If you’ve just joined in, start at the beginning here.
With a light push, the outside airlock door swung out of the way, giving Lucas and Ash an uninterrupted view of the asteroid’s undulating surface. It loomed uncomfortably close and its proximity threatened the integrity of the ship. Making contact would kill them all.
To their right, the grappler’s line connected the Angler to the asteroid. A flash of light drew his attention to the cube. He had an unobstructed view now, and its gleaming surface beckoned him. What the hell is it?
“Hey,” Ash said over their suit’s comms as she slapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s get this done.”
After she clipped her tether onto the safety line that ran the length of the ship, she swung herself out of the hatch. Using an external pipe as an anchor, she pulled herself hand-over-hand towards the grappler’s line.
“I should put in a requisition for magnetic boots.” Lucas clipped in and followed her.
“We aren’t high enough in the food chain to get that kind of tech.” Ash reached the point where the grappler’s line exited the ship. She wedged a boot toe under a pipe, and removed the laser cutter from her utility belt.
A knot formed in Lucas’ gut as he pulled himself closer. He told himself it was just the proximity of the asteroid as he forced himself to focus on the task at hand. “How are we doing, Werner?”
“Hey boss.” Werner’s voice sounded far away over the comms. “Paxton’s causing trouble. I think she’s heading out an airlock.”
Ash stopped working and turned towards Lucas. Her stern expression visible through her helmet’s faceplate. “You need to stop her. She doesn’t know what she’s doing and could end up depressurizing the entire ship.”
Lucas nodded as Ash turned back to the grappler’s line. She was right, Paxton was a problem—but not the only problem. “Werner, do you have your suit on?”
“That’s next up on the list,” Werner said.
Shit! Lucas closed his eyes. Things were going sour fast. An image of Camila surfaced in his mind. In more ways than one, this could be his last mission for The Conglomerate—he needed to focus and get everyone home. Lucas opened his eyes and arched his back to stare at the cube—in that moment he felt like he was looking up. The cube flashed briefly orange. For a moment, his entire world was the cube.
He shook his head and shifted his attention back to his ship. “Werner, get your damn suit on.” He made his tone as captain-like as he could. “I’ll figure out what Paxton is up to.”
“You going back in then?” Ash asked over the open line.
Holding on with only one hand, Lucas turned in her direction. Her back was to him and he couldn’t see what she was doing. “Have you started cutting the line yet?” Ash needed to focus on the line; he’d worry about Paxton.
“I’m halfway through.”
With careful shifting in his bulky suit, he turned to head back to the hatch.
Lucas shifted his grip to one hand as he turned to see what Ash was cursing about.
The ship lurched and he lost his grip. With a frantic movement, he tried to reach the bar with his other hand. The tips of his gloved fingers grazed the metal, but he couldn’t hold on. His heart hammered in his chest as he floated away from the hull.
With an abrupt jerk, his motion away from the ship stopped. The tether attached to his utility belt had done its job and he now hung about a metre away from the hull. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes—he wasn’t going to float free into the black of space today.
“I lost the laser cutter,” Ash said.
Lucas rotated in time to see the tetherless tool drifting towards the asteroid. It was out of reach. He took another deep breath but his heart rate remained accelerated—probably normal considering the circumstances.
“Try the bolt cutters.” He forced his voice to stay calm.
“Need a hand?” she asked.
Lucas glanced Ash’s way. She already had the bolt cutters in her free hand.
“I’m good. Focus on freeing the ship,” he said.
After taking another deep breath, he grabbed onto the tether and pulled himself back to the ship, wishing again he had magnetic boots. He grabbed onto the pipe along the hull—the solidness felt right. His heart began to slow back down.
“Commander,” Werner said over the comms.
“Go ahead, Werner.”
“The grappler has been engaged and is retracting.”
Lucas turned and looked at the cube—it remained firmly attached to the asteroid.
“Is the Angler being pulled into the asteroid?”
“Paxton must have done something,” Werner said.
“Shit.” At Ash’s curse, Lucas twisted to see her. “I can’t cut it with the bolt cutters. I need to go down there and pull the pin on the jaws!”
“No, that’s too dangerous,” Lucas said as his heart rate spiked.
As he spoke, Ash looped her second tether around the grappler line. She reached back to release her safety line to the ship. “Dangerous or not, it has to be done.”
“Stay where you are,” he ordered as he evaluated the distance between the ship and cube. It had to be less than seven metres now. “I have a clean path.”
“That’s fucking nuts!” Ash’s voice sounded loud in Lucas’ ear.
He ignored her, keeping his eyes fixed on the cube. After one more deep breath, he unclipped his tether and launched himself towards the artifact.
Lucas hit the surface, right shoulder first, less than a metre from his target. The asteroid’s minuscule gravitational pull was just enough to keep him from bouncing away. He scrambled over to unhook the grappler’s jaws.
“Clip in,” Ash shouted.
Keeping one hand on the jaws, he clipped his tether onto the line behind the grappler.
“I’m not going to be able to fight it much longer,” Werner said with a strained tone.
“I’ll have us free in a sec.”
Lucas found the pin holding the jaws together. A loop big enough for a gloved finger stood out at one end. “I got it.” He pulled it free.
Two of the jaw pieces came free, but the third remained attached to the line. Lucas shifted his weight to kick it. It released on his first kick, and he tumbled backwards. His gloved hand contacted the surface of the cube. Time stood still.
“Well, what happened next?” his interrogator demanded.
Shifting his gaze from his hands, Lucas stared at her, knowing he needed to answer. Flashes of images pulsed through his mind as he tried to remember but nothing made sense. He swallowed and resumed staring at his hands.
“I...” He licked his lips as his mouth went dry. “I... I... I don’t know.” He scratched the back of his neck. “It was like a flood of images that have blurred together now.”
Silence drew out between them. The sound of the interrogator’s fingernails against the table finally broke it. A few minutes later, she pushed back in her chair, the metal legs screeching across the floor. After standing with a dancer’s grace, she looked down on him.
“I’ll be back,” she said, her tone slightly less harsh than it had been before.
Turning her back on him, she walked to the door, scanned her thumb and the door slid open. She went through and it slid shut behind her, leaving him alone.
Lucas exhaled and let his head sag. “Get a grip,” he said before pulling himself up tall.
He broke his promise to Camila—he tried to be a hero and save everyone. In his wife’s eyes, being a hero was the same as being stupid. “Why did it have to be me that tried to unhook the grappler?”
More fragments surfaced in his mind. A grey planet bathed in the light of two suns, a crashing ship, fire. Pushing the visions away, he stood and paced around the room.
As soon as the door slid open, Lucas returned to his seat. His interrogator returned. In her right hand, she held a glass containing a clear liquid. She put it on the table in front of him.
“You asked for a drink earlier.”
“Did I?” Lucas stared at the glass, noticing how the refracted image through the liquid was smaller than real life. “Is it just water?”
“No, it also contains a drug designed to help those who’ve been mind wiped.”
“So that’s why I can’t remember,” he said, still staring at the liquid. The notion he’d been brain wiped seemed right somehow. Plus, he was thirsty—and he wanted to know what had happened after he touched the cube.
He took a sip. The water left a metallic aftertaste in his mouth, yet he continued on and chugged the entire glass. At first, nothing seemed different. Then a warmth radiated out from his core. More images pulsed through his mind, including a secret he needed to keep as a promise to Ash. He swallowed, still thirsty, but regretting drinking the drug-infused water.
His interrogator leaned closer as though studying him. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know.” Even to him, his voice was barely audible. He ran a hand over his face and repeated, slightly louder, “I don’t know.”
“Just relax, your wiped memories should start coming back.”
Lucas closed his eyes. For a moment he felt as though he was floating in space. Stars, rock, stars, rock, stars, rock… Nausea threatened, and he swallowed. Images continued to flip through his mind like an out-of-control slideshow.
He was floating in space, surrounded by a field of debris that had once been the Angler. Its hull smashed against the asteroid and ejected back into the void of space. Scanning his surroundings, he searched for other space suits. Then an alarm chimed—he was almost out of air.
To be continued…