Her helmet seals firmly to the EVA suit’s collar. ‘BOOTING…’ is holographically projected top and centre of the visor as internal systems whir to life, progressing into the quiet drone of internal pumps and fans. The projection turns to ‘No System Faults’ before blinking out entirely.
“All good, Ava?” a tinny voice plays inside the helmet, echoing its muffled source outside the suit. Ava’s eyes turn to the figure drifting beyond the narrow confines of her visor. They’re clad in deep red Terran Logistics Fleet jumpsuit, ‘Nat Jackson’ printed above the breast pocket, head topped with messy black hair.
“All good.” A nod of affirmative, though the helmet doesn’t permit much room for it.
“Gotcha. I’ll be the one on comms today. Just a quick patch job and we’ll be sorted, yeah?”
“Simple.” Ava gives a pat to the satchel strapped to her suit’s thigh in agreement.
They give a thumbs-up, pushing out of the airlock and closing it behind. Ava lifts from the wall to face the airlock’s exterior hatch, clipping a tether to the accompanying handrail. Reaching up to her face shield, it pivots to envelop her visor, clicking in-line with the rest of the helmet. The world goes dark, before the helmet’s interior screen brightens into life, displaying the outside again to face Ava with her reflection in the hatch’s porthole.
The suit presents a utilitarian image of hardened white composite, joints a mix of metal rings and orange Kevlar fabric. With the face shield down, the helmet looks to be a solid dome but for the cameras, sensors, and lights jutting out of it. This pattern is the sturdy workhorse of Terran orbital shipyards, mining operations and fuel ships alike.
Ava let a smile play on her lips, safely hidden in the confines of her suit. Loneliness of working on the skeleton-crew of a rebel fuel tanker aside, she’d still call her job a privilege; atop being an opportunity to see the many fleets of the former Terran Navy first-hand. That doesn’t get old, at least.
Her reflection gives way to vast vacuum as the airlock’s lights switch to a dark red for depressurization. Stars bloom into life as her vision adjusts.
“There you are. Just follow the truss up and over; the segment is right about opposite of where you’re at now,” Nat relays through the helmet.
“Got it. Thanks.” Clipping onto the next section of railing, she reaches back to release her tether from the last. The Blackthorn’s Promise stretches on behind her, a hundred meters in length. Stacks of trussed-together modular fuel tanks culminate in a crew module at the fore, distinguished by the surrounding ring of its very own jump drive. The drive may have been single use only, subluminal, and merely capable of flinging the crew module out of an emergency, but it still stands as a point of prestige for the ship: they are rare. Here, anyway.
The Blackthorn had been a technology demonstrator, but the infrastructure required for exotic matter production never caught up as far as Ava’s corner of the inhabited galaxy. Drives here have remained completely uneconomic for little other than colony ships, to her dismay, fantasies of true space tourism (and not spinning through empty nothingness for months on end) be damned.
She would have taken an EVA engineer job on a station, instead, with the opportunity for proper hobbies, maybe a shot at finding a significant other, a life, on one. But then war broke out with an alien civilization. And in response, she signed up for the Navy. So that’s that.
As for the current state of affairs? She’s drifting through space, patching an infinitely recurring series of holes from micrometeoroids, enjoying the view until the war inevitably catches up and her ship is snapped in half. It's oddly cathartic, even if part of her itches for something less absurdly repetitive.
“Hey, got much to talk about, Ava?” Nat picks up. “Haven’t gotten to know you as well as the rest, and I think boredom is close to sending me catatonic nowadays. You know how it is.” Yes, continuing the prior train of thought, boredom has progressed to an epidemic for everyone at this point. Laser communication isn’t often available, now that rebel ships only share their positions on the need-to-know, and radio is right out. The barebones habitation (floating tin can) and practically non-existent shore leave in addition has the crew at their limit, apparently manifesting in Ava as getting stuck in her own head.
She really should’ve had something lined up for such common small talk at this point. And the moment is dragging on with her thoughts. “Um.. Plants?” she defaults, intelligently.
“Plants, or plants?” Nat returns.
“The latter, sorry.” Ava makes another push up the ship’s truss.
“No, no worries. Better than nothing, really. So, which is it? How we’re gonna crush them mightily, how the war’s a lost cause, or how hot they supposedly are?” There’s a hint of exasperation at the end.
“..I don’t think we’ll be taking Terra back, at the very least.” Wait, the last bit they said has only just processed. “Wait, people are calling them hot now?”
“Someone is, turns out. Probably just space madness, mind,” Nat chuckles. “Or wanting to tell others about it is, at least. In unrequested detail; woe is me.”
“We’ve been out here long enough for it, no doubt,” Ava deflects. She actually has herself daydreamt about.. largely wholesome things that still nobody will ever hear about. Not her fault that some of their broadcasts took a more atypical direction for psychological warfare. She couldn’t be blamed for it.
These daydreams were also certain to be a hundredfold more pleasant than the grim reality: that she’d probably be fed into a composter for their gardens, flayed alive for ever having opposed them, or violently tortured for rebel secrets she doesn’t have (and then fed into a composter). ‘We’re conquering the galaxy to save you from yourselves’ sounded unrealistically ambivalent for anything that’d get into galaxy-conquering in the first place, and videos of nigh utopian post-scarcity worlds under affini control were doubtless easy to fake. Truth has been long dead within the Terran Accord, never mind intergalactic war psyops.
Ava misses what Nat says next. Anyway: all she has to work on is that the concept of her safety in surrendering is completely unverifiable. So, she’s probably going to die in space.
The likely reality didn’t stop her from a few self-indulgent and exceptionally unrealistic daydreams, still. (i.e., “Well done for surrendering, Ava! We aren’t going to torture you! Oh also do you want a hug because you’ve clearly been touch-starved for years now?” etc.) There was so little else to do, and some distraction from the future was really necessitated.
She dawns the top of the truss structure, looking up for the next handrail to tether-
“Oh. Wow,” remarks Ava, snapped from her thoughts upon spotting the warship about a kilometre out. Her screen overlay blinks back into existence, marking the ship with a blue square and the accompanying name of the Rhadamanthine Nachtkrapp.
“Oh? Oh! Proper modern fleet ships we’re joining today, one sec..” Many rebel ships are of older generations, the most impressive fleets having been under strict grasp for the capitulation. “Laser/missile frigate, fleet defence. Despite the ‘defence’ bit, I’m sure she could cut a plant ship in bloody half!”
Contrasting the exposed rigging, ports, and tubes of the fuel hauler, the Rhadamanthine Nachtkrapp is all white monolithic armour. The aft half is a uniform cylinder, the fore half a cone tapering down to gigantic manoeuvring thrusters before a nose of pitch-black quartz, a massive conical lens. Four huge radiator panels protrude from the cylinder at ninety-degree angles, each about the length of the Blackthorn’s Promise itself. It’s a sight to behold.
“Ah, afraid we’ve only got a couple of far-out corvettes in accompaniment, Ava. Best we get a move on, I think that frigate is actually waiting on us.” Glancing right, two distant ships are similarly marked in blue squares, too far to make out any detail on. “Ava?”
“Right, on it.” Enough stargazing.
“The damaged segment is just up. Tank pressure has gone down just a smidge further, so the leak should be no problem to stop. Still, can’t even get a break this far out, huh?”
With outright unreasonably comical timing, ‘CAUTION’ blinks onto her display. The suit reads out in an automated voice: “Debris Detected – Small – Medium Density – Medium Velocity.”
“You jinxed it,” Ava chuckles. “Stars, you’ve no luck. That was spot on!” It’s no good news, but is relatively safe. May spring one more leak that needs patching. Red dotted lines pop onto the overlay one by one, soon too many to count, plotting the trajectory of each and every piece of debris.
“You’re too short on time to get back, so just hole up between the tanks. The fuel should frankly make better protection than what we even-“
With a bright flash from the direction of the debris, the radio breaks into static. What? It hadn’t even reached the ships yet-
Ava’s stomach drops.
Sounding gravelly now, the suit’s speakers follow with “Errant Debris Trajectory.” The projected lines of the supposed debris steadily expand into cones, her display changing to ‘WARNING’ as one of the cones washes over her and the Blackthorn’s Promise.
Oh. This is it. They’ve been caught out, and are about to be torn apart by the nuclear-shaped-charge lances of Casaba Howitzers, or whatever affini weapon that has surpassed that.
All at once, the world bursts into an absurd spectacle of Terran defiance.
The two point-defence cannons on the Blackthorn’s Promise whir to life in an instant, take aim, and let loose a solid stream of tracers at an impossible rate, the ship rattling and vibrating, a sound akin to the sea at storm travelling through the structure and into Ava’s suit. The Rhadamanthine Nachtkrapp’s manoeuvring thrusters burn at full force to wrench its nose towards the targets, hauling thousands of tons into position as they do so. The two distant corvettes light huge red plumes behind them as their engines burst to life, their point-defence coilguns loosing several great snakes of light, and their gimballed lasers washing the distant affini missiles into bright green stars. The frigate and corvettes alike eject dozens upon dozens of their own defensive Casaba Howitzers into a blanket of twinkling white across space.
Some of the display’s projected cones blink out, though far more remain, dancing around like red spotlights to reflect their missiles’ rapid jinking to evade.
The Rhadamanthine Nachtkrapp finishes its turn and lights up its central laser. Accompanying the bright constellation of green stars that are missiles being burnt down by the corvettes, a vivid purple bursts into life, rapidly blinking between targets as it reduces them to plasma and molten slag. The laser frigate’s radiators begin to glow a deep red with the vessel’s exertion.
The point defence cannons’ firing grows sporadic as they rapidly switch between targets, the closing proximity causing time to be wasted as the turrets traverse to their next mark. The laser frigate similarly twitches back and forth with immense force, as great bursts from its thrusters seek to catch targets in its laser’s narrow cone of view.
It isn’t sufficient. Tens of spotlights remain, and few seconds are left.
Another great flash, the fleet’s fields of Casaba Howitzers simultaneously detonate in last resort, delivering a huge grapeshot of hypervelocity jets of plasma at the inbound targets. The Rhadamanthine Nachtkrapp’s radiators shatter like glass from the proximity, its laser relegated to thermal self-destruction should the affini missiles not beat it to the punch.
The last spotlight bathing the fuel hauler blinks out. The other warships remain painted by them, and Ava glances back to her own for the first time since the conflict began.
To the sight of the ship’s jump drive spooling.
A distant thunk travels through the truss as connection to the structure of fuel tanks is explosively severed from the fore module.
Rapid beeping comes from her suit’s speakers, rising in pitch and frequency, signalling the imminent closing of the affini missiles to friendly ships.
The entire world breaks into a strobe of white flashes as they intersect the fleet.
Ava turns back to the warships, glancing between the black spots that have bloomed onto her screen from suit cameras being burnt out.
..Intact. They’re intact?
They haven’t been shorn in half from several-ton impactors moving at tens of kilometres per second.
They aren’t white-hot glowing wreckage from high-yield nuclear detonations.
They’ve just stopped.
The Blackthorn’s Promise hasn’t. Its jump drive fires, and she’s knocked unconscious as her helmet is propelled into the side of her head.