The Raid On Zeta Station

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Part 15

Cadet Lundström blinked a couple of times, but every time she opened her eyes again the two lifeless bodies were still floating in the tunnel, gently drifting away from her.

She had never expected that she would be required to use her weapon on this assignment. But the moment she had been discovered, her harsh training had taken over, and her body acted out of reflex more than anything.

The young blonde was on the verge of hyperventilating, and forced herself to look away to allow her breathing to calm down. Her palms were damp as she stored the weapon away, and she tried to dry them by rubbing her hands against her thighs.

She had never used a weapon outside of training before, and her mind was still catching up with what her body had done.

Lundström pulled herself along the handrail towards the two people she had just fired at.

One of them was a woman, barely wearing anything, and clearly injured, judging by the bandaged leg. The other was a man, and the jumpsuit he was wearing identified him as a Lieutenant of the station’s energy department.

The Cadet quickly checked their vitals, and let out a sigh of relief when she noticed that they were both merely unconscious.

“They’ll be up and about in a couple of hours,” she said with a slight smile. She was concerned about the woman’s injury, but the bandage should prevent her from bleeding out.

Having calmed down some more, Lundström continued down the tunnel towards maintenance airlock forty-two.

Once there, she used the next item she had brought from her hideout, a small multi-purpose computer, to hack into the electronic lock that secured the hatch. She opened it with ease, as the device did most of the work, and also made sure that no alarm was triggered.

Lundström entered the stand-by room that preceded the actual airlock. She was confused at first, because the normally clean and tidy room had been left in a mess. There were discarded vac-suits floating about, as well as parts of a first-aid kit and what turned out to be blood bubbles slowly drifting away.

She remembered the injury of the woman she had encountered moments before and put two and two together. The young blonde pushed those thoughts aside, trying not to imagine what may have occurred here. Instead, she pulled herself along the handrail above her head towards the compartment where the spare vacuum-suits were stored.

After extracting a clean vac-suit from storage, Cadet Lundström inserted herself into the bottom part before pulling the top half over her head. She then put on and secured the helmet, which prompted the suit to perform a pressurisation test.

Under normal conditions, there would be someone else with her, to make sure that she had not forgotten any steps. Lundström, however, had worked hard to internalise every minute detail about this particular model of vacuum-suit and its operation, so that she could handle the entire process by herself.

Having pre-breathed pure oxygen while she was asleep, she was able to step into the actual airlock and begin the depressurisation process without having to waste additional time sitting there, waiting for her body to adjust to the different atmosphere of the suit.

Minutes later, the outer hatch opened, and the young blonde was staring into the abyss of interstellar space. She sighed, taking a moment to admire the view.

“It never gets old,” she said, while carefully pulling herself out into the open.

Lundström kept a good hold on the handrail that was installed all around Zeta Station’s central cylinder.

Since she was by herself, the Cadet had to forgo the use of a safety cable tethering her to the airlock. This would slow down her progress, as she had to take extra care when moving forward. At any given time, she was only one insecure grip away from drifting off into the void, never to return.

She paused for a moment to take her bearings. Lundström turned to face the looming shadow that was the seemingly endless mast full of all sorts of communication arrays. She then turned away from it again, and continued to follow the handrail in the opposite direction.

Progress was slow and cumbersome. She may have been in top shape and could run laps around the habitat ring in record time, but clawing her way forward in a vacuum-suit was exercise on a whole other level.

Instead of using her feet to get around, the young woman had to rely on her hands and arms. This in turn caused her fingers to become sore, as well as the muscles in her arms. Before long, her breathing became laboured and her heart started beating faster.

Cadet Lundström swore under her breath as sweat began to form on her forehead, accumulating into tiny beads that eventually detached from her skin and started floating around in her helmet. One of those droplets ended up landing in her right eye, blurring her vision. She blinked erratically, trying to clear it and hoping to relieve some of the discomfort.

In spite of the circumstances, Lundström pressed on, picking up her pace even more in order to get this part of her mission over with as fast as possible. She grit her teeth together and pushed through the pain, until she reached her destination, a few agonising minutes later.

She stopped next to a nondescript piece of hull plating which looked like any other. She then reached for the extendable hook that was attached to her suit’s utility belt and tethered herself to the handrail next to said armoured plate.

Once she had made sure that she would not float away into infinity, Lundström took an omnitool and began to loosen the bolts that held the chunk of metal in place. She took her time and made sure that none of the bolts came off completely so that the hull plating would not detach itself from the station.

All she needed was to be able to pry it open slightly and access what was hidden beneath.

“Finally,” she sighed, once the preliminary work was over and she could endeavour to do what she had actually come for.

The compact device fit neatly on the underside of the heavy anti-meteoroid plate that she had just dislodged. It was comprised of two separate units, a flat, box-shaped control module, and a spherical transmitter. The two were linked together with a series of shielded cables.

The control module’s only features were a standardised touchscreen and an uplink for Lundström’s multi-function display. She traced a circle on the touchpad with her gloved index finger, causing the display to light up, as well as a small green light next to the uplink to blink.

The young woman then took her MFD from one of the pouches of her utility belt and synced it with the device. A few moments later, the green light stopped blinking, and Lundström prompted her MFD to transfer a message that she had previously written.

The device itself was still set up from the last time she had used it, so she merely had to make sure that the frequency she was transmitting on was still accurate and that the message would be properly encrypted.

Cadet Lundström was not overly familiar with the science behind the magnetic transmitter, but she imagined that the device would emit some sort of humming once activated. She would, of course, not be able to hear it, due to the vacuum of space, which rendered the transmission of any kind of sound impossible.

Once the transmitter had confirmed that the message was ready to be sent, she swiped across the touchscreen in order to launch the pre-programmed transmission sequence. The transfer rate of the device was excessively low, and on top of that, the message would be cut up and sent in pieces at irregular intervals, in order to make it harder to intercept.

This meant that the transfer would take the rest of what was labelled as night on this station, light-years away from the nearest source of natural light.

Lundström checked her vac-suit’s life support system. The small display embedded in the suit’s left arm informed her that she had just under two days worth of oxygen, as well as enough nutrient pills and water to last her the better part of a week.

Satisfied with the results, she then made sure once again that she was properly tethered to the station, and that the armoured plating that she had loosened would not float away on its own accord.

Once she had put her mind at ease, the young woman allowed said mind to wander, only occasionally glancing at the progress bar displayed on her MFD.

“And now, we wait,” Lundström told herself, apprehensive of the upcoming hours of intense boredom.

Time went by slowly, and Cadet Lundström drifted from thoughts about her fate and that of humankind, to a semi-conscious state of half-slumber. She switched from one to the other seamlessly and without deciding to, causing her to lose track of time completely.

When she noticed a bright light out of the corner of her eye, she had to focus all her mind on remembering where she actually was.

After a while, she realised that the light came from her multi-function display, and informed her that the message had successfully been transmitted.

Lundström reached for her forehead to scratch herself, and only remembered that she was wearing a vacuum-suit when her gloved hand collided with the helmet.

She grabbed the device and swiped the notification away.

“Already? How long have I been out here?” she asked out loud, before looking at her mission timer.

She yawned deeply and had to resist the urge to rub her eyes. Apparently, she had been out there for almost eight hours.

Suddenly, she was wide awake. Her eyes open wide, she fumbled with her MFD to erase the device’s activity log and reset the transmitter. Once it was idle again, she carefully pushed the anti-meteoroid plate back into its slot and tightened the bolts to secure it in place.

Lundström’s mind was racing as she made her way back to the airlock through which she had left the station. She had been in space for way longer than anticipated, and her brain was coming up with all sorts of horror scenarios that would be waiting for her upon her return.

Her arms pulled her towards the hatch almost by themselves. She was moving even fast than on her way out, and her breathing became erratic as a result.

She had to pause halfway there to catch her breath. Her heart felt like it was beating through her chest and the clothes she wore beneath the suit were drenched in sweat.

Lundström let her mind catch up with her body and waited until her breathing and pulse had calmed down to somewhat normal levels.

She thought about her friends, Defour in particular, and wondered how they had fared. There was a chance that she may never see any of them again, and that thought made her eyes water. The three Cadets had been part of her mission, but they had also become part of her life.

“Get it together!” she scolded herself, and began to pull her weightless self forward again.

At long last, the young blonde reached the outer hatch of maintenance airlock forty-two.

The hatch was closed.

“I could’ve sworn I left this thing open,” she said out loud, wondering if she may have closed it behind her by accident.

She firmly grabbed the red lever adjacent to the hatch, revealing the crank that would allow her to manually open the airlock. She turned it until she felt some resistance, then pushed harder to overcome it.

The hatch sprang open, propelled by some residual atmosphere on its way out into open space.

Lundström peeked inside the airlock, and after making sure that everything appeared to be normal, she cautiously climbed in and closed the hatch behind her.

She set up the airlock for automated recompression, and hooked her arm into one of the handrails, settling down for yet another long period of inactivity while her body re-accustomed itself with the oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere humans were so fond of.

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