Answering the Stravinsky

Space is a big place. Remarkably, unfathomably, soul-crushingly big. And all that space is essentially empty.

The black vastness is not somewhere you want your ship to break down.

That’s why there’s a mandate all ships are obligated to respond in good faith to any distress signals of space origin (once you make planetfall you’re on your own). To entice compliance, first responders are given salvage rights to any derelict ships they find. And to enforce the mandate, all ports are required pull and file the logs from any ship within its docks. Not that there weren’t ways around all of that.

But Marla didn’t need the mandate. She was pragmatic, and a cynic at that, but she had a compulsion to do the right thing even against her better judgement. She never could decide if it was a habit worth breaking.

In any case, that’s how she ended up in her pressure suit in the couple-way between her own ship, the Magus, and another, the Stravinsky. The latter was an enormous combination bulk freighter-refinery of some sort, though Marla couldn’t figure from where. Her own ship was a tin can by comparison. The Magus was light and nimble with only meager accommodations for one. She was a courier, relaying messages too sensitive to be documented in any form, let alone transmitted.

She’d picked up the Stravinsky‘s beacon a few days ago and immediately redirected. She hailed them several times without response, and just within the last few hours the beacon went quiet altogether.

This diversion had cost her fuel she didn’t really want to part with, and she only had a few hours before she had to depart or risk stranding herself.

The couple-way attached to one of the many maintenance locks on the Stravinky‘s belly, and now the lock opened. Marla crossed though the narrow passage lined with valve handles and conduit and then used the access panel to activate the interior hatch.

The huge metal doors cranked open, their interlacing teeth sliding apart like the opening maw of some ancient sea beast. And then that hungry mouth began to salivate.

Water. Water poured from the widening gap between the doors, a great wall of it let loose by the bifurcation of its dam. It flooded past Marla’s insulated feet and quickly rose to her ankles and then kept climbing.

Water was the most precious commodity there was. A monumental fortune was swirling around her legs.

And then a body spilled from between the doors. Or part of one. Parts of another.

She would have been forgiven for turning around right then, her duty fulfilled. But then again, an opportunity like this doesn’t come around twice. Could she get this bucket moving again while avoiding whatever it was that befell the others?

She only had a few hours to find out. Marla waded inside.

Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Anna Kulakovskaia, used with permission.

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