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17: Heat

It was unclear what was giving him the shits the most, the squeak coming from one of the suit’s joints, or the fact that he had to wear a suit at all. Maybe it was both. There was little choice though. His Platform had failed in a spectacular way, so much so he thought he should stop having the shits with the squeak, or the suit, and be happy he was upright enough to actually be able to have the shits at all.

He’d been walking for several hours at least, looking back every now and again to check if the smoke was still rising above the horizon. It was. Company protocol dictated that a survivor of a wreck should stay within the proximity of said wreck, so the extraction team could find them easily. Wasn’t going to happen. First the Platform white flashed, so if he had stayed in ‘proximity’ there’d be no one to ‘rescue’; he was still not sure exactly how he managed to take just the right amount of cover in time. Secondly, there was no fucking way he was going to stay near the wreck. Even if it hadn’t white flashed, whatever it was he encountered, he certainly did not want to be around if it came back…

The day started like any other. Make breakfast, pack the kit and uplink to the capping team to see where they needed him. After warming up the R, he set off, making his way to the coordinates. Nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that today he didn’t quite make it.

About two hours into what was a three hour transit, he was roused from his day dreaming by the proximity alert. The Company had equipped all mechanicals with them after the Eastern Rim incident, thinking it would give crews a heads up before whatever hit them there, hit them… here. It could have been that he was day dreaming just that little bit too much but by the time he looked at the screen it was blank. But that couldn’t be right. The system had a range of ten and goes off only when whatever it is, is within the one mark – the ‘it’ should still be on the scope.

His mind raced through the options, as if there were a lot to choose from; he was pushing a heavy capping Platform with a full fuel load and a waldo, options were a luxury not available. If this ‘it’ was hostile… ‘Nah, was me imagining things’ he told himself several times as he dialled up the throttle.

Bli…squark!

This time he didn’t miss it. Coming up directly behind him it was not the speed that made him more nervous than he already was, but the size. The fact that the scope showed whatever it was as a cloud of triangles meant it was big – bigger than him and he was not exactly a small signature.

A fleeting thought of cranking the speed up even more came, then left with a laugh. Who was he kidding, this thing was going as fast as it goes and that was not fast. He could pivot to face it so he could, what, shout at it? This Platform had zero defensive capability and less than zero offensive.

Yes, if this whatever was nasty, he was fucked.

It hit like a fist.

‘Yes, it is nasty and I am fucked’ was the thought of the moment.

And like a boxer it kept on hitting. 300 metric being shaken like a toy and howling like a sick animal. Out the canopy all he could see was a maelstrom of… orange and green tentacles? Whatever this was, it was behind him and airborne, smacking down on him like a dropping hammer. Then came the sound of tearing metal, the popping of high pressure lines and then silence; the proximity scope went clear.

Then the reactor screen lit up like a star field.

The next thought was simple and basic – ‘I’m still alive, the scope’s clear, bail!’.

Pulling the release lever, the face blew away and with a jolt he was jettisoned up and out in what must have looked like a graceful arc, to anyone but him. The landing though, not so much, and he blacked out for a few seconds before struggling out of the harness and dizzily scampered towards an outcrop.

Behind cover and now somewhat more coherent, he stole a look to see the Platform standing there, smouldering with the rear section, and reactor, torn off and lying on the ground.

‘Ok, not good at all…’

Then it white flashed.

If it was not for the rock, he’d probably not be standing at all. And the suit, something he reluctantly been wearing recently because of increased solar storms, had kept him from becoming a hot chip. Regardless, he woke lying on his back a good point one five from where he had been, an overwhelming feeling of being slapped silly by the hand of a god running through his head, and the upper section of the suit looking a lot worse for wear.

It took more than a few minutes of lying there staring at the sky until it dawned that the only option was to get the hell away from here as fast as possible. So Struggling to his feet, he started walking .

Was that a squeak coming from the leg joint?

Cross index: 13: The Rise

Cross index: 09: Bad Ideas

Story Arc MAG-100

Latest:

22: Pop Guns

And just like that, conflict changed. Sure, there were boarders, or industry, or pride to protect, but now a bit of money could be made on the side.

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A collection of hard science fiction tales written and illustrated by Gerard Thomas.

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