d become a case study for how long it took a demon to die in space versus a human. It would be a useful death.
“Countdown set on the outer lock,” Verin said through the comm link. “Three minutes and we’ll be as close as I can get you.”
Shax couldn’t help a little smile. There hadn’t been a single cuss word in that message. Ver was worried about him. “Got it. Deep breath, Ver, I can do this.”
When the lock cycled open, Shax pushed out with the tracking on his helmet display locked onto the Harrier’s ID transmission. She was close and moving toward him. He triggered a burst from both of the suit’s back jets, careful to keep within intercept speed. She was a falcon-class interplanetary, sleek and fine, and Shax experienced a moment’s ship envy. Concentrate. No stray thoughts.
Course corrections and speed corrections took up all of his thoughts for that next half hour. Then he was suddenly alongside, with the hull slipping past him. He had to find something to clip to or this whole mad scheme was done. Why didn’t this ship have comm aerials? Or…wait. Handholds by the solar housing, probably for repair maneuvers. He just had to get over there.
Careful burst from the left jet, readjust from the right. Almost…there…
He missed the first c-curved hold. “Goblin shit!” All right, there were several.
The second rolled by… “Piles of imp shit!” His fingers had grazed the handle but he wasn’t as good with the heavy gloves as he thought and he found himself groping at empty space.
Next one…come on… “Fucking mountains of archdemon shit!”
Verin’s voice crackled through the comm. “What in all fuckery’s going on out there?”
At the fifth, not quite the last handhold, Shax’s fingers finally closed around the metal tubing and he had to hang on tight as the ship’s rotation nearly yanked his arm out of its socket. He clung for a moment, with whispered cussing and deep breaths, then clipped on before something caused him to lose his grip.
“I’m all right. Attached. Riding in.”
“You little son of a sore-riddled, pig-fucking—”
“Ver! I’m all right. Sorry. Had a bit of trouble getting a spot to clip on.”
“Mold for brains little maniac,” Verin muttered. “You’ve got about twenty minutes until Harrier reaches a bay slot. Probably another ten for the damn locks to cycle so it can roll into the bay. Don’t get crushed.”
Good advice. Shax did his best to flatten himself against the ship’s hull as she maneuvered into one of the little bay pods. The EVA suit was too bulky, though and the pilot not terribly competent as he scraped in too close on the right side, damaging expensive solar components. Shax tried to scramble up the hull but the edge of the pod still caught his leg and ripped into the suit. He held still, letting his breath out slowly so his lungs wouldn’t be damaged by vacuum as the suit depressurized. Frigid cold surrounded the tear in the suit. His leg went numb.
Someone needs to invent a faster cycling airlock for these things. Seriously.
He waited just long enough for the inner lock to cycle open with a blast of air and warmth, and for the Harrier to begin rolling before he unclipped and dropped off. His leg crumpled, but he didn’t have time to take stock and lick wounds. He kept low and scrambled behind a refueling station by the nearest wall of the bay. There were other ships docking, plenty of noise to cover his movements, and everyone busy with ship maintenance.
Out of sight, he wriggled out of the damaged suit and contorted himself to look at his leg. Not great, but not bleeding since it had been freeze-seared. Freeze-dried demon. Good on toast or just as a snack.
Shax giggled, suspecting he was a little delirious from his rather bumpy ride. He closed his eyes and drew in a few deep, steadying breaths before he tapped at his wrist comm. “I’m in. Going silent.”
All he got back from Verin was a grunt. Good enough. Then he started his slow way along the wall, searching for some way to sneak onto the station without going through customs and security. There was always a way…
A few minutes later, he was brushing off the dust from an access shaft and trying to get his bearings in the busy entrance hallway where shops of kitsch and necessities tried to catch the eye of unwary spacers who might not know enough or care that there would be more reasonably priced goods farther in. Dragging his leg was too much of a liability, so he stole a lovely cane with a dragonhead handle. A little antiquated, perhaps, but there seemed to be something of a fad for them onstation as fashion accessories.
Thus, he was able to meet his client with a certain amount of style if a bit worse for wear, complete the lucrative and highly illegal sale of specialized nano electronics, and find a nice little café near the habitat zone.
Completely at his leisure, he finally called in. “Ver? Everything all right onboard?”
He had to turn down his audio for a few moments while Verin swore a blue streak plus several colors not in the visible spectrum.
“Are you done?” Shax waited and got a disgruntled snort. “I’m fine, thank you. I’ve paid the docking fees like a responsible captain. Bring her in.”
“Huh. That was fast.” Verin’s voice had returned to grumble mode. “How many fucking bodies did you leave to do that?”
“Not a single one, my dear Hammer. Not a one. But you’ll need to come get me from…” Shax twisted around to find the name of the café. “Le petit blaireau in sector G-12”
“Why the fuck do I have to do that?”
“Because my leg’s a bit torn up and I don’t think I can walk that far.”
Shax winced and offered apologies to nearby patrons as Verin began bellowing through the comm link again. He tapped the connection off, sat back with a pleased sigh, and enjoyed a cup of surprisingly good coffee. This being a space demon wasn’t hard at all. Easy as…
He waved to the server as a sudden craving struck. “Mademoiselle, do you have pie?”