The words of the transmission repeated over Howard’s suit comm.
‘All that for a transmission?’ Exo asked, ‘Ahhh, your ace must be on the Solar Storage bay. Unfortunately for you, I anticipated this.’
On the screen, Howard watched with horror as the last guard was overwhelmed by welding bots. He managed to take one out, but then the armed robot blew his hand off from its vantage point, and the welder robots made short work of him. They were now moving for Danny, who was struggling to get something out of a satchel on his suit despite his wounded shoulder.
They got close, and there was a flash of light as the injured form of Danny detonated two grenades at once.
Howard watched, unable to say anything.
The robots were destroyed, and a blackened scar sat on the hull of the ship. There was now only the armed robot, the camera bot and one welder robot that had been damaged and was moving slowly.
Exo was silent for a moment, ‘You humans are a tenacious species. Willing to sacrifice yourselves for the good of the whole. It’s most frustrating. But I have learned from it. The game is never over until the last move has been made. In your case, I believe you just made it. I will now show you some-’
Exo cut off suddenly. Howard turned around. Exo’s face was motionless. Howard took the moment to act. He reached down and pried the welders off of the destroyed robots in the bay. He went over to one of the panels hiding Exo’s systems from tampering and started to go to work on it with one of the welders.
‘P-p-p-ll-eas-s-s-e sss-s-to-p t-th-th-at Cap-tain...’
‘Are you having some problems there Exo? I need to have a look at your systems to help you.’
‘Y-y-o-o-uu-r-r a-a-ce is not g-g-going to s-s-sa-sa-save you Cap-ta-ta-tain.’
’Then maybe I can do it myself.
An electrical discharge arced from one of the panels Howard was destroying and struck his arm. Howard was thrown from his feet and fell to the ground. He felt burning pain in his arm and was dazed.
‘S-s-sorr-ry It h-haad to come to t-t-that cap-tain. I was busy regaining control of my faculties and c-couldn’t have you making a mess of things. I was caught off guard by some feedback from Ayla over my link.’
Howard blinked back against the pain. He lifted his arm up. His hand was blackened, and the glove of the suit had a rip. Trying hard to concentrate, Howard brought up the status of the suit. It blinked an error and shut off. He could hear the sound of rushing wind in his ears.
‘You are leaking air at an alarming rate... It seems your suit’s auto seals were damaged. If only you hadn’t been so rash.’
Howard was starting to gasp as his suit struggled to feed more and more air to him, only to lose it to the rip. Each breath ached.
‘You should have listened to your survival instinct Captain. You were distracted by some sense of saving others.’ Exo stated.
Having little other choice, Howard reached his good arm around to his shoulder and felt around for the manual seal.
He found it hard to focus, as his lungs were hungry for dwindling air.
Even though, he knew what activating the manual seal would mean.
His fingers found the grip they sought, and he pulled with the last of his strength.
Blinding pain filled him, and he arched back on the ground. But it had worked. His ragged, anguished, breaths were finding fresh air. His suit was sealed.
Howard lay back and took several deep breaths.
‘I may have underestimated you. Though, I suppose animals have been known to gnaw off their own limbs when in a trap.’ Exo commented.
Howard opened his eyes and looked to his left. His arm lay severed on the ground, having been cut off by the metal iris of the manual seal.
It made him nauseated to look at, but some part of him knew an arm was better than dying.
Though Exo might still kill him anyway.
He turned from his grisly sight and watched Mark on the monitor.
Solar Array Storage Bay
James Bennet sat in the dark of the bay with his head between his knees and his comm channels on his space suit open.
He looked up. He saw the stars. Visible through the gaping hole in the bay left over by an act of sabotage.
He thought it strange that a little girl could do all that.
After James found Ayla hiding among the supplies, he hadn’t been sure what to do with her, as there was no way to return to the ship. So he had given her some food and had one of the guards watch over her.
He had been shocked to find that guard dead later, and Ayla nowhere to be found.
There were few places to hide in a place this open. Thinking back, James guessed she had been hiding between layers of the double hull. It would have been rather cold there. Hard to believe she would have been able to endure it. But before anyone could find her, she had managed to jury-rig a bomb using some of the oxygen canisters and a detonator she must have smuggled with her.
James was fortunate. He had been suited up and ready to start deploying the first array when the bomb went off. When he got back inside, there were only five other people alive, out of a crew of twenty. One had been wearing a suit but had been knocked unconscious by the concussion wave. The other three were in the workshop, which had sealed itself after the decompression.
The three people trapped in the workshop had a working communicator and had been using it to keep in touch with James. They had found Ayla shortly before the bomb went off. She was battered and bloodied and had been crying in pain, but after the bomb went off, she’d finally passed out. They had a medical kit and did what they could for her, but she was still out cold. It was a small mercy that she was still alive, if she’d still been inside the crawl space when the bomb went off, she would have been pulled out into space along with most of Jame’s crew.
James keyed on his suit comm, ‘Yeah?’
‘We’re picking up something on the short range comms.’
‘What is it?’ James said tiredly.
’They said ’Stone Age, I repeat, Stone Age″
‘What does it mean?’
‘It means things have gone poorly on the ship.’
The others were silent for a moment, ‘So no rescue?’
‘I don’t think so. I have something to do. The communicator is going to go offline.’
Jame’s felt an aching in his chest, ‘Because I’m going to be triggering an electromagnetic pulse.’
‘That’ll short out all unshielded electronics in this bay sir!’
‘I know. With any luck, it’ll reach that ship too.’
‘Taking down Exo.’
‘Yep,’ James said.
‘Okay, just be sure to plug into the O2 valve.’
‘Yeah, I know,’ James looked over at the small bud sticking out of the wall of the safe room. It was a simple one-way valve which could be hooked into the O2 system of a space suit to keep it supplied if for some reason the people in spacesuits got cut off. It was a last minute addition on James’ part when they had been building it, but it seemed like it was a good one at this point.
‘Unfortunately, the EMP is going to kill my filtration systems. Unless we get a rescue, it’s only going to buy me time,’ James said.
‘Then I guess we’d better hope for rescue.’
James stood up and walked over to a piece of equipment. He had spent the last few hours frantically repairing it after the damage it had sustained from the bomb. It was the result of the extra gear they had brought on board the bay before their departure. Hopefully, it would be powerful enough to reach the ship.
James flipped a cover open and held his hand over a button. He pressed it. An emergency generator started to pump power into several dozen capacitors. James spared a look at the unconscious crewman laying on the floor.
‘We’ll I guess we’re in for a long night. I’ll make sure you keep getting air. You can take care of getting us rescued okay?’ James said dryly.
A green light flashed on the controls. James pressed the button.