FOR WOLF BLOOD: PART 1 - THE INDEPENDENCE
Gunna... five seconds
Lieutenant Guðrún “Gunna” Magnúsdóttir was daydreaming when an incoming message began flashing on the helmet’s HUD (Heads-Up Display). Her small scout ship was far out in deep space and she expected the communication could only be coming from the medical ship Sjálfstæði (Independence), a tubular space-vessel home to two-dozen women and two men, made up of old parts fashioned into a functional main-bridge, medical bay, living quarters, cargo-holds, and airlocks. Though a large junk-pile by Earth’s standards, Sjálfstæði functioned better than most of the large ships in the Ýdalir Militia, and Gunna was glad to be a member of the crew--better than working down on the red planet where life dragged on into endless loops of wake, eat, drink, labor, eat, drink, get drunk, sleep, and do it all over again. However, being deployed in space meant months upon months without her daughters, and Gunna’s mind often lost itself in memories of Elín, Arna Björg, and Vala… who were growing up faster than she could stand. Though she had found-family in her crew-mates on Sjálfstæði, especially the twins Katý and Kata, Gunna liked to volunteer for scout missions in order to get away and find some quiet in the darkness… where she could think about her girls in peace.
A teeth-jarring whack against the side of the tiny ship interrupted all thoughts.
“What the fuck was that, Ava?” she shouted at the AVRM (Artificial Virtual Robotic Mind) that controlled many of the craft’s basic functions; there was no response. “Damage report, Ava,” Gunna demanded as she looked left and right, trying to get a view of the impact. The head-strap meant to keep her neck from snapping during high-velocity turns now kept her from being able to look far enough behind to see any obvious damage. “Ava, give me a situation report!” she ordered, but the AVRM remained quiet. She punched the flight-control panel in frustration and shouted, “Wake up!” then bashed it a few more times for good measure. After taking several deep breaths to settle her nerves, Gunna focused on the system indicators and saw the engine was off, the control systems were down, and the electronics were just barely functional. What the fuck is going on?
Without the AVRM, engine, and controls, Gunna could do little but find the damage and hope it was repairable--she was wearing a spacesuit and helmet so she could exit the craft and attempt to fix the problem. She twisted her body and neck as far back as possible, aching her muscles in doing so, and still saw nothing… but as she eased to turn forward, Gunna noticed what appeared to be a dot reflecting the sun’s light off in the distance; she strained to see it clearer and realized it was growing bigger by the second. She estimated it was a few thousand meters away, and by the intensity of the sunlight’s reflection, it had to be at least twenty times larger than her scout, and traveling at a high velocity; it would undoubtedly catch her soon. Gunna surmised that whatever hit the scout must have come from the incoming vessel. Fuck me.
The attacker had to be some type of roaming pirate, she thought, it was the only thing that made sense. Earth troops wouldn’t risk starting a fight with the Ýdalir--they had no reason to, nor did their leaders want any more hassle over at Miðgarður station where the two planets shared custody. There were no known enemies nearby; Sjálfstæði was well past the Zone, mining sites, and Excelsior station. She couldn’t imagine an established pirate clan would come out all this way to attack a small scout ship. It wasn’t worth their time, and why would they want to pick a fight with her warriors? Even without firearms, the Ýdalir were known for their sword skills, a willingness to fight for any reason, and scant fear of death. So who was this? The closest station she knew about was their own, a Lava Site they’d spent several days at and departed weeks earlier. But there was no reason for an Ýdalir Militia ship to attack her scout, they’d have transponders to verify she was on their side… fuck this.
Gunna dismissed the wondering, knowing it would not help get the ship’s controls back. She had to figure out a way to save herself.
“Ava, heyrirðu í mér?” she asked in Old Norse, thinking perhaps a change in language would work, but received no response. “AVRM 21572, can you respond to commands from golf uniform niner?” she asked in English. This time a green light inside her helmet flicked on and off, indicating the AVRM was active. “Alright, Ava,” she said, speaking quickly, for time was limited, “if you can hear me but can’t respond, can you flick yourself from active mode to standby mode and back to active mode at half-second intervals, please?” The HUD indicator changed from green, to yellow, back to green. So the AVRM was able to understand her but not able to respond audibly or in text. At least I’ve got something. “Ava, initiate standard Morse Code Protocol.” An indicator popped up in the upper right hand corner of the HUD that read MCP. Good, I can work with this. “Is your comms system down? Is that why you’re not able to communicate verbally or in text?”
Ava responded with two letters, N-O.
“Have you been hacked, Ava?”
This could take forever. “Do you know why your system is not functioning correctly?”
Gunna had no idea what that meant and instinctively tried to activate the craft’s information database, but it was inoperable. She next reached down the right side of her seat, pulled out a thick synthetic-paper manual, went through the command index for codes starting with X, and found it quickly.
XGR881: Terminal intrusion. “What does that mean?” She wasn’t expecting the AVRM to answer, though her HUD flickered as Ava responded, but Gunna ignored it and instead searched through the manual for the definition.
Terminal Intrusion: Unauthorized attempt. Active measures to prevent control from unauthorized element will automatically terminate system. System reset required.
“Oh fuckin’ hell!” she groaned, then read the sentence again. She had to keep looking. Gunna flipped to the next page and found:
System Reset: To perform a reset of the system, see Engineering Manual pg. 191.
She laughed, knowing there was no engineering manual on the craft. She had to try something else. “Ava, can you give me access to my personal bio-code routine so that I can get some access to the system?” There had to be a way to get the radio back up.
She growled, “Is there a way I can manually access the--“
Gunna was interrupted by a man’s voice in her helmet, “To the operator of the vehicle, your craft is about to be intercepted by our ship. Do not resist. Disable the manual safety measures inside your cockpit, and allow us to capture you alive. You will not be harmed if you follow these directions. Fail to do so, and we will forcibly remove you from the craft, dead or alive. Do you copy?” The accent was familiar, perhaps from the south side of Krummi. A large number of people were from that sector: Militia, pirates, cops, miners, and more. Whatever they were, they wanted her to disable the explosives inside the cockpit, a last-resort measure installed to prevent capture. She heard enough stories about what pirates did with Ýdalir officers. Some were tortured for extended periods of time, even brainwashed into joining them. Some were raped and murdered. Think quickly. She could activate the device inside, blowing herself up, denying these limp-dicks whatever they wanted. Or she could give up the scout and deal with whatever awaited her. In training, they were repeatedly told to never allow pirates to take them hostage; suicide was quicker and more honorable.
The reason she hesitated was her daughters. Their father was gone. Her father and brother were dead. Her mother was a traitor. Who would take care of them?
But Gunna didn’t want her girls to find out she had been captured, and later discover the horrible things done to her by the pirates. The only way she could prevent it from happening was to choose death. They would most likely kill her anyway; better to die as a warrior than a victim. Save my daughters the pain of knowing I was humiliated and killed slowly. It is better they mourn my death with pride than suffer for years wondering if I’ll ever return... which I won’t because I’m not important enough to save or exchange. Gunna clutched the thought… she had been busy making mental plans for the future only a few hours earlier… but time had run out quicker than she could have anticipated, leaving one final choice.
Gunna unzipped the front of her survival suit and pulled out a small, flat, transparent picture-frame. It floated in front while she removed the flight gloves and helmet. Once off, she gently retrieved the floating frame and pulled the opposing corners apart. The picture-frame grew larger. She spoke, “My babies,” and her daughters appeared as three dimensional moving images--a moment recorded before she left them--, waving and blowing kisses. Gunna’s eyes welled with tears. She missed them more than anything and would never see them again. Don’t think about that. Gunna smiled and blew a kiss.
Somewhere in the distance a voice inside her helmet was counting down. She tried ignoring it but could hear a tiny voice speaking, “Surrender and you will not be harmed. You have 30 seconds.”
Gunna said her goodbyes and hoped to see them in another life.
In the corner of her left eye she noticed a blob of movement… the pirates had caught up. She flipped an orange switch on the right elbow-rest exposing two small black buttons. With her thumb, she pushed both in and felt a slight but sustained vibration. Another countdown began inside her helmet… and an old darkness returned to her mind. Since she was a little girl, Gunna feared dying alone… and here it was… a great dread becoming truth. She wondered if anyone would know what happened to her or if she would become just another person lost in space, fate unknown. Would they search for her? Yes, she answered, the Colonel would… but space was vast and always in motion and there was little chance they would ever find her remains.
Even still, Gunna felt some comfort knowing she would not be forgotten. She was loved… by her girls… her traitorous mother too… and her friends on Sjálfstæði, Yellow Wolf and White Wolf most of all. Gunna’s heart ached for the twins who had lost both parents long ago… and latched themselves to her as a mother-figure when they joined the Sjálfstæði--an inexplainable bond, and a need she had been happy to meet. How terrible for someone so young to experience that kind of loss, she thought and it brought Gunna’s thoughts back to her daughters; she hoped at least a piece of her soul would find its way to Ýdalir and keep them company.
“10 seconds,” the pirate counted.
“30 seconds,” the self-destruct feedback chimed.
Gunna kissed her girls one last time as tears pooled around her face. Goodbye, Elín, my fighter; goodbye Arna Björg, my kindness; goodbye Vala, my joy. I hope when I see you again that you are old… and have lived happy lives.
The blob on her left was now large enough she could no longer dismiss it. Gunna turned her head and saw the ship and its markings, and the shock nearly overwhelmed her. She scrambled for the discarded helmet and in the excitement knocked it forward in the cockpit.
Gunna frantically grabbed the helmet with both hands and pulled the inside end toward her and shouted, “Don’t shoot! Friendly! Friendly!”