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 The Only Thing That Counts

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Only Thing That Counts   Sat Oct 28, 2017 5:59 pm

Chapter 26- Counter Attack

 

            Once inside the craft the two guards hustled down the centre of the main body. Steve followed through the passenger entry section and then darted, undetected, left into the sleeping quarters. From there he quietly entered the thin access tube that linked to the maintenance tunnel. Sealing himself in at the top, Steve crawled along the cable and wire infested passage to the hatch connected to the large storage compartment.

            His heart thumped, beads of sweat lined his forehead and soaked his shirt. He concentrated on steadying his breathing so he could overhear what was going on outside. Vague shouts and calls diminished and for some time things were quiet.

            As he strained to hear, pressing his ear against the metal pressure hatch, Steve could hear soft talking. Ever so slowly he unscrewed the locking mechanism. Each grinding friction, each slight squeal stopped his progress. When it seemed his activity went unnoticed, he continued. As the bolts were disengaged he cracked the hatch open slightly. The voices were clearer now.

“Did Steve tell you where the virus is stored?” It was Kelly talking softly but clearly. Apparently there was no-one close by to hear them.

“No, but Jimmy did. It’s underneath the refrigerated compartments. It’s being kept warm by the compressor.” Jodie added.

“We’re going to have to get to them and smash them all.” Kelly said in a quiet, matter of fact tone. There was silence. Steve imagined Jodie, perhaps nodding, maybe praying. In fact she was doing both those things.

“How do we get out of these handcuffs?” 

“We’ll need to go to the bathroom. If we cooperate and are submissive, maybe we can surprise them.”

“Where have I heard that before?” returned Jodie lightly.

            The approach of footsteps silenced the girls and soon the sounds of the main cargo hatch being closed commenced.

“You girls just behave yourselves and you may come out of this alive,” Klein’s voice sneered. “I’ve already warned your friends that should they try anything, one of your bodies will be released through the airlock.”  He continued with a malicious gurgle, “It was so good of you Miss Brandon to provide yourself as a second hostage. It makes it so much easier to kill one of you and still have one left to bargain with if I need to.” Steve heard a signal and then an announcement, ‘Rear hatch is sealed, preparing to seal forward pressure hatch.’  Klein unlocked the handcuffs and ushered Jodie and Kelly into the seats ready for the launch.

            Soon the Transit 1 had tilted up into a vertical attitude ready for take-off. Steve tried to entangle himself in the cables because even though he supported only fourteen kilograms weight, he knew that once the thrust kicked in he would have to resist two or three Earth gravities of acceleration force. His arm throbbed, his head ached and he gingerly felt his slowly healing lips. ‘It can only get worse,’ he muttered to himself.

And it did. 

            Engines vibrating and whining coincided with a strong downward wrench on Steve’s body. Tearing at his body, the acceleration generated gravity pulled his legs clear of the cables. Steve dangled perilously over the gaping tunnel now beneath him. Hanging agonisingly on his injured arm he struggled to obtain a greater purchase, swinging his legs to the side. Clutching the arm hooked around a looped cable with his other hand in an effort to brace his hold. Interminably, it seemed, the stream of plasma burst in a confined column from the engines. His shoulder was burning and the hand of his crook-ed arm was going numb, but stubbornly Steve endured the hurt. He closed his eyes, set his jaw and hung on. Time seemed to stand still. The whine of the thrust, the steady, barely perceptible shuddering and the constant torturous downward drag moved him to the periphery of his awareness. His every effort was to pin his entwined arm to his chest with his good arm.

“God help me,” he transmitted with every fibre of his fading consciousness.

            Silence—Weightlessness—Steve knew that he should be active, should be doing something—What? One lucid thought invaded his mind. ‘Jodie’; she was here. Minutes! That’s all he had, to do what he had to do. Floating, he straightened his damaged left arm, trying to revive feeling he thumped it a couple of times. Then ignoring the uselessly hanging limb he propelled himself to the rear hatch. Deftly he spun open the locking wheel, hesitating at the louder than expected clunk. He opened it more judiciously. ‘How long before they left lunar orbit? They would need to assure themselves of the correct trajectory. Maybe the computer could do it all immediately. Perhaps their landing had been leisurely for the benefit of the newcomers.’

            Steve tried to un-clutter his thoughts as he flew across the cavernous space to the refrigerated compartments. He felt the low panel and withdrew the drawer. All the phials were still there. In sinister rows they stood like a troop of death.

            Steve thought back to the slaughter he had stumbled across in the subterranean base. It was a vivid harbinger of the genocide these phials represented. He leant over to grab one before exclaiming a little too loudly in irritation; “Aargh!... Steve, think, think, think!” He dashed to the airlock and clambered into a spacesuit. His left arm was of some use now as blood began to revitalise his muscles, and pins and needles tingled his hand. Once the leggings and all in one boots were properly affixed and tightened, Steve dived into the torso portion. A slight twist and it clamped, airtight, around his waist. Next he attached the clear, poly carbonate domed helmet on a similar clamping ring. Realising how easily it attached, he removed it and placed it on the rack with the gloves. As a precaution he put the other two suits in the air lock, gave a final scan around and then returned to the open drawer.

            He picked up a vial delicately and glided to the connecting hatch. Slowly winding it open and cracking the seal, Steve paused to take several deep breaths. Then he plunged head long down the connecting passage, committed to this dangerous course of action. Pulling up short, Steve edged forward to gain a better view.

            Furtively, he took a fleeting look about the seating area, locating Jodie and Kelly near the front, but also, thankfully, near the aisle. Twelve men were seated along with Jodie and Kelly. Since they hadn’t left their seats it was likely the craft was soon to make a burn to escape the Moon’s gravity.

            “Nobody move!” Steve’s command was more like a scream. Everyone leapt in their seats and turned bewildered.

“Jodie, Kelly come here. If any else moves I’m throwing down this virus.” Steve tried to sound as threatening, as callous as he could. Jodie and Kelly released their seatbelts and took off across the passenger cabin in a frenzy of arms and legs. Steve gave both of them an assisting shove that sent then rapidly toward the storage module. Just then Colonel Ernest Klein appeared from the forward control section holding his pistol menacingly. Shelley was just behind him.

‘Put it down James, down on the seat carefully.” It seemed a silly thing to say in the weightless conditions. “You don’t want to die. I could put a bullet through you...” Suddenly Klein’s eyes bulged, “Nooo!” he yelled.

            Out of the corner of his eye Steve saw a form hurtling at him. He stretched his arm away trying to keep the toxic tube safe. The soldier missed grasping the phial and knocked it tumbling end over end toward the ceiling. All eyes followed it as it spun in, what seemed like, slow motion. It smashed. Tiny globules of deadly fluid began to dissipate in the cabin.

            The Colonel and Shelley frantically retreated into the control section, hastily isolating them from the infected area. At the same time Steve fled back to the cargo section of the space craft. He quickly shut off the hatch. Scrambling over to the tool cupboard he found a large spanner. He took this, placing one end on the floor and jamming the other end under the locking wheel.

            Almost immediately scraping and scrabbling indicated the frantic efforts of the hapless servicemen. They were trapped in the contaminated section trying to break in. Steve quickly vaulted to the maintenance hatch, insulting his own intelligence with a fusillade of self-denigration. Screwing that shut he held it and paused, taking in the incredulous looks of Jodie and Kelly who hovered, helpless spectators to his frenetic behaviour.

            “The suits!” he shouted pointing to the transit air lock. The two young women rushed across, aware now and fearful already of possible exposure to the biological agent.

            After waiting what seemed like ages but was really only a couple of minutes, Steve floated down to the airlock. He attached his helmet and then clicked on the gloves, which also were applied using a twist on a ring seal. Here again Steve shook his head and surrendered to second thoughts, taking off the helmet again. He stepped into the chamber and sealed the door.

“Planning on the run is not my forte`.” he muttered.

“What did you say?” Jodie called, not wanting to miss any instructions.

“Nothing... just don’t bother putting on your helmets yet. We’ll only use that air supply when we have to.”

“What happened back there?” Kelly asked loudly.

“The virus phial got smashed.”

“I gathered that! Did you do it?” Kelly interrogated.

“Well, unintentionally, I guess. It got knocked out of my hand.” 

            The diminished struggles at the hatch fell silent. A knot wrapped Steve’s chest as he contemplated his responsibility in the death of the guard members. Did he envision this happening? What had he expected? Regardless of what had happened, Steve knew what had to happen now.

            “How are those suits coming?” he descended smoothly to Jodie who was exiting the air tight room. All parts of the suit seemed intact except for the helmet. Nevertheless Steve felt compelled to give each connection a twist. He looked past Jodie to Kelly. “How are you going?” In answer she held up her cast clad hand. Steve could see in her eyes a growing confusion and panic. She had managed to get into the suit but Steve had to lock the ring around her waist.

“You have to smash those virus tubes don’t you?” angst filled her face.

Steve didn’t answer. It didn’t need an answer. He stared at her hand knowing there was only one solution.

Kelly’s voice quavered; “Don’t worry about me. You have to destroy the virus.” She grabbed Steve’s face and made him look at her. “It’s okay.”

            Steve glided back to the tool cupboard and returned with a hacksaw. Kelly looked disconcerted, nervy, even fearful.

“I have no choice Kelly.”

Jodie came over and held her.

Steve himself was apprehensive, especially as at each stroke of the blade little gasps and moans slipped through her clenched teeth.

            Finally the broken fingers could be pulled apart and inserted into the glove. Jodie gently helped her pull them on. Kelly tried to ignore the excruciating pain, but when Jodie sealed the ring on the glove she flinched and her eyes filled with tears. Jodie gave her an affectionate hug. Steve collected his helmet and then spoke. “We’ll put our helmets on. I’ll crush the phials and then place them in the refrigerated cabinet. Then we’ll get in the airlock, flush out the air to vacuum and then replenish it from the compressed air cylinders.

Does that make sense?”

Both girls nodded.

Steve continued, “Tell me if I’m doing something stupid.”

            His self-doubts had increased with the tumult of events that had overrun his original ideas. Jodie and Kelly looked at each other baffled trying to determine what he was getting at.

“It has to be done Steve,” affirmed Jodie as she collected her hair in one hand and put it in a quick knot on top of her head with a couple of pins before placing the helmet on her head. Steve engaged the life support system on his suit and a quiet female voice sounded, ‘You have ten hours air supply. Your communicator is on. Bio telemetry is not on line - EVA must not occur without telemetry.’  Steve showed the others the ‘on switch’ on the control panel on the front of the suits and then watched them listen to the computerised messages.

            When they were ready Steve placed all the virus cultures in a metal bin and held a fire extinguisher above them. He momentarily considered the strange state of congruity; that a bin and an extinguisher, which played a part in the revelation of the virus location, should now be a part of its destruction.

            Alarm bells rang in Steve’s head. ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ was the bizarre comment that bounced around his head. ‘No gravity’—the phrase created a simulation of what might happen with the first plunge of the canister. No, he didn’t want sharp slivers of glass and droplets of virus spreading throughout the storage compartment.

            To his chagrin Steve had almost complicated things again. He moved over to the storage panel. After a few seconds he located tough, polymer garbage bags. He placed two inside the bin on top of the phials, wrapping the tops around the rim. He then placed the extinguisher in the bin on top of the bags. Next he put another bag over the bin attaching the bags around the outside of the bin with duct tape.

            Now he was ready. He began breaking the phials with moderate stabs using the bag covered extinguisher. It took little time for the glassware to be crushed into what he imagined was an ice like slurry of glass and liquid. The glass may have punctured the lower bags but the top bag was secure. Systematically he crushed back and forth to ensure that no ampoule survived. After placing the bin in one of the large, empty cooling compartments the three of them headed to the air lock.

                                    ------------------------------------------

            While this was going on toward the rear, in the forward section of Transit 1 Klein was furious. He looked around, at a loss as to what to do next. James had thrown his meticulous plan into turmoil. Suddenly he spied an emergency spacesuit. All the others were stored off the passenger cabin and a few were out back. He lunged toward the suit and began putting it on.

“What are you doing?” Shelly was aghast.

“He’s got to be stopped.” Klein was seething. “Maybe I can stop him before he destroys the rest of the virus.”

“You can’t open that hatch... the virus, there’s only one suit.”

“I’ll be quick. It’s unlikely the virus will come in.”

Shelley was becoming increasingly agitated. “Unlikely!” He pulled his pistol from his holster. “I can’t let you do this Colonel. You’re crazy!”

            Those were the last words Shelley uttered. Klein, who was facing away from Shelley, still had his pistol in his hand. He turned his head and nodded. Then he looked at Shelley as if to concede his logic. Shelley relaxed thinking that his point was successfully made, only to be shot twice before he knew what had happened. In the weightless conditions the momentum of the shots carried him back into the bulkhead. He struck it with a thud.

            The pilot and co-pilot appeared at the cockpit entrance. Their eyes took in the inconceivable sight of the Colonel trying to suit up while Shelley floated past, near death and moaning.

“Get back and continue your countdown to the scheduled burn. As you can see, we’ve had a mutiny. I have to go back and deal with a situation.” Whatever they thought, the gun in the Colonel’s hand and his uncompromising command caused the two to retreat unceremoniously into the cockpit. Klein took another few minutes to get into the space suit before he opened the pressure door and closed it behind him.

            The passenger cabin was strewn with floating corpses. Klein cast some aside as he made his way down the central passage. Gun at the ready he yanked at the lock, but it barely budged. After two more futile attempts to open the hatch he back tracked and entered the passenger cabin hatch to the service passage. To his annoyance the bulky suit made the traverse slow, with the back pack catching cables and equipment. He felt a ripple of triumph as the hatch disengaged. They would pay for their interference.

            When the Colonel eventually emerged from the tunnel, the storage compartment appeared empty. Cautiously he dropped to the hatchway. Seeing the spanner propped up against the wheel he kicked it and sent it cart-wheeling and clashing against the wall before it rebounded off to the side.

            Hearing a noise from the air lock, he glided across and noticed the gauge indicated that it was near vacuum. Any attempt he made to open it would be useless. The air pressure would be far too immense to counteract. He would wait until they came out. Meanwhile he went to the drawer which was still open. It was empty. ‘Were they even now preparing to expel the contents into space?’ he wondered. A flashing red light would inform him that they were opening an outer hatch. He went to a glass port to see if anything had already been thrown out.

            A movement to his left caused Klein to pivot awkwardly. Startled, paralysed with impending dread he tried to bring his gun to bear on his lieutenant. Near death, Shelley had mustered the small measure of energy he needed to carry him to the pressure barrier, open it and confront his treacherous companion. One shot, and then two, three, four volleyed from the pistol. One missed, two slammed into the Klein’s suit and one smashed through the poly carbonate visor, inflicting a fatal wound. Klein himself had managed to discharge two rounds in the approximate direction of his assailant and the shots deflected wildly across the compartment.
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