The Gray Wave

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by Edwin Cintron

Chapter 1

I find it amazing that while every human in the Frontier is an descendant of someone that was either brave enough or foolhardy enough to leave Earth on man’s first attempt to migrate to a new world, that so many of us are scared of space. Even the most hardened space rat gets the cold sweats when it comes to making a spacewalk.

Not me, being out in the void of space is like being in heaven; no gravity and the sight of the stars leaves me in a state of bliss. Maybe it was that or the fact that I was too busy checking my ship, Granny’s Gift, that made me fail to notice that approach of company.

“Nice ship, a real classic.” The voice over the com unit was feminine and had a musical tone that put me at ease.

“Yeah, a real relic! Look at the hull, that Whipple shielding. Not the passive reactive armor that modern ships use to protect against micro meteors. The engine boom, at least a hundred meter long. You know those first Fission Fragment rockets were dirty and leaked radiation like a sieve. You really wanted to be as far as possible when they were on,” I replied turning to face her. She wore a heavy suit of space armor with a polarized visor that made it hard to see what she looked like. At least she wasn’t armed and she was human.

“But I bet you she's fast, even with one engine, the mass to thrust ratio should make her quite some race horse,” she replied with a laugh.

“Care to take a look inside,” I offered.

“Sure. By the way I am Mary Nebula.”

“Rodworth Shimout, but you can call me Rod,” I said as I motioned toward the airlock.

She moved like an experienced spacer, using a hand jet to push her toward the airlock of Granny’s Gift. I had a line attached to my ship so I pulled myself toward the lock. She waited patiently as I fumbled with the key pad. She had the grace to look away as I punched in my code and as the outer lock door opened I motioned, “After you.”

She entered the lock and I followed, it was a cozy fit as it was design for a single person. We huddled together as the lock cycled and when the inner door opened we drifted inside. We both began removing our suits, first our helmets then chest plates, then piece by piece till we were both floating in our skinsuits.

We both smiled, as we looked each over. She was fairly attractive, with a heart shape face, short hair styled in a Spacer cut, and a lean muscular body. Her eyes scanned me and her smile widened, apparently pleased with what she saw.

“Well do you always accept invitations from strange men to check out their rockets?” I said.

“You’re no stranger, I know a lot about you already. As a matter of fact, I’ve been looking for you all over the station,” she said drifting close.

“For what?”

“So I can kill you!”

Chapter 2

Unarmed Zero Gee Combat is sometime called the Art of the Embrace because it is fought up close and personal. It was perfected back in the early days of the Frontier, when ships did not spend as much time under thrust. The limits placed on hand to hand combat by Newton’s laws of motion and their effect on a person attempting to throw a punch or kick in microgravity forced spacers to adapt locks, grabs, and choke holds from the old martial arts of Muay Thai, wrestling, and Brazilian Jujutsu into a unique and deadly form of combat.

As Mary and I bounced off the walls of the small compartment, exchanging holds and counter holds, it became apparent that she was a master of the art. Also the force of her attacks revealed that she was a lot stronger than I was, and obviously she had undergone enhancement treatments to provide a strength advantage over her opponent, but she wasn't trained by Granny Shimout, one of the living masters of the Art.

Granny herself was taught by a great master, her deceased husband and my granddad, Mack “the Spider” Shimout, the man who fought his way unarmed through Hatzck Naar's flagship to bring Hatzck Naar’s crippled body to Granny as a bride price.

But even with that advantage Mary was gaining the upper hand. I was getting winded and each of her attacks were becoming harder and harder to counter. Suddenly she broke through my defense and applied a shoulder lock, which began to pop it from its socket. I twisted my body, bringing my head to her feet, my free hand braced against the bulkhead as I kicked out with both my legs and my feet connected with her chin.

The impact broke the hold, but not before my shoulder popped out of its socket, and hurled her hard into the lockers that lined the opposite bulkhead. The impact left her dazed and I pushed off the wall and wrapped my legs around her neck. A choke hold will take minutes to bring an opponent down, instead I used my legs to apply pressure to the arteries in her neck supplying blood to her brain and Mary slipped into unconsciousness.

I held the hold longer than is considered safe, but for me the danger of inflicting brain damage to her, was far out weight by the fact that I was in no condition for a rematch. After disengaging from her, I drifted over to the lockers, grabbed onto one of their handles and slammed my shoulder into the locker's edge. The impact popped my shoulder back into place but the accompanying pain almost caused me to pass out.

I struggled to search the lockers with my remaining good arm for a med kit. Once I found it, I broke out an applicator of No Pain, and jabbed it into my aching shoulder. I ran the kit’s Bio-scanners over my injury and the kit’s microcomputer recommended several shots from various color-labeled vials to combat the swelling and to repair muscle damage. I applied them in the recommended order, and then queried the kit for the right compound to induce sleep. Doubling its recommended dose, I jabbed it into Mary.

That would buy me time. I shifted through the remaining lockers and was able to find a tube of hull patch compound, a few cargo straps, and a needle gun. I floated Mary over to the acceleration couch and used the straps to tie her down but had my doubts that it would hold her for long. So I used the hull patch compound to glue her down to the acceleration couch.

Chapter 3

I waited, using the time to think, and heal. I had to find out why and who sent Mary to kill me, and I figure that she wouldn’t give up that information easily.

Then an idea came to me. I began putting on my spacesuit. By the time Mary came to, I was already working on the controls for the air lock.

“What the heck are you doing?” she asked.

“Bypassing the safeties,” I replied, “I need to be able to open the inner door while the outer one is open. These older ships won’t normally let you do that. They were really safety conscience in the old days.”

“Why are you going to open the lock to the vacuum!” her voiced rising as she started to struggle.

“Well, I know you are a professional, so I’d hate to waste my time asking who sent you. So I figure I may as well just get rid of you. I can’t just chuck you out the airlock, and I really want to make it look like an accident. Defective airlock, the perfect excuse.” I trailed off.

She gave me a look which conveyed that she had doubts about whether I had the jets to go ahead with my plan.

So I closed the air lock control panel, hit the Cycle button and the lock alarm sounded.

“You’re crazy! You wouldn’t kill me in cold blood!”

“Wouldn’t be the first time I spaced someone, and you did try to kill me,” and began donning my helmet.

“I’ll talk! Go ahead and ask me anything!” She was on the verge of tears.

“Fine, who sent you?”

“Don Sam!” She replied expecting me to know who that was.

Organize crime is one of the many players in the struggle for power on the Frontier. It walks the fine line between the Corporations and the Cadres, providing not only items that are illegal or immoral but also providing a balancing influence. Neither of the three could ride roughshod over the other as the other two will band together to prevent such excess. Not a perfect system, but one that works without a strong government to manage the Frontier. Don Sam or “Sammie the Knife”, ran one of the biggest crime families on Lossend, the main world of the Timeon system.

“Why?” I asked

“He told me that they wanted the ship, I am to pilot her over to a berth that he reserved. It’s nothing personal, they pay me and I do the job,” she said.

“Well I just need to see the why then!”

Chapter 4

Granny had told me when she gave me the ship, that she suspected that it was a smuggler craft. With newer ships like the assault scout and massive bulk freighters doing most of the hauling, there were little cargoes that a one man pinnace could carry that would make a profit, and they were all illegal.

I began my search, knocking on bulkheads, floor and ceiling, listening for a hollow space. As it turned out I found one, on the floor of cabinet. Taking a pry bar from the repair locker, I managed to separate the floor plate from the struts and found a compartment filled with a dozen silver flasks. I grabbed one of the flasks finding it cold to the touch, and marked with a strange symbol. What could it be?

I needed answers and knew of only one person that could help.  I closed the compartment, found in my suit locker my void bag, which is used to carry items in the vacuum of space, and placed the flask in it. I cycled the lock and donned my helmet.

Mary, who was watching the whole time shouted, “You’re not leaving me here?”

“Yes, as soon as get back I'll let you go. If I don't return, then I figure you’ll somehow manage to free yourself.”

After entering the station, I went to Land Fall, the station's only space bar, sitting alone in the corner, nursing a bottle of gin was Eddy “The Mouse” Wilson. His eyes widen and he got up and fled to the men's room. I intercepted him. “Eddie, wait I need your help!” Eddie was not exactly one of my fans; he had a real crush on Alice who I left stranded with no radio and only twelve hours of air on an asteroid.

Eddie sobbed, “Why should I help you?”

“Cause we are both Spacers. And you owe me your life.” I reminded him of how I rescued him and the crew of the Star Dancer from pirates.

I showed him the flask and he said “that's a cryo-flask, it used to transport biological material like frozen embryos.”

“How do we find out what in it?”

Chapter 5

Eddie had a girlfriend (who would have known?) that worked for the station medical department. We brought the Flask to her and she opened it in an air tight isolation box and examined the content of the flask with a fiberscope.

“Looks like rabbit embryos, the flask could easily store a hundred at this stage of development.” See said as she looked at her scope.

“Rabbits?” Eddie and I asked.

There was a big black market in Earth pets on human worlds on the Frontier, Eddie's friend explained. Rabbits were a potential money-maker. Being cute and cuddly made them easy to sell. Each one could yield a profit of ten thousand credits apiece. And being fast breeders, they could easily build an inventory to meet demands.

The major issue was that they were fast breeder. Without any natural predators on Timeon, any that managed to escape into the wild would be the start of a natural disaster. Eddie's friend called it the Gray Wave.

“You know that on Old Earth, in a land called Australia, a score of rabbits were introduced, after ten years rabbits had become so numerous that millions could be shot or trapped annually without having any effect on the population.

Hundreds of millions of credits worth of crops were damage by the creatures.”

“But, you need a lab to grow them?” I asked.

She looked at me, giving me the look that women give men when they reveal that there’s more to the packet then just brawn, “Yes, and an artificial womb would be needed, and a supply of nutrient formula to have them develop. Not a small operation in the least, especially if you want to decant hundreds of the little buggers.”

A thought tugged at my mind, true there was money to be made, but the amount of embryos and the scale of the operation, didn't seem to fit. Couldn't they have just smuggled a dozen embryos in a small container and walk it through customs. Why thousands of rabbits, wouldn't that flood the market and bring the price down?

“What’s the gestation period of a rabbit?” I asked.

“Average gestation period for rabbits is thirty days,” she replied and arched her eyes brow. “By the way, I'm Renee.” as she held out her hand to shake.

“Rodworth, you can call me Rod,” I said as I shook her hand.

Eddie gave me a crossed look, not very pleased with the attention I was getting.

“Renee, how did the Earthers handle the rabbit overpopulation problem?”

“Well Roddie, they tried everything, fences, hunting them, eventually they tried a biological solution, they released a virus called Myxomatosis, but the population became immune, so other diseases were introduced.”

“And if these rabbits are immune to all the known countermeasures?”

She took a tissue sample and placed in a gene reader.

She uttered a swear, “Wow you wouldn't believe it, but these kits are immune to all know biological agents that target rabbits, these are super bunnies.”

As I thought, this was more than a struggling operation, someone wanted to sabotage the farming industry on Lossend. Since mankind had seeded the entire world with Earth vegetation, someone could introduce the rabbits into the wild far from farmlands, and in a few years the rabbit would overrun the entire planet. Lossend supplied foodstuffs to most of the human industrial worlds in the Frontier, the effect would be catastrophic.

I had Renee contact the station law enforcer, she explained about the rabbits and the effect on the farm industry, and after they contacted their higher ups in the planetary government, I had an escort of a dozen enforcers, custom officials and a Guard cutter to take me back to my ship.

Renee came along to help in the handling of any biological material they retrieved, there was a good chance the other vials contained some kind of biological trap.

We cracked the door of the inner lock and as soon as we entered, Mary spotted the uniforms of the Timeon Enforcers and went into convolutions. Renee rushed to her and injected her with something to stop the fits. The convolutions stopped but Mary slipped into a catatonic state.

The Timeon authorities, had my ship towed to the station, and began a detailed search of Granny's Gift.  The flasks I found were removed under guard, very likely to be destroyed.

As for Mary, the Peace Officers searched all their databases, while they could not find match for her as an associate of Don Sam, her DNA matched a member of an exploratory mission that was lost five years earlier in the Lesser Morass.

Many ships disappeared over the years exploring that area, no one ever discovered why. Mary's appearance here was a mystery along with her employer, and their true goal. Was it simple terrorism or some plot to blackmail the farming corporations?

As the last enforcer left my ship, Renee hung back.

“I owe you one, without your help with the enforcer, they very likely confiscated my ship and hurled me in the brig as some kind of accessory,” I said offering my hand to help her through the airlock.”

“You could pay me back by taking me to dinner,” she countered, staring me in the eyes.

“Sure thing,” I said as we headed into the station.