The Raid On Zeta Station

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Part 14

Cadet Maja Lundström swore under her breath.

The hatch to the small maintenance corridor she had been trying to open had slipped out of her hand, and the momentum had caused it to open so far as to hit the wall. Thankfully, it had not done so very fast, due to the lack of gravity, but the impact had been loud enough to sound like it would reverberate through half the station in the quiet of night.

Instead of floating through the opening, Lundström paused for a moment, listening for anyone who might be following her. She gasped and her eyes opened wide when she heard soft voices coming from the main tunnel just outside the branch she was in.

She strained her ears to try and listen in to the conversation, and her face paled even more when she recognised some of the voices as her fellow Cadets with whom she shared a cabin.

The young woman remained motionless until the voices trailed off and died down completely. She let out a soft sigh and let go off the handrail, which she had been gripping so tightly that her knuckles hurt.

“I feel sorry for you guys, but it can’t be helped,” she said softly for no one to hear.

Lundström climbed through the hatch and into the narrow maintenance corridor. She pulled the hatch close behind her and locked it from the inside.

The corridor, which did nothing to deserve such a generous designation, was barely wide enough to accommodate an average-built adult. The petite blonde hat a little more room to manoeuvre, but she still had to be careful not to knock her head against something.

Flanked on all sides by protruding structural elements and various pieces of equipment, the hexagonal cross-section of the corridor was mostly hidden from sight. There was hardly any unused surface, as cable ducts gave way to access panels or generic-looking electronic devices that had been haphazardly mounted on the walls.

Lundström navigated the maze of hidden tunnels with ease. She had been down there many times before. In the beginning, she had left herself innocuous little markers to make sure that she would not get lost on the way back. By now, however, she new exactly where she was going and how long it would take to reach her destination.

She counted structural beams under her breath as she floated past them, using the elements as reference points. The Cadet moved through the tunnels so fast that it seemed like she was choosing random directions when the corridors hit an intersection.

Lundström eventually reached a section of tunnel that was much narrower than the others. At the intersection, three thick multi-coloured cable strands ran across it over her head. She carefully pushed forward and stopped by the third access panel to her right.

She then reached behind one of the structural beams and produced a pocket-sized omnitool that had been hidden there. Cadet Lundström used it to unscrew the panel in front of her and slid it aside before entering the confined space behind it.

There was barely enough room for her, and she had to keep her knees bent in order to fit inside the compartment.

The young woman smiled when she looked up. Among a few items and supplies that she had stored away here was a picture showing her parents. She put her hand on the picture and closed her eyes for a moment, remembering the last time she had seen them in person.

Lundström took a deep breath and shook her head.

“This is not the time to get lost in the past,” she said.

Instead, she turned to her right and opened a small storage container. She rummaged around in it and retrieved a few select items. She then settled down with her back against one of the compartment’s walls and used the straps that she had installed there to prevent herself from floating around aimlessly.

Cadet Lundström reached for a small box with nutrition cubes and a pack of water. With so much attention drawn to this part of the station, she would need to wait for a while before she could proceed, and she did not want to go hungry while doing so.

After a while, the loneliness set in. Being confined by herself in this restricted space, Lundström could not help but think about her friends. She sincerely hoped that they would not be in too much trouble, and that they would be able to discard any suspicion their superiors might have.

“I really should have been more careful,” Lundström mumbled to herself.

She chuckled, surprised that she had actually gotten attached to those people. After pondering about it some more, however, she came to the realisation that it was not surprising at all. Those three Cadets were genuinely lovable characters, each in their own way.

Maja Lundström brushed those thoughts aside. She put on an oxygen mask and began to doze off after making sure that her MFD would wake her up once it was time for her next move. The young blonde smiled as she drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Chief Sergeant Lorenz had returned from her spacewalk looking rather glum.

Once the process of getting re-acclimated to the station’s oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, which was as dull as it was lengthy, was over, she left the confines of the airlock and was greeted by Lieutenant Olchevski.

“Don’t make such a face, Sergeant,” he said, trying to cheer her up.

“I wasted hours of my life and almost died. Of course I’m going to be making a face!”

She pushed off the airlock’s hatch using her right leg, the left one still immobilised by the self-sealing foam which had previously saved her life, and pulled herself down on one of the benches. The Lieutenant was by her side immediately and helped her out of the suit.

This took a lot longer than under normal conditions, as the foam stuck to both her leg and the inside of the suit, but with combined effort, they managed to get her out of it.

While Lorenz, hovering above the bench in a tank top and short pants, scraped off foam residue from her skin, Olchevski was inspecting the damage caused to the vacuum-suit.

He whistled between his teeth and said, “Now will you look at that.”

His hand was inside the suit’s leg, and with a little effort he had managed to punch through the remainder of the foam, so that his thumb was now sticking out through a hole that should not be there.

“A little further inwards, and that could have done a lot of damage,” Olchevski said matter-of-factly.

“Tell me about it,” Lorenz replied while examining her leg.

Now that the self-sealing foam had been removed, the technical Sergeant was able to see the deep slash across the outer side of her left thigh. Within seconds of the wound being exposed, it began to bleed profusely, forming a dome of blood that stayed attached to Lorenz’ leg due to the lack of gravity.

“Don’t move, I’ll take care of it,” Lieutenant Olchevski said, and pushed off the wall towards the first-aid cabinet. He was back at the Sergeant’s side within moments with a roll of antiseptic gauze. The Lieutenant then gently dabbed at the bloody mess, trying to soak up the blood without breaking up the dome and spreading it across the room.

Once most of the blood was gone, he applied a vac-band to the Sergeant’s leg, which was specifically designed to stabilise these kinds of injuries until medical professionals could take over. The band, which he pulled over Lorenz’s thigh like a very tight sock, fastened itself once in place and stopped the bleeding.

“There, this should take care of that,” Olchevski said, “we should get you to the infirmary though, I fear you’ll need stitches, and more than just a few.”

“Let’s get going then,” Lorenz replied.

Her face became contorted in a grimace of pain, now that the adrenaline was slowly leaving her system. She winced as she stretched her leg, deciding instead to keep it as still as possible, and rely solely of the strength in her arms to navigate the zero-gee environment of the central cylinder.

“I can’t believe I made it through front-line service without an injury, and now this happens to me here of all places!” Sergeant Lorenz said, gritting her teeth.

“Just goes to show that space is a dangerous place, whether you’re on the front or not.”

“Smart-ass,” she said. After remembering Olchevski’s rank, she quickly added, “Sorry, Sir.”

“Don’t worry about it, Sarge. Let’s just focus on getting you to the infirmary. Call me names as much as you’d like while we’re alone, if it helps.”

The Lieutenant helped the injured Sergeant out of maintenance airlock forty-two and back into the cylinder’s main tunnel. Lorenz had not bothered to put on a jumpsuit in order to save time and because of the discomfort it would cause to her leg.

This was now proving to have been a bad decision, as the cold environment, combined with her blood loss, caused her body temperature to drop. Sergeant Lorenz began to shiver involuntarily, making it harder for her to move from one handrail to the next in microgravity.

Having to rely even more on Lieutenant Olchevski’s help was a blow to her ego, and she ended up dragging herself along with minimal effort, while the Lieutenant made sure she did not bump into things.

Her vision was slightly blurred, so she did not see where the shadowy figure that was now a few metres ahead of them had come from.

Olchevski, however, had picked up on it immediately, as he brought them to a halt and called out, “Hey, you! Identify yourself!”

A few moments earlier...

Cadet Lundström was pulled out of her uneasy slumber by the high-pitched beeping that emanated from her multi-function display.

The young blonde stretched as far as she was able to in the small space she was hiding in, and then slowly opened her eyes. She had not slept well at all, and felt like she had been stuck in a trash compactor.

Lundström took another nutrition cube and water pack, almost choking as she was still so tired that she was unable to properly focus on ingesting anything.

After a few minutes, the fatigue slowly began to leave her body, and she could think clearly once again. She checked her MFD for the time and saw that she was right on schedule.

“I should get going,” she said to herself, and began to restore the compartment to the condition she had found it in, except for the items she had removed from storage earlier. This way, even if someone randomly entered, which was highly unlikely, there would be no evidence of her presence.

Once everything was back in place, Lundström left the compartment and found herself back in the confined space of the maintenance tunnel. She took a moment to orientate herself before grabbing the nearest structural beam and pulling herself towards her next destination.

It only took her a few minutes to reach the same hatch she had used to access the vast network of maintenance tunnels. She paused briefly in front of the closed exit in order to gather her thoughts and allow her breathing to calm down.

Cadet Lundström opened the heavy hatch as gently as possible, this time avoiding any unnecessary noise. The handle still in hand, she stretched her neck through the opening, listening for anything that might give away someone who might be lying in waiting for her.

After a lengthy minute, the young woman pulled herself through the hatch and carefully closed it back behind her. She then made her way back into the main tunnel, which was still shrouded in darkness save for a few safety lights.

She was reaching for the nearest handrail when a voice behind her made her jump.

“Hey, you! Identify yourself!”

In one swift motion, Lundström firmly grabbed the handrail, and twirled herself around while reaching into her backpack. Before her opponents could react, she produced a small hand-held device which she aimed at the two people who had called out to her and discharged it twice.

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