The buzzer went off at the workstation.
Guy finished the paragraph he was reading, put the book aside and got up to hit a key on the keyboard, silencing the buzzer. He tensed his whole body and stretched before putting on his body suit, headband and boots. He checked the battery status of one of the pads on his desk, added it to the bag containing lunch, snacks and assorted useful items, then took it with him going out the door.
He had done the weekly routine so often he didn’t even need to think about it. Only the reminder was needed, otherwise he would lose track of time and not know if he had already done it or if it was time to do it again. He didn’t really need a clock here after all. All he had to do was look after the facility and send reports. He was still very glad for the opportunity to do this a long time ago because then he could use his free time to write anything that came into his mind. He then uploaded it anonymously to his site which attracted a lot of readers.
He left the crew area and stepped out into the facility, pulling down the headband over his ears. He checked the gauge next to the door, the temperature had dropped by one degree today. It didn’t fluctuate much as usual. He punched in the command for turning on the lights on his route and went on his way.
Most of what he had to do was press a few buttons at control panels to test power and pressure for defects. If everything was okay it meant the corporation could fire up the facility in no time, minimising unexpected repairs. So far he only had to do minor repairs on electrical equipment or remove a dead indiginous rodent or small predator.
Today was no different than usual and he expected no less. He made a habit of checking between pipes and wiring ducts with his flashlight as he walked along them to the next station just in case some animals build a nest there. The indiginous life found the facility a comfortable area since it shut down and everyone left.
Several hours later he got back home and upoaded the data, checked the results and signed off on them. These were then transmitted to the nearest subsidiary, relaying it to corporate headquarters. He rarely got an answer because it would take a long time for the message to even arrive.
He went to the vegetable garden he had created in one of the unused rooms and gathered some to compliment the processed foods for dinner. He decided to finish reading his book before going back to sleep.
It was during one of his writing sessions that he heard a door alarm buzzing. He checked the console for the location.
‘Again?’ he said to himself as he saw it was the same door which was opened once before by a predator jumping against the handle. ‘Can’t you learn to close it as well?’ he said and got dressed to go out and close the door.
When he arrived there he saw a trail of snow on the floor.
‘Damn, did you bring the whole family?’ he said looking outside to see if there were more walking around.
He found no animals but did see something new, a dark gray heap a couple of kilometers away.
Then he noticed the tracks in the snow had come from that direction.
“Fuck.” he thought and reached inside his suit for the handgun he had in case of nasty predators. “Someone’s here.”
Carefully he went back inside and followed the direction of the snow. He didn’t dare to turn on any lights and give his position away but luckily the emergency lighting was good enough to see in the dark. Moving slow and silently he tried to find any trace of the intruder. A repair bench missing a few tools told him he was going in the right direction. He figured the transport bay may be a good starting point in case someone needed to do repairs. Carefully he moved there and peeked around the corner into the hall.
He couldn’t see any movement nor hear any sound beside the usual. He pondered moving inside but opted to have a look from the other entrances first. He moved through the corridor to the next entrance when he suddenly got kicked sideways into the wall. Before he could defend himself a hit on the gun smashed it out of his hand. He moved back against the wall cluthing his hand and saw a fur in a snow suit pointing a gun at him.
‘Don’t move.’ it said quickly looking up and down the corridor. ‘You hoped I wouldn’t hear or see you, right? Unfortunately for you I can hear and see in the dark very well.’ it said and pulled back the hood revealing a short muzzled fur.
‘What do you want?’ He asked trying to figure out what species this fur was.
‘First of all, medical care.’
‘Are you hurt?’
‘Not really but the captain is. I need something to carry him here to your infirmary. I expect you do have one here?’
He nodded. ‘Although I haven’t used it in a long time.’
It gestured with her gun to the entrance. ‘Move. You’re going to drive.’
He drove one of the cargo trucks towards the ship while it sat in the passanger seat keeping an eye on him. Arriving at the ship he could see hull damage.
‘What happened?’ he asked taking a medical kit from behind the seats.
Inside the ship he found the captain on the floor, head and chest covered in bloody bandages. He checked up on the gray rodent.
‘He’s alive but looks like he lost a lot of blood.’
‘Yeah, tell me about it.’ the fur said. ‘He got hit as well but unlike our navigator he got lucky and didn’t get hit in vital areas.’ it said and gestured to the back.
He looked and saw the bodybag. ‘Damn.’
‘Let’s get moving. Carry him to the truck.’
He picked him up under his shoulders and the captain moaned a little.
‘Careful!’ the fur said.
‘Of course I am!’
Guy managed to get the captain into the back and he drove back as quick as he could without making it rough. Inside he closed the bay door and went back to the truck.
‘We need a stretcher to get him to the infirmary. Can’t carry him all the way without making him worse.’
The fur nodded and he led it to the crew area, pulled out a stretcher from storage and went back to the transport hall to pick up the captain.
‘Looks like a lot of stitch work.’ he said on the way to the infirmary.
‘You know how to?’
‘I have had training in emergency medical care.’
At the bay he pulled the captain onto the operating table and started removing bandages and fixing wounds after cleaning them. After some time he wiped the sweat of his face again and threw away the bloody bandages.
‘Done.’ he said.
The fur checked the captain while Guy took a syringe and a couple of bottles. He mixed them and wanted to inject the captain when the fur pointed the gun at his face.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Adrenalin and a mix of essentials to give him a boost. He hasn’t got much left.’
‘Right.’ it said and gestured to give it.
‘Now it’s up to him to get stronger.’ he said and put a blanket over the captain.
He put away the rest of his things when he saw her slump back against a table.
‘Hey, are you okay?’
‘I’m okay.’ it said with a wave of it’s hand.
He saw blood dripping from its left hand, grabbed a towel and moved toward it. ‘No you’re not!’
It pulled out the gun again. ‘I’m okay!’
It looked at its hand. ‘Ah shit.’
‘Take off the suit and let me have a look. I’m not going to hurt you.’
‘You’d better not try.’ it said, unzipped the suit and to his surprise it turned out to be a black female fur with long, dark gray hair and ears.
He looked at her arm. ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to remove your shirt as well. Otherwise I can’t treat your shoulder.’
‘Turn around then.’ she said after a moment.
‘Ah, of course.’ he said and turned his back to her.
‘Okay.’ she said when she managed to take off her shirt.
She used it to cover her chest and he started treating her wound while she bit down the pain.
‘There.’ he said finishing the bandaging. ‘Take it easy for now because it needs time to close.’
She looked at her shoulder. ‘Thanks.’
‘Let’s let him rest and you some clean clothes.’
She nodded and followed him to his room. Inside he went through his closet and pulled out a large shirt.
‘I’m afraid I don’t have anything else that might fit you.’
She nodded and gestured for him to turn around again.
‘Right.’ he said and had her suit thrown over his head a moment later.
‘Can you clean that?’
He checked the suit. ‘Probably. It can be taken apart.’ he said and removed all layers. ‘Need to do laundry anyway.’
‘Good.’ she said and sat down.
He put the suit aside, saw her slumping forward and tears falling on the floor. He pulled out a small towel from his drawer, squatted in front of her and offered it to her. ‘Can I get you anything else?’
She shook her head and he moved back.
‘I’m going to make something to eat.’ he said and went to the kitchen.
He collected bread and anything to put on top of it on a plate, then grabbed the pad from the wall and started typing. He turned back and almost fell back from the gun in front of his nose.
‘Damn! Do you need to do that!?’
‘What were you typing?’ she asked, grabbed the pad and checked it.
‘Bloody inventory. I need to keep the stocks in order.’
She dropped the pad on the counter. ‘What else were you doing?’
‘Getting us some food. I’m hungry.’
Her stomach growled.
‘And it sounds I’m not the only one.’
Embarrassed she gestured for him to walk in front back to the room. She sat down and waited for him to eat first.
‘Pretty paranoid.’ he said.
‘I have my reasons.’ she said and started eating too.
When they were finished he laid back and closed his eyes. ‘So tired..’ he said and made himself comfortable.
‘Wait! Are you going to sleep?’
‘You can’t do that.’
‘Why not? The captain’s taken care of, I don’t need to change your bandages for a while, so I’m going to sleep now. Wake me when you really need something.’
‘I can’t go to sleep if you’re loose.’
He sighed, sat up, ‘Damn your paranoia.’ went to the closet and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. ‘Will this do?’
She nodded and he cuffed himself to the frame of the couch.
‘Now get some sleep too, acting physician’s order.’ he said and went back to sleep.
It took a while but eventually she fell asleep too.
Half an hour later he woke up having trained himself on short naps. Waiting a while making sure she was in deep sleep he secured the cuff on the frame, grabbed his wrist pulling the chain tight, tensed his whole body and pulled it apart with a light snap. After waiting again to make sure she hadn’t been disturbed he sneaked up to her and silently took away the gun from under her pillow. He sat back down on the couch, put it next to him and grabbed a book.
When she woke up much later she felt a bit disoriented. She rubbed her eyes, saw him reading and remembered what had happened. Quickly she grabbed underneath her piloow but didn’t find her gun.
‘Looking for this?’ he said and held it up.
She sat up growling softly. ‘How?’
‘Will you cut that out? I have no intention to harm you. Especially after all the trouble I went through.’
‘How do I know that?’
He sighed and put away his book. ‘Look. I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I’m all alone here in on this planet as far away from civilisation as possible. I am no threat to anyone.’ he said, took out the magazine from the gun, unloaded it and tossed it over to her.
She pushed the bullet in the magazine and inserted it into the gun. ‘You could have called for help.’
He put up his hands. ‘From whom? There’s nobody around for who knows how many weeks.’
She laid down the gun and he stood up. ‘Come, let’s go check up on your captain.’
She nodded and they went to the infirmary. The captain was still asleep.
‘Vital signs seem better.’
He watched her as she held the captain’s hand and stroked his head.
‘I’m sure he’ll be up and running in no time.’
She nodded and wiped away a tear.
He left the infirmary and dropped down in the couch, having another bite.
After a while she came in.
‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
‘Thank you for everything.’
‘Well, it’s not that I have much to do around here anyway.’
She sat down opposite him. ‘What do you do here?’
‘Keep an eye on things. Make sure all systems are functioning so they can start up production when supply is low again. Although Idoubt they’ll do that any time soon.’
‘Law of demand and supply. They keep supply at such a level that they earn a lot of money from it. Had they kept this facility running there would be no shortage and things would be a lot cheaper.’
‘At least I get to do whatever I want in the meantime.’
‘And that is?’
He nodded. ‘Got a lot of books to go through.’
‘Is that how you got so strong to break the cuffs?’
‘Ah. I do have time to do a little strength training.’
She nodded again.
‘My name’s Tippa.’
‘All in all nice to meet you.’
He saw her crack a smile for the first time. ‘Heh, thanks.’
‘I gather you need to wait for the captain to figure out what to do next.’
‘Well, in the meantime treat this as your home. I even set up a multimedia room if you want to-.’ he said but got interrupted by a buzzer.
He went over to the console and turned it off. ‘Well, looks like it’s time to do my round again.’
‘Walking through the facility and checking all systems. It takes almost a day.’ he said and got his things ready.
‘Wait, I’m coming with you.’
‘I don’t have a suit in your size.’
‘I don’t really need a suit. I wore it just in case things would get a lot more colder.’
‘Reminds me, I do have something else.’ he said and went through the back of the closet pulling out a big, white wool sweater. ‘I want to make sure you keep yourself warm.’
She accepted it and wore it over his shirt. He took extra supplies and together they went on his round.
He explained a little of what everything did in processing ores, gas, liquids from the automated mines and the products created from it. When they walked along one corridor he felt a draft. He looked around and listened for a moment.
‘Something wrong?’ she asked.
‘Never felt this draft here before. Something’s different.’
He followed the direction of the draft and they found a broken window in an outer wall letting in snow and wind.
‘Hmm. I’ll have to replace that tomorrow. Wonder what caused it to break.’
‘Oh yuck!’ he heard her say and looked back.
‘What is it?’ he asked looking at what she was seeing behind a pillar.
‘Yuck indeed.’ he said at the half eaten corpse of a predator.
‘You get that more often here?’
He shook his head. ‘Not like this. Never seen it with more than a bloody wound from fighting. I’ll need a bucket and shovel as well tomorrow.’ he said and added a note on the pad. ‘Come, let’s go.’
The rest of the round went without incident and by the time they got back and Guy went to check on the captain he had woken up just a little earlier.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Broken and like a pincushion. What happened?’
‘Your ship had been hit by space debrie and so have you.’
‘Where’s Tippa? Is she okay?’ he asked looking around.
‘She is, I’ll go get her.’ he said and called out for her.
When she walked in her eyes grew big.
‘Sweetheart.’ the captain said.
Tippa rushed over to him and hugged him as tightly as he could handle.
‘I was so afraid I lost you.’ she said crying.
‘I’m not going anywhere.’
Guy went out silently and got back to his room fixing something to eat for the three of them.
After a while Tippa walked in. ‘He’s asking for you.’
‘Okay.’ Guy said and washed his hands.
He saw her looking at him fidgeting her shirt.
‘Something on your mind?’
‘Just, thank you once more. I wouldn’t know what to do if you hadn’t saved him.’ she said, kissed his cheek and went back.
A little dazed he stroked his cheek. ‘You’re, welcome?’
He got back to the captain, asked Tippa to get the plate with food and changed his bandages.
‘Thank you for what you’ve done. Tippa told me everything.’
‘Sorry about your navigator.’
The captain nodded. ‘Thanks, he was a dear friend.’
‘I’m just glad Tippa’s all right. I can’t bear the thought of losing her.’
‘I can imagine.’ Guy said and prepared another shot.
The captain held out his hand. ‘Armur.’
Guy shook his hand. ‘Guy.’ he said. ‘Ready for one more sting, only this time to give you a boost?’
‘I guess I’ll have to, heh.’ Armur said and held out his arm.
Tippa walked in again with the plate, set it on a table next to him and started to feed him.
Guy cleaned his equipment and smiled at Tippa wagging her tail.
‘I’ll just leave you to it. Gotta eat too.’ he said and went out.
Some time later Tippa returned with the empty plate. ‘He’s asleep now.’
‘Good.’ Guy said as he put on his suit.
‘You’re going out?’
He nodded. ‘I’m going to fix the window and clean up the mess.’
‘I thought you wanted to wait until tomorrow.’
‘Yeah, but I feel like I won’t sleep soon so I might as well do it now.’
She nodded. ‘Don’t be gone long. I mean it’s less boring when you’re here.’
He came to the place where they found the corpse and dumped it into a container in a corridor outside. It would be emptied automatically by a robot bringing the contents to an incinerator.
He looked at the window again and still couldn’t figure out how it got broken. Concluding it must have been a fierce fight he replaced the window pane with a new one. After that he put away his tools and walked back to the crew area. Almost there he stopped and looked back at the hall feeling something was off. Pondering about it for a while didn’t give him a clue so he went on his way again. Back at his room he found Tippa asleep on the couch. He had to admit she looked good in shirt or sweater. Feeling tired himself he stretched for a while and went to bed.
When he woke up he found Tippa supporting Armur in walking to the room.
‘You couldn’t stand lying around anymore?’ Guy asked.
‘Exactly. I hate myself if I can’t get around.’
‘Well, as long as you don’t tire yourself out. Your body needs enough rest to get its strength back.’
‘I heard you are strong enough to break cuffs.’
Guy looked at Tippa who grinned a little. ‘Well, it was something unexpected from someone who’s not bulging with muscles. Especially a human.’
‘Right.’ Guy said. ‘That’s the whole point.’
She helped Armur sit down. ‘So, I expect you can get me back to my old self quickly.’
‘Well, I’m no expert, but you have to focus yourself on getting stronger, then all you need to do is train as often as you can without getting tired. For now I’d say just tense yourself anytime you can. Real workouts won’t work for now.’
Armur nodded. ‘I’ll try that.’
Tippa walked up to him. ‘So, can you teach me?’
‘I can show you what I do. You’ll have to adapt it to your own skills though.’
‘All right. When do we start?’
‘She’s always been like that. If she sees something she likes she wants it right away.’ Armur joked.
‘Fine. Every time you go through a doorway you do three one armed pullups, three one armed pushups, and three one legged squats. Both arms and legs. If you can’t do one you start with pullups hanging from the doorpost to the side, pushups against the wall and the squats with a little assistance from your other leg. Do a handstand as long as possible occasionally instead. Clear?’
‘Got it.’ she said and tried a pullup from a pipe above the door. ‘Damn.’ she said when she couldn’t get herself up a second time.
‘I guessed that.’ Guy said, start with the halves.’
She tried that and managed it with difficulty.
‘Good, now keep practicing without getting tired. There are also iron toys down the hall at the gym if you want to test yourself.’
She nodded and took a look.
‘Looks like she found a new thing to do during the boring hours.’ Armur said.
‘There are worse things to do.’
Guy sat down. ‘So, I think we need to discuss what to do next.’
Armur nodded. ‘I already talked about a few things with Tippa. I’d like to bury Brennad, my navigator here, anonymously if possible.’
Guy nodded. ‘No problem. There’s actually a place not far from here with some hills. It’s more appropriate than at the back here.’
‘Thanks. Now, about the ship, It can probably be fixed but we need material.’
‘Enough material here. The storehouse holds enough to build a ship if neccesary. Tools too.’
Armur kept quiet for a while.
‘Then there’s just one last thing.’ he said.
‘Me keeping quiet on ever seen anything.’ Guy said and leaned back.
‘I thought as much. I checked and usually there would have been a supply drop around this time, but Tippa never mentioned that you had cargo for me.’
‘We were supposed to do a drop, but our main goal is top secret cargo heading to a lab near here.’
‘What? There’s something close to here? I thought this area was deserted?’
Armur shook his head. ‘I might as well tell what I know. Part of the production here was used to set up a lab in an asteroid they mined at a few weeks travel from here. It researches all sorts of weapons.’
‘So you carry a very sensitive piece of cargo.’
‘Yeah. Which is why Tippa acted so paranoid. She knows we’re dead if anyone gets a whiff of this.’
Guy nodded. ‘Does the lab know you’re coming?’
‘No, strict silence.’
‘That would give us some time to fix your ship.’
‘That only leaves me.’
They sat in silence for a while when Tippa came back.
‘They really set up a complete gym here.’ she said.
‘Told you. And since you went through the doorway, you know what to do.’
‘Right.’ she said and did her practice.
‘We’ll talk about it later.’ Armur said. ‘I think I need more sleep.’
Guy nodded and Tippa helped him back to the infirmary.
‘I take it he talked about our secret cargo?’ Tippa asked when she returned.
‘No wonder you reacted like you did.’
After some silence Guy spoke up. ‘I know a nice place to bury Brennad. We could go there later to hold the funeral.’
‘I’d like that.’
Later that day Tippa and Guy picked up the bodybag and drove with Armur to the spot Guy had in mind. He dug a quick grave and they said their farewells. On the way back they planned the repair to the ship. Tippa and Guy would first take a good look at the damage the following day.
When Tippa came back from putting Armur to bed she crashed down on the couch. ‘I sure could use a drink.’
‘I know what you mean, and I’ve got just the thing.’ he said, went to the kitchen and produced a blank bottle with two glasses. ‘My own brew.’
He poured a glass and she smelled it. ‘Wow, potent.’
‘Never.’ she said, emptied the glass and coughed. ‘Good.’ she wheezed.
He poured her another one and toasted. ‘To potency.’
‘To feeling the burn down your throat.’